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There’s a danger any weapons supplied could end up in the wrong hands.”

03.06.2013 - Interview

In an interview in New York Foreign Minister Westerwelle talks about his current American trip, drone operations reportedly controlled from US bases in Germany and the civil war in Syria. Published in Spiegel Online on 3 June 2013

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Mr Westerwelle, according to media reports, the United States has been directing drone operations against terrorists from its bases in Germany. You recently met US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington. Did he tell you anything about this?

We talked about it, but at this point I know no more than anyone else. Secretary of State Kerry has assured me that whatever the United States does on German territory is strictly in accordance with legal precepts and international law.

So what do you propose doing about this now?

We intend to investigate this matter further. And we will of course report on our findings also to the Bundestag.

On the subject of drones, Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière is due to be questioned by the Defence Committee this week about the planned procurement of Euro Hawks. Almost every day brings some new allegation. Can your Cabinet colleague survive this unscathed?

I think very highly of Thomas de Maizière. It’s right and proper, I believe, that he prefers to investigate the whole matter very thoroughly before making any public statements about specifics.

Does this mean that at some stage he’ll have to take the consequences?

That’s a question which has nothing to do with me, so I can’t answer it.

Turning to another subject, one of the issues on your agenda in Canada, the United States and Mexico was the civil war in Syria. The Syrian opposition has all of a sudden announced it won’t attend the peace conference. So can the conference actually go ahead?

That I won’t speculate about, the international peace conference is not something anyone should call into question. I appeal also to the Syrian opposition to recognize their responsibilities and obligations. Despite all the difficulties, the conference can help pave the way for a political solution.

Is in the end a military solution inevitable?

Definitely not. A military solution in Syria will bring neither long-term stability nor lasting peace. The way things are now, a political solution along the lines mapped out at the first Geneva conference a year ago remains Syria’s only chance of a fresh start and lasting stability.

At the moment we’re seeing other signals. Russia intends to supply Assad with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. What kind of game is Moscow up to?

I discussed these planned arms deliveries not long ago with my Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. I made it very clear to him that in Germany’s view the main responsibility for the violence in Syria lies with the Assad regime. To send Assad yet more weapons would be a grave mistake. The planned peace conference on Syria is a joint Russian-United States initiative. Moscow should therefore refrain from anything that might jeopardize the success of what is obviously going to be a very difficult exercise.

The EU is divided over the issue of the arms embargo for Syria. Is there now any such thing as a common European foreign policy?

Syria is currently by far the thorniest issue on the international agenda. That the 27 EU countries haven’t in every respect come to the same conclusions is hardly surprising. But of course I would have liked to see a different outcome to our discussions. What counts right now, however, is that the economic sanctions and other measures against the Assad regime remain in place. That’s something I strongly backed. It’s true the arms embargo has expired, yet at this stage none of the EU’s 27 members has any intention of supplying arms. What they want is to contribute to a successful conference on Syria.

Will Germany be sticking to its clear line?

We Germans won’t be sending any weapons to Syria. We’re helping the Syrian opposition in other ways as much as we can, we’re one of the biggest donors.

France and Britain are keeping their options open about supplying arms. What’s your main objection to this?

There’s a danger any weapons supplied could end up in the wrong hands. Just because they’re fighting against Assad doesn’t make Jihadis and extremists our allies and friends.

Do you see the peace conference beginning before the US President’s visit to Berlin on 18 and 19 June?

The preparations for the conference are likely to take rather longer. The conflict in Syria has been waged with great brutality for two years now. So we should be willing to accept that a rather longer preparatory phase may be necessary, although of course we would prefer it to take place as soon as possible.

One of the big issues in the run up to Obama’s visit is the projected free trade area between the United States and the EU. Will the US President be sending a strong signal on this in Berlin?

In the course of his visit I think the US President could well endorse the idea of a comprehensive free trade area. Both the United States and Germany, after all, are looking for ways to generate higher growth without piling up new debt. In that respect greater free trade certainly has much to offer.

In the United States and also in the EU there’s a good deal of opposition, however. People are concerned about things like genetically modified food imports from the United States, cultural assets, the audiovisual media. How can a deal be reached on such matters?

Obviously on both sides there are things on which it will be hard to reach a deal. Nevertheless, I would advise against excluding certain areas from the negotiating mandate. We should start the talks on the broadest possible basis. If the United States and the EU, the world’s two most powerful economic regions, were to join forces, that would send more than a purely economic message, also to the new players on the world stage. It would send the message, too, that the values we in the West cherish are a source of strength.

You’ve just been to Ottawa and Mexico City, now you’re in New York. In your four years as Foreign Minister you’ve visited more countries than your predecessor Frank-Walter Steinmeier….

that’s because the diplomatic agenda is probably now more complex than at any time since German reunification….

.considering all the travelling you’ve done, one’s bound to ask whether you’re proposing to carry on, assuming the Coalition wins the election in September?

It’s soon enough to start the election campaign in the summer. But I don’t deny that I welcome your question.

The questions were put by Severin Weiland. Reproduced by kind permission of www.spiegel.de

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