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“Only a political solution can possibly bring the violence in Syria to an end”

20.06.2013 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle spoke to the Nürnberger Nachrichten newspaper about various topics, including the situations in Syria and Turkey.

Mr Westerwelle, you are going to be talking about the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy at the upcoming conference on security in Nuremberg. Given the discord over policy towards Syria, your report can’t be much more than the description of a train wreck, can it?

Syria is currently the most difficult foreign policy issue worldwide. It is therefore perfectly understandable, albeit not very gratifying, that we in Europe don’t agree on all points.

You recently called on the UN Security Council to overcome its disunity on Syria, Russia’s President Putin having blocked every proposal made in the Council so far. But this will be impossible as long as the United States and others seek first and foremost to topple the Assad regime.

Encouragingly, the US and Russia agreed once more at the G8 Summit that they would direct their energies towards a political solution, including holding a conference on Syria – which we in Germany feel should take place in Geneva as soon as possible. There can be no military solution in Syria. Only a political solution can possibly bring the violence to an end and enable the country to develop peacefully.

Should Iran be allowed to take part in this conference now?

We need to leave that question for now to Russia and the US, the countries behind the conference. I wouldn’t want to pre empt their decision.

But there can be no solution without Iran.

It is important that Iran be a part of any political solution. Whether that means they should also take part in the conference is a question we should leave open in view of the ongoing deliberations. The crucial thing is that Iran needs to honour its obligations to the international community. Newly elected President Hassan Rohani has announced reforms. We will be watching closely to see whether that triggers new impetus, both domestically and in foreign affairs.

Turning to poison gas, can you help us out here? The US considers that the red line has now been crossed because the French apparently have some new evidence. The International Committee of the Red Cross on the other hand says it has no credible proof to date. What’s the game?

I couldn’t speculate on that. We don’t have any evidence ourselves – which makes it all the more important for the UN observers to be finally allowed to enter Syria so that they can carry out their own independent investigations.

You recently said that a proxy war was being fought in Syria. That does seem to be the case. How does it make sense for the West – including Germany – to keep arming Saudi Arabia and so driving the region’s even greater militarization?

There are a lot of claims being made on that score, and not all the claims are true. I don’t see anything questionable in border-security facilities making up a considerable proportion of our exports to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s desire to defend itself against an influx of terrorists – for example from the south, where it shares a border with Yemen – is a legitimate and understandable security interest.

That doesn’t explain the massive deal, in the billions, that the US Administration has concluded with the Saudis.

Arms exports are always decisions which are taken individually and with great care, weighing up a multitude of issues including security interests and alliances.

The next hotspot is Turkey. Has Erdoğan, the Turkish premier, long given up on his EU ambitions, or does it just look like he has?

I am sorry that the Turkish Government’s response to the demonstrations has not been to seek dialogue and calm tensions but to escalate matters both rhetorically and physically. This has made it all the more urgent for us to engage in intensive dialogue with Turkey as soon as possible on issues pertaining to fundamental rights, the rule of law and civil liberties. It is regrettable that the relevant chapters, numbers 23 and 24, have been blocked by partners in the European Union. I think it particularly important now to start negotiations with Turkey on exactly these issues – from freedom of the press to freedom of assembly.

You side-stepped the question about Erdoğan’s EU ambitions very elegantly there.

I can’t tell you what the Turkish Prime Minister’s political intentions are – you’d have to ask him directly; I can only tell you about the policy of the German Government. I hope that Turkey realizes that it has been sending the wrong messages to its own people and to the outside – including Europe.

This interview was conducted by Georg Escher, published on 20 June 2013 and reproduced by kind permission of the Nürnberger Nachrichten newspaper.

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