Syria: “Russia’s intransigence disappoints us”

31.08.2013 - Interview

Foreign Minister Westerwelle discusses the situation in Syria in an interview with the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper. Published on 31 August 2013.


In the Chancellor’s view an international response to the use of poison gas in Syria is imperative. Do we have to prepare mentally for the Bundeswehr being involved?

No such involvement has been requested, nor are we considering it. Our constitution and courts require us to observe strict parameters. We’re pressing for the Security Council to agree on a common position and for the work of the UN inspectors to be concluded as swiftly as possible.

What precise role will Germany play – which chose not to participate in the intervention in Libya?

First of all, the two situations – the situation in Libya two and a half years ago and the situation today in Syria – are not comparable. In Syria hundreds have been killed by what was in all probability chemical weapons of mass destruction. That is a crime against civilisation. Countless times over the past few days the Federal Chancellor and I have been on the phone talking to our allies and other countries. Like others, we continue to work hard for the international community to achieve a united stand here, despite the obvious resistance.

The British Parliament has refused to endorse Prime Minister Cameron’s pro-war course on Syria. US President Obama has lost his most important ally. Is the western alliance against Assad now weakened, has it even become a laughing stock?

Contentious public debate on difficult issues – sometimes even issues of life and death – is one of the great advantages of living in democracies such as ours. We share the view that we should await the reports of the United Nations experts and have the Security Council consider the matter.

Has Obama manoeuvred himself into a corner, since he said already a year ago that the use of chemical weapons would be crossing a “red line”?

The first-time use of chemical weapons in the 21st century would constitute the breach of a taboo. President Obama is not alone in his assessment that the international community cannot let such an act remain without consequences.

Are the decision-makers inhibited by the grim experience and high losses of the Iraq war?

That, I believe, is not for me to judge, seeing the stringency and earnestness with which these matters are being considered in Washington, London, Paris and elsewhere.

US President Barack Obama regards Syria’s ruler Bashar al‑Assad as responsible for the chemical weapons attack, but wants to wait for the report of the UN inspectors. When is it likely to be ready?

I’ve asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to – if at all possible – speed up the inspectors’ work. Please understand that in such an extraordinarily serious and dramatic situation I’d rather not speculate about these things.

Yet there is a good deal of evidence that poison gas has been used against civilians …

The reports and images coming out of Syria certainly speak a clear language. The intelligence and analyses presented by our allies are plausible. However, we want solid facts and that is what I hope the UN investigations will produce.

How should Germany react if Assad attacks Israel?

I can very well understand Israel’s concern about its security. The civil war in Syria has been going on now for over two years. There’s a real risk it could set the whole region ablaze. In Lebanon, too, violence continues to flare up and in the Sinai Peninsula lawlessness and terror have recently been clearly on the rise.

London is pushing at the United Nations for a resolution that would pave the way for military action against Assad. Do you see any chance Russia and China will refrain from using their veto?

I welcome British efforts to have the poison gas attack once again discussed in the Security Council. We agree that the goal is for the international community to take a united stand. I can’t deny, however, that we’ve been disappointed time and time again by Russia’s obstructionist stance to date on the Syrian issue. We have criticised this repeatedly and in unequivocal terms. Russia has, after all, issued any number of firm warnings against the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction.

Is it important to make Syria an issue at the G20 Summit next week in St Petersburg?

The Summit will be discussing major financial and economic policy issues. But it’s hardly likely the participants can completely ignore the Syrian issue in the face of such serious developments.

Should Germany take in more refugees from Syria?

The first refugees from Syria are already in Germany. Others will follow shortly. It’s good we’re now offering shelter to 5000 Syrian refugees from Syria. We’re showing practical solidarity. I can only emphasise that Germany is one of the leading humanitarian aid donors. That’s something we can be proud of. It’s a hallmark of our foreign policy, that we don't look the other way but actively offer help.

You’re speaking today in Osnabrück, City of Peace. An omen?

As I pointed out at the Osnabrück Peace Forum a few months ago, my foreign policy sets very great store by a culture of military restraint. Political solutions are always the preferred option.


Interviewer: Beate Tenfelde. Reproduced by kind permission of the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

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