Syria: “I’m extremely concerned”

01.09.2013 - Interview

Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle speaks about the situation in Syria in an interview with Welt am Sonntag newspaper. Published on 1 September 2013


Mr Westerwelle, you’ve been urging a political solution since the start of the Syria conflict. Now the US is heading towards a military strike. Have your diplomatic efforts failed?

Russia in particular has been taking an obstructive stance in the UN Security Council on Syria for years. During the last few days, we’ve pushed hard for the Security Council to again address the terrible events in Syria. I welcome Britain’s initiative to that effect. We will continue to press for a united stance by the international community. The Chancellor and I have conducted countless talks with our partners and allies in the West, as well as with Russia, China and countries in the region. One thing is clear: only a political solution in the form of negotiations between the parties to the conflict and the appointment of a transitional government can bring lasting peace and stability to Syria.

What’s your assessment of the evidence put forward by the US Administration that Assad is responsible for the poison gas attack?

The arguments put forward by Secretary of State Kerry carry weight. They point clearly to the Assad regime. They’re plausible. We should all take them seriously. That’s why we’re urging all the more now for the United Nations investigations to be concluded as quickly as possible. We’ll continue to consult intensively with our allies and partners and to call for a united stance by the international community.

What kind of contribution does America expect from Germany? And what kind of contribution are you prepared to make?

Germany has not been asked to participate militarily, nor are we considering doing so. Our constitution and the legal framework which ensures that we abide by it set narrow parameters for us to work within. We intend to further increase the funding for the German project office to support reconstruction by the moderate Syrian opposition. The trust fund we established in conjunction with the United Arab Emirates is successfully collecting considerable sums for reconstruction work by the opposition. Germany is providing humanitarian assistance on an extraordinary scale. Never before have we provided such large amounts to alleviate the hardship in a country. We’re one of the biggest donors of assistance for Syrian refugees.

Is military support still out of the question?

This is not about intervening in the Syrian civil war with a view to bringing about a regime change or a military outcome which gives the rebels the upper hand. This is about finding the right response by the international community to the first use of chemical weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century. Such weapons have long since been regarded as utterly unacceptable internationally and banned under international law. If the international community were to carry on as usual should the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction be proven, that would be a blight on our future. Anyone who considers using such weapons has to know that they have to face consequences from the international community. Our position on this is based on our foreign policy interests and our values.

How long will it take until the UN announces the results of its inspection?

I have given the UN Secretary-General an assurance that I will help ensure that the results can be made available soon. We’re making a tangible contribution to ensuring the investigations are swiftly concluded. The inspectors, along with the samples, left the region on a plane chartered by the Federal Foreign Office and have returned to Europe. I expect the analysis of the samples to begin without delay and to be given the utmost priority until completed, before the results are then discussed in the Security Council.

Germany has stationed a missile defence system at the Turkish-Syrian border. The Bundeswehr could thus suddenly become a party in the conflict …

The German Bundestag mandate for this mission in Turkey is purely defensive and will be strictly adhered to by the German Government.

The Bundeswehr will remain in Turkey– no matter what happens?

I’ll leave it up to others to speculate.

Is Syria an issue for the election campaign?

We’re talking about a bloody civil war which has now seen the death of tens of thousands of people, millions of refugees and the use of chemical weapons. This is an extremely serious situation about which we in Germany should, of course, speak – but refrain from any comments motivated by party politics. We’ve had intensive talks with Russia since the start of the Syria crisis. On many occasions, I’ve really done everything diplomatically possible in my talks with Moscow to accommodate Russia’s positions. We’ve tried everything to persuade the Russian Government to change tack.

Did Obama make a mistake when he made the use of poison gas a red line for intervention?

The entire international community – expressly also Russia and China – made it clear at the time that they won’t tolerate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We’ve made good progress during the last few years in destroying the global stockpiles of these banned weapons. Germany has been especially committed to this, provided considerable funds and also made available its technical know-how on the destruction of chemical weapons, for example recently in Libya. However, there are still states which haven’t committed themselves to the international regime on the prohibition and destruction of such weapons. In particular, these include North Korea and Syria. Therefore, anyone who simply looks the other way and carries on as normal after such weapons have been used could encourage their renewed use. For that reason, too, we’re appealing to Russia to join the international community in sending a clear message.

Would an intervention without a UN Security Council mandate be legitimate under international law?

Our aim is a united stance and joint action by the international community in the Security Council. Anything else is speculation in which I certainly won’t engage.

The Assad regime is claiming that attacks on Syria would turn the Middle East into a fireball. How seriously do you take that?

Even before the escalation during the last few days, I’ve been extremely concerned about the danger of the conflict spreading throughout the region.

What’s Israel’s situation in your view?

Israel’s security is always a matter of the utmost importance to Germany’s foreign policy in the Middle East. I share the concerns which Israelis have about their own security.

Would an intervention in Syria have an impact on the terrorist threat in Germany?

This question also arises if the international community were to look the other way in the event of the use of weapons of mass destruction.


Interview: Jochen Gaugele, Thorsten Jungholt.

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