Syria: “We’re working on a political solution”

05.09.2013 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle talks about international crisis talks on Syria in an interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper. Published on 5 September 2013


Foreign Minister, the 20 leading industrialised countries and emerging economies are meeting in St Petersburg from today. Could the G20 summit mark a turning-point in the Syria issue?

We want to try again to pave the way for a unified stance by the Security Council on the use of poison gas in Syria. However, expectations shouldn’t be too high. I haven’t detected any change in Russia’s position yet.

Why do you say that theres little chance of a political solution coming about?

As on previous occasions, we’ll leave no stone unturned in our efforts to reach a political solution. However, my job is to present a realistic assessment of the situation to the Bundestag and the German public. Following countless talks with our allies, with the Russian, Chinese and Iranian Foreign Ministers, as well as with colleagues in the region, I’ve come to the conclusion – much to my regret – that the chances of a political solution haven’t increased during the last few days.

On Wednesday, President Putin didnt rule out Russia agreeing to a UN resolution should there be evidence that the poison gas attack was ordered by Assad. Is Moscow really changing its position or is it just stringing the West along?

Other comments have also been made. I’m going to discuss this personally with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

In his speech on Saturday, President Obama not only appealed to Congress to support him but also announced that he intended to call on partners to publicly endorse the announced military strike as they had already done behind closed doors. Has the German Government secretly been encouraging the US Administration to take military action?

No. We’re working towards making a political solution possible. We want the UN Security Council to adopt a united stance. We have provided the United Nations with tangible support in order to speed up the analysis of the samples taken in Syria and ensure that the UN inspectors’ are able to present their final report as quickly as possible. Germany has not been asked to participate militarily, nor is the German Government considering doing so.

Why is it important that the results are published quickly?

The results should bring it home to those who have expressed doubts in public that chemical substances really have been used and tell us which they were. Although the UN’s mandate is not to name those responsible, the substances and amounts proven to have been used could make it even clearer who actually has the technical know-how to carry out such attacks.

It could be that Washington decides to act before all diplomatic options have been exhausted. Has the EU been calling for more time?

I’ve told Secretary of State Kerry that all states should take the findings of the UN inspections into account when making their decision. At the same time, I’ve urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to accelerate the analysis, provided that wouldn’t compromise the quality of the results.

The German Government says that it wont consider a military intervention by Germany. Will that still hold true if the UN Security Council votes in favour of such action?

The Chancellor and I have both stated our positions very clearly.

Bundeswehr PATRIOT batteries are currently stationed in Turkey. If Turkey were to support a US military strike, would that have an impact on the stationing of these batteries?

The mandate for PATRIOT deployment approved by the Bundestag is of a purely defensive nature. The German Government will of course make very sure that this mandate is rigorously adhered to.

Arent you worried that the Syria conflict could still have a massive influence on the Bundestag election campaign?

The situation in Syria and the possible consequences are much too serious for petty party political tactics. I want to say that quite plainly to all political parties.

Meaning the German Government would have the same position if elections werent being held on 22 September?

Of course. A culture of military restraint has been one of the parameters of my foreign policy during the last four years. As you know, that position has garnered criticism in some quarters.

Because you said there was little chance of a political solution, the SPD candidate Peer Steinbrück has accused you of surrendering to the logic of a military solution.

I don’t think he would say that if he wasn’t in the midst of an election campaign.

Steinbrück has claimed that both you and the Chancellor scuppered any chances of influencing Russia with your confrontational remarks, for example at the opening of the “looted art” exhibition in St Petersburg.

The claim that we weakened Germany’s influence in Moscow by voicing criticism of domestic developments in Russia doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Yes, it’s true that we spoke out against moves to weaken Russian civil society, attacks on NGOs and the discrimination against homosexuals. I’m sure they didn’t like hearing that in Moscow. It was nevertheless right – indeed it was necessary in the light of our values-based foreign policy. During the last two years, we’ve done our utmost to persuade Russia to change its position on the civil war in Syria.

Whats wrong with the claim that President Putin would be more prepared to compromise if the German Government hadnt criticised him?

Is Mr Steinbrück saying that a German Government led by him would remain silent on human rights violations in Russia? I believe that would not only be unacceptable but also ineffective. I’m sure that President Putin wouldn’t be impressed by a softly-softly approach and it certainly wouldn’t influence his position on the Syria issue.

Interview: Robert Birnbaum and Hans Monath. Reproduced by kind permission of the Tagesspiegel.

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