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“Chemical weapons need to be banned worldwide”

10.09.2013 - Interview

In an interview in the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle advocated quickly placing chemical weapons in Syria under international control. In the light of the first use of chemical weapons in the 21st century, the international community could not simply carry on as usual, as the Minister made clear. Published in the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on 10 September 2013.

The United States is demanding that dictator Bashar al‑Assad and his regime hand over all chemical weapons within a week. Surprisingly, Russia is now also pressing Syria to destroy its chemical weapons. Can a military strike perhaps be prevented at the last minute?

If it could be ensured that the Assad regime’s chemical weapons can no longer be used, that would be a major step forward. I welcome any initiative to place chemical weapons in Syria under international control. The faster this happens the better. Chemical weapons need to be banned and destroyed worldwide. Yet given the attitude of the Assad regime to date, hopes should not be pinned too high.

The White House admits it does not to date have 100% proof that Assad’s regime was behind the use of poison gas in Syria. In a case like this, can you rely on suspicions and levels of plausibility?

From our point of view too, it is plausible that chemical weapons have been used and that the responsibility lies with the Syrian regime. The United Nations inspectors should now be in a position to conclude their investigations. The results of these investigations need to be known, before further decisions can be taken. French President Hollande, for example, announced he will only act once the UN report is on the table. I would welcome it if the United States was to follow suit.

First, no German signature at the bottom of the Syria statement drawn up at the G20 summit, then we did endorse it after all – has the German Government not made a big mistake with all this toing and froing?

On the contrary. German foreign policy is geared to our interests and led by our values. It is embedded in Europe. In Vilnius, we managed to reach a unanimous position amongst the European Union. It seems our negotiation strategy was successful.

While Germany was still hesitating, four major European nations immediately put their names to the G20 statement on Syria. The Chancellor criticised this step by France, Britain, Italy and Spain saying it was “not ok”...

Our approach in Europe is to also take account of the position of smaller and medium-sized countries who do not have a seat at the G20 table. Anyone wanting to make Europe’s voice heard, has to attach importance to a shared European position. The fact that we managed to achieve this in a truly difficult question and complex situation is also the result of how we negotiated.

The opposition doesn’t see it that way. SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel has described it as “an utter failure of German foreign policy”.

The situation is really far too serious to want to play political one‑upmanship between the parties. We should not make questions of war and peace into the fodder for domestic disputes waged to score points in the election campaign here in Germany.

In the case of a strike, Syria’s dictator Assad is threatening military attacks targeting, for example, Israel and Turkey. Are the Americans right to exclude anything that goes beyond air strikes from the outset?

I don’t get involved in such speculation. The Americans have not yet decided. The debates in Congress are only just starting. Nevertheless it is clear that, in the light of the first use of chemical weapons in the 21st century, the international community cannot simply carry on as usual. Our urgent appeal to Russia remains for it to withdraw the shielding hand it holds over the Damascus regime in the United Nations Security Council.

Some foreign policy experts from the SPD are suggesting using former Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s contacts with the Kremlin to persuade President Vladimir Putin to change course…

The German Government is engaged in extremely close dialogue with Russia, with China and with all countries in the region, including Iran. At the recent G20 summit in St Petersburg I also had intensive talks with Foreign Minister Lavrov. To date, Moscow has unfortunately not adopted a constructive position in the Security Council. I do not believe that a softly‑softly approach is going to persuade President Putin to change tack.

Israel’s security is part of Germany’s national ethos, as Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel has underscored time and again. How would Germany react in the case of a Syrian attack on Israel?

What the Federal Chancellor said on Germany’s behalf requires no further interpretation.

The UN is warning against a military strike against Syria and is calling upon Europe to take in an unlimited number of refugees from the region. What is Germany prepared to do?

17,000 Syrians have found refuge with us here in Germany. The first of the additional 5000 refugees that Germany will take in are due to arrive shortly. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees paid clear tribute to Germany’s humanitarian commitment. We are setting an example and hope the rest of Europe will follow suit. If other countries do the same and take in refugees on a similar scale, it would be an extremely positive signal.

The interview was conducted by Rasmus Buchsteiner. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

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