Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the current diplomatic efforts regarding Syria. Published in the Rhein Neckar Zeitung, 13 September 2013.
At the beginning of the week the Russian Government suggested that Syria’s chemical weapons be placed under international control. Did that come as a surprise to you too?
We talked about this proposal at the G20 summit in St Petersburg, and also at the Foreign Ministers meeting in Lithuania. I am glad that for the first time in months there is some movement again.
Damascus immediately said it intended to go along with the plan.Is that credible?
We will see. The words must quickly be followed by deeds. An international inspection of Syria’s chemical weapons will certainly be technically complex and take some time. But Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention would be possible immediately. The regime has a chance here to show that its response to the US Russian proposal was not merely tactical.
Bilateral negotiations are currently underway between Moscow and Washington. When do you expect to see concrete results?
I’m reluctant to make forecasts, for good reasons. I had intensive talks on the issue with the French Foreign Minister again yesterday. We are agreed that the United Nations Security Council needs to arrive at a united stance soon. We cannot simply go back to doing business as usual when chemical weapons are being used in such a terrible way. In Germany’s view, it is important that the UN Security Council mandate the International Criminal Court to investigate the allegations.
What is Europe’s position at the moment?
We are jointly of the conviction that we should await the findings of the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors. We should use this extra time for a political and diplomatic solution. Lasting peace and lasting stability in Syria will not be achieved through a military solution.
The international focus is currently on Syria’s chemical weapons, but the “conventional” civil war itself has already claimed more than 100,000 lives.Is that being forgotten while the debate concentrates on chemical weapons?
That may be true in the public arena, but certainly not in our diplomatic endeavours to end the civil war and find a political solution. The aim is to make a political fresh start possible for Syria through an international conference in Geneva involving all the parties to the civil war.
Is there united support for this, on the part of the Russians as well?
I hope that during the next United Nations General Assembly, which starts on 23 September, we will at least be able to draw up a timetable and framework for a conference in Geneva. The movement we’ve seen over the past few days could become a chance to really get the political process going, leading to a conference in Geneva. It would be important to negotiate a ceasefire as part of this process.
Current newspaper reports suggest something different: the Washington Post reports that the US is supplying the rebels with weapons.
I cannot comment on media reports like that. We have made it quite clear that Germany will not supply any arms to Syria. In my view, there is a very real danger that any weapons supplied could end up in the wrong hands. When it comes to the Syrian opposition, a distinction has to be made between moderate forces on the one hand and jihadists and terrorists on the other. The fact that the latter are fighting against Assad doesn’t make them allies.
Rumour number two: it’s being said that Moscow has promised Assad weapons in return for applying to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Again, I cannot comment on that. As German Foreign Minister I am involved in the negotiations and discussions. Speculation I’ll have to leave to others.
The UN resolution currently being discussed considers military sanctions.What position will Germany take if there’s a vote on that?
Germany’s position is well-known: Germany has not been asked to participate in military operations in Syria, nor is the Federal Government considering doing so. We are convinced that everything must be done to make a political solution possible, not a military one.
If you are asked to make a decision, will it be a no, or an abstention, as in the case of Libya?
It makes no sense to discuss hypothetical scenarios.
In your view, is there a red line that, when crossed, would fundamentally alter Germany’s foreign policy stance?
I share the conviction that the international community cannot simply carry on as usual when chemical weapons have been used in such a dreadful way. This requires a united and resolute stance on the part of the international community. That’s why I am in favour of the Security Council mandating the International Criminal Court to launch its own investigations and bring the perpetrators to justice.
What’s the position regarding policy on refugees? Is enough being done to ease the burden on Syria’s neighbours?
Germany is acting in an exemplary manner. We have committed more than 400 million euros in humanitarian aid for the people in Syria and those who have fled. That is far more than ever before in a humanitarian crisis. And 18,000 Syrian nationals have already sought and found refuge in Germany. We have started to admit another 5000 people from Syria. We want to get this done quickly. Then we will see how the situation in Syria develops. Of course we are also talking with our European partners. I believe others in Europe should do their bit as well.
Interview by Sören S. Sgries. Reproduced by kind permission of the Rhein Neckar Zeitung.