Syria: “Those responsible belong in court”

19.09.2013 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle talks about the present situation in Syria. Published in the German-language edition of the Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet am 19 September 2013.


When your papers arrive on your desk each day, what file do you currently look at first?

The one on Syria. I find it very worrying that Russia has shielded the regime in Damascus for so long. Yesterday, the UN chemical weapons inspectors confirmed that appalling chemical weapons had in fact been used in Syria. The UN Security Council should now refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, so that those responsible may be held accountable.

Do you already know who did it?

The signs indicate that responsibility for the poison gas attacks lies with the Assad regime. The International Criminal Court is the neutral tribunal established to deal with cases like this. It should now be allowed to start its work. But before it can, the UN Security Council has to give the go-ahead.

Does it really take the use of chemical weapons to make the International Criminal Court step in?

The civil war is cruel and has caused untold suffering; more than 100,000 people have died and millions have fled. But not everybody fighting on the opposition’s side is really on our side. The fact that a terrorist is fighting Assad does not make that terrorist our friend. The use of chemical weapons is a crime against civilisation; this is the first time it has been committed in the 21st century. If we don’t use the possibilities presented by international law now, there is a great danger that such crimes will be committed again by others.

Do you think there can be a solution without Assad?

That question will be addressed at the second Geneva conference, which we hope will identify steps leading to a political solution. The first Geneva conference specified the framework: a transitional Syrian government with genuine executive powers and genuine governmental authority, formed by the parties to the conflict by mutual consent. Some people still believe that a military solution is possible. I don’t. A military solution would only lead to more terror and create a failed state. Armed groups would go underground, regardless of who won the civil war. A new wave of terrorism would erupt. These terrorists would threaten Turkey and even us in central Europe. That’s a serious concern I have. Iraq has shown us some of what can happen.

What will happen if Assad does not go voluntarily?

Russia has protected the Assad regime for far too long. But now there’s another small chance of achieving a political solution. We must make use of this momentum, seize this opportunity. Next week the international community will gather in New York at this year’s session of the UN General Assembly. New impetus needs to be injected into the political process there. That’s why I’m flying to New York only one day after the German general election.

Critics have said that the agreement reached by the two foreign ministers in Geneva has given Assad more time.Do you think that’s true?

I do not believe in a military solution. And for that reason I welcome the initiative launched in Geneva.


What do you think of Erdogan’s policy on Syria?

We are equal partners. We are partners in NATO. We’re coordinating our policies very closely. But of course Turkey’s in a different position, with all the refugees arriving from Syria. The worse the military conflict in Syria, the longer it goes on, the more people will flee to neighbouring countries. I have the greatest respect for Turkey’s willingness to take in refugees from Syria.

The United States wanted to take military action.But then Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in London, said that if Syria destroyed its chemical weapons, an attack would not be necessary.Was that a slip of the tongue?

We had already had lengthy discussions on how to render Syria’s chemical weapons harmless – at the G20 meeting in St Petersburg and at the EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Vilnius – before John Kerry made his statement. The public was taken by surprise, but the idea was not new to diplomats. Secretary of State John Kerry felt the timing was right for the announcement in London, perhaps relatively spontaneously. And one week later the negotiations in Geneva, with Russian participation, produced a reasonable outcome.

The Spaniards and Greeks are following the Bundestag elections especially closely,because Germany is the strongest country in the EU, as well as the strongest member of NATO.The Greeks and the Spaniards are all wondering if Germany will continue to help.

Germany has given guarantees equal to an entire year’s national budget. That really is European solidarity in action. But money alone will not solve the problem. Turkey has shown what is needed. Tackle the necessary reforms with gusto, adapt to globalisation, be ready to increase your competitiveness, and a lot can be achieved, including economic growth, more jobs, rising wages and greater prosperity. That’s why it’s a central tenet of my policy that we should not fall back on the old debt-driven policies. Those European countries that have racked up too many debts now face mass unemployment, and, what’s worse, high youth unemployment. Running up more debt gives rise to mass unemployment. Who’s going to invest in a country that’s overly indebted? There really is no getting around completing the necessary reforms across Europe. I well remember Turkey’s position 15 years ago. And look at it now! That can only be achieved through hard work, discipline, and reforms that increase competitiveness.

Reproduced by kind permission of Hürriyet.

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