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Iraq: “Without some sort of understanding between Riyadh and Tehran it will hardly be possible to resolve the conflict.”

24.06.2014 - Interview

Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier on the current situation in Ukraine and in Iraq. Published in the Bild newspaper on 24 June 2014.

Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier on the current situation in Ukraine and in Iraq. Published in the Bild newspaper on 24 June 2014.

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Mr Steinmeier, you spend all your days focusing on crises, war, terrorism – do you not sometimes wake up in the mornings thinking, “Whatever I do, it’s all to no avail”?

No, anyone who thinks like that shouldn’t become Foreign Minister. But sometimes it’s true that after a day with new diplomatic initiatives you go to bed at night with a glimmer of hope – and then in the early morning news you hear that your hopes were in vain. When that happens, you just have to start rolling the stone back up the hill again the next morning, like Sisyphus.

Speaking frankly, do you still have hope for Ukraine?

Time and again we have seen developments that have encouraged us: an election, a new president, a peace plan, most recently the announcement of a ceasefire ... and there have also been setbacks: the failure of the gas negotiations and above all the shooting down of the military aircraft with 49 lives lost. Nevertheless, we don’t really have any alternative for defusing the conflict – the military alternative is not an option. That is why we need to conduct further talks and negotiations. I am not going to allow myself to lose heart. We will continue to work towards and push for a political solution.

Are you personally disappointed with Putin?

Disappointment has no role to play in foreign policy. Having said that, I would have expected Russia to abide more closely by the rules of the international game.

In the meantime, the Middle East is also descending further and further into chaos. Is there any hope for Iraq as a state?

Yes, and I am not alone in holding this opinion. My talks in Turkey and the Gulf States show me that all Iraq’s neighbours are focusing on the country. For the alternative is a no‑man’s‑land teeming with terrorists and Islamic extremists, a battlespace for holy warriors and religious fanatics, where proxy wars between the regional powers can be played out. Nobody can want that!

Now the main issue is essentially a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran ...

... without some sort of understanding between Riyadh and Tehran it will hardly be possible to resolve the conflict. Communication between these two states could help defuse the crisis.

What needs to be done?

The initiative has to come from the country itself. ISIS is only strong because it is receiving support from sections of the population who feel excluded. The country urgently needs a government in which all regions are broadly represented. That is the only way to stamp out terrorism.

Are Obama and US foreign policymakers doing all the right things in the region?

Steinmeier: The diplomatic response is: Yes ...

And your personal response?

Steinmeier: ... The war with Iraq has shifted the balance of power in the region. The departure of the US troops left a divided and unstable country in its wake. Now that was not Obama’s responsibility, on the contrary. But it has to be said that the region is still grappling with the consequences of the Iraq war.

Interview conducted by Rolf Kleine. Reproduced with the kind permission of Bild.

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