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Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Two plus Four Treaty

11.09.2015 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

On 21 December 1972, Egon Bahr and Michael Kohl gave a joint press conference in East Berlin to announce the Basic Treaty, which had just been agreed. Michael Kohl is not to be confused with Helmut Kohl, who later became Federal Chancellor. Michael Kohl’s nickname was “Rotkohl” or “Red Cabbage”. The journalists expected Willy Brandt’s government to sing its own praises, but Egon Bahr, who died a few weeks ago, simply said: “We used to have no relationship at all with the GDR. At least now we have a bad one.”

You, Herr Genscher, were still Minister of the Interior at the time. Shortly afterwards, you became Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs. Eighteen years after that day in December, on 2 October 1990 – you were still Foreign Minister – your ministry, the Federal Foreign Office in Bonn, received a telegram from its highest‑ranking official in East Berlin, Franz-Josef Bertele.

He wrote: “The Permanent Representation bids farewell to its readers. Our country will be united from tomorrow. (...) We now have a very good relationship with the GDR. We will no longer need one tomorrow. We have come full circle.”

Yes, we had come full circle. What happened the following day was something that each of you gentlemen had worked extremely hard to achieve – something that people like me, a law student in Land Hesse, could not even have imagined a few months previously. Germany was celebrating its reunification! Following decades of division, the painful chapter of separation had finally come to an end.

The gift of reunification still fills us with profound gratitude today.

Markus Meckel, we are grateful to the brave people in the GDR and eastern Europe who brought down the Wall with their desire for freedom and their civic courage.

To this day, we have the greatest respect for the courage and far‑sighted work of people such as Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr. They were pioneers who set the course for German unification and European integration.

But above all, we are also deeply grateful – and that is what today’s event is about – for the trust that our partners and neighbours showed us at the time.

Anatoly Adamishin,Roland Dumas,Lord Waldegrave,Bob Zoellick,

Without your countries’ trust and approval, we would not be here today.

The Two plus Four Treaty could not have been negotiated without the unequivocal support of the United States. Bob, perhaps you will remember that when the papers were signed, James Baker joked that “the next time we will negotiate about the German-Chinese border”.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Baker’s joke remained just that. But it showed what long shadows of the past had to be overcome for our partner countries to be able to put their trust in Germany once again!

This was also the case for the United Kingdom, Lord Waldegrave – indeed, for your country in particular. And for France, Roland Dumas. Germany’s European partners initially regarded the new order at the heart of Europe with scepticism based on historical grounds. And rightly so! At a later stage, Roland Dumas, you memorably described the atmosphere of the talks as “open, direct and sometimes brutal”!

But nevertheless, despite this difficult wrangling and despite all the concerns, an agreement was reached. Gentlemen, your countries’ faith in Germany’s European future made unification possible.

Anatoly Adamishin, your country, the Soviet Union, was itself undergoing profound change at the time. Mikhail Gorbachev had the courage to open the door to freedom and democracy. His vision of a “common European house” did not only pave the way to German unification, but also to European integration! We Germans remain very grateful for that. We are happy that you are here, Mr Adamishin. A very warm welcome to you all, gentlemen!

***

The Two plus Four Treaty is regarded as a great moment for diplomacy – and rightly so. And when one recalls the deeply entrenched historical, ideological and geopolitical positions that had to be overcome at the time, it becomes clear just how great this moment was.

But consensus was reached. The Federal Republic of Germany guaranteed the inviolability of existing borders, agreed to reduce its armed forces and renounced any use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. It was crucial to our Polish neighbours that Germany did not assert any territorial claims east of the Oder‑Neisse‑Line. The signing of the Two plus Four Treaty, which granted our country equal rights under international law and the right to self‑determination, marked the end of the post‑war period in Germany.

And this Treaty continues to play a vital role in shaping our country and foreign policy to this day. I would now like to address three aspects.

***

Firstly, there is no doubt that the Two plus Four Treaty laid the foundation for an age of peace in Europe. Only two months after its conclusion, the members of the Conference on Security and Co‑operation in Europe, the CSCE, signed the Charter of Paris, thus documenting the end of the East‑West confrontation and the division of Europe.

There were high hopes for the Charter. Freed from the yoke of the past, future relations in Europe were to be based on respect and cooperation. The door to a “new era of democracy, peace and unity” stood open.

This Charter remains the basis of Europe’s peaceful order. But the events of recent months, with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine, have dealt the harshest blow to the hope for peace and cooperation expressed by the signatories in Paris since the Charter was signed.

It is somewhat ironic that Russia, which played a crucial role in restoring its former enemy Germany’s full sovereignty in the Two plus Four Treaty, now does not seem to recognise the full sovereignty of the countries in the post‑Soviet region. This is incompatible with Europe’s post‑Cold War peaceful order!

The OSCE has now taken on the vital task of mediating and searching for a solution. Yes, the organisation that developed from the CSCE 25 years ago when it seemed that the East‑West conflict had been resolved for good. But its mission is certainly far from complete! The OSCE remains essential to Europe’s security today! We will leave no stone unturned in our endeavours to bring about a political settlement in the conflict in Ukraine.

One thing is clear here – we must not cut off the channels of communication with Russia, not least for the sake of Ukraine.

But far more is at stake here. We need Russia to be at the table of global political responsibility in order to be in a position to master the challenges facing us in other regions of the world. I say this with a view to Syria, the fight against international terrorism and the security architecture of the Middle East. We can only make progress here with, and not without, Russia. And I know, Bob, that our American partners share this view.

***

This brings me to my second point, the transatlantic relationship.

The Two plus Four Treaty anchored the reunited Germany in the North Atlantic Alliance. Those who were there at the time will recall that this was not a matter of course. There were concerns and opposition from many sides. And this was certainly understandable, given the long shadow cast by German history.

In hindsight, it was the right decision – for the stability of Germany and Europe, and not against the Soviet Union and later Russia. Instead, the aim was always to forge a constructive partnership – ideally, one based on trust. From its inception, the reunited Federal Republic saw it as its duty to work towards understanding and reconciliation between East and West. It saw itself as Russia’s partner in developing a new security architecture in Europe, whether this involved the NATO‑Russia Founding Act or the OSCE’s Charter for European Security.

And this is how we continue to see our mission today. Looking East, we are very open to dialogue with Russia, but we are firmly rooted in the western alliance.

After all, we know that the alliance with the United States is not only what safeguards our security to this day, but also that the transatlantic relationship is the crucial source of strength for our foreign policy, both for Germany and Europe. And this goes far beyond NATO issues.

One outstanding example of this is the Iran dossier, to which John Kerry was deeply committed.

But it is also the case for Syria and the fight against IS. Today, on 11 September, we join our American friends in remembering the victims of the attacks of 14 years ago. And at the same time, we are aware of how great the terrorist threat remains. The United States has taken on a crucial leading role in the fight against IS. Germany will continue to support the US coalition.

One further point on the United States is important to me. The restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba deserves great respect. It does not only open up new prospects for cooperation on the entire American continent, but also shows me something else. It shows that diplomacy can overcome seemingly irreconcilable differences through courage, political will and the readiness to question one’s own long‑held views.

***

This brings me to my third point – the importance of diplomacy.

12 September 1990, the date of the signing of the Two plus Four Treaty, was a great moment for diplomacy. A great moment, but not a fleeting moment! In other words, it did not come from nothing. Instead, this great moment was both a beginning and an end.

The Two plus Four Treaty was the result of years of negotiations. It was the result of strategic patience and perseverance. And it was the result of visions that had been far‑sightedly expressed almost 30 years earlier in Kennedy’s Strategy of Peace and Brandt and Bahr’s change through rapprochement.

At the same time, the Two plus Four Treaty was merely a beginning – the start of Germany overcoming its division through reunification and of European integration after the Cold War.

For this reason, too, the Two plus Four Treaty remains a symbol for the diplomacy of our time. I am thinking specifically of the agreement with Iran. Yes, the deal agreed in Vienna this summer was also a happy moment for diplomacy. But – and this is important to me – this agreement is also not a fleeting moment. It is also both a beginning and an end. The end of a protracted and often tough and challenging negotiation process. And if our older colleagues will allow me to make an aside here, if Two plus Four was already a fairly tricky format, you can imagine how much trickier things get when you add China and Iran to the equation! After all, that’s what the E3+3 is: the Two plus Four, with China and Iran.

But above all, the deal with Iran is merely the beginning of a long path of changes in the region, the beginning of new opportunities, and hopefully also the beginning of new channels of communication in the Middle East that could – if all stakeholders take the process seriously and give it a real political chance – bring about greater security in a deeply troubled region. This process could perhaps even pave the path to resolving other regional conflicts in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

An agreement – whether the Two plus Four Treaty or the deal with Iran – never means that diplomacy’s responsibilities have come to an end. It simply means they have entered a new phase. In the case of the agreement reached in Vienna, all those involved – the E3+3 and neighbours in the region – are responsible. Above all, Iran itself must also show that it is willing to define a new, constructive role.

Perhaps one last thought on this, ladies and gentlemen. The same applies to the conflict in Ukraine. The Minsk agreement of February 2015 is not the end of crisis diplomacy. It is certainly not perfect, but it is a start, a roadmap that points the way to de‑escalation and resolution, but does not guarantee these things. This is why I warn all those who say “Minsk is dead, Minsk has failed” every time there is a problem, a setback or a renewed outbreak of violence. I say that Minsk is a process and a path to which we have to return time and again. Or as my Indian counterpart once put it so well during one of our talks: “There are no full stops in the grammar of foreign policy – only commas and question marks.”

***

To conclude, ladies and gentlemen, what does this anniversary, this great moment of 25 years ago, actually mean for our country today, for Germany in 2015?

I would put it this way: with a view to the Two plus Four process, we Germans have a special duty to honour the importance of diplomacy, which I have just described at such length and with so much hope. After all, diplomacy is what allowed us Germans to reunite. And this is why we Germans must now ensure that diplomacy can play its part!

We cannot do this alone. Even the reunited Germany with its strong economy, the Germany that won the World Cup in 2014, can hardly make any difference in this complex and rapidly changing world through its foreign policy alone.

But we can build bridges, we can forge alliances, and we can gather parties to a conflict around a table – in other words, we can help diplomacy to bring about solutions. “Diplomacy in order to make diplomacy possible” – that is how I would describe our task.

And just think that this takes place here in the building where the National Socialists once stored their gold, in Erich Honecker’s old office, which is located above this room, where the Foreign Minister of reunited Germany now receives his colleagues from all over the world. This reminds us of the shadows of our history, but also of the rays of hope that our partners have given us.

We Germans have every reason to thank you.

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