Interview by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier for the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA on the occasion of his visit to Kuwait (6 October 2015).
Foreign Minister Steinmeier, you are visiting the region at a critical time. The situation is particularly serious in Syria, which is in the fifth year of an increasingly complex war. The situation in Yemen is also alarming. Both conflicts have the potential to further destabilise the region. What opportunities do you see for German foreign policy as regards using its influence to resolve these two severe crises?
It is true that in both Syria and Yemen all attempts by the international community to bring the parties to the negotiating table have failed so far – due in no small part to the inability of crucial international and regional actors to put their differences aside. In both countries, millions of innocent men, women and children are suffering unspeakable violence and deprivation. And yet I am convinced that neither Syria nor Yemen will find stability and peace by military means, but only through a political settlement.
My hope is that the nuclear agreement with Iran will provide an opportunity to open new channels of communication. Russia’s recent intervention in Syria has shown that this will by no means be a smooth process. But that must not stop us from doing everything in our power to help create the conditions for peace talks. We owe that much to the Syrian and Yemeni people.
Kuwait has traditionally provided extensive humanitarian support wherever there is need in the world. A year ago, His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al‑Ahmad Al‑Jaber Al‑Sabah, Amir of Kuwait, was awarded an honour in recognition of this internationally recognised humanitarian support by Ban Ki‑moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, honouring him on behalf of the United Nations for his endeavours to provide long‑term support for multilateral humanitarian action and officially designating him as a “humanitarian leader” and the state of Kuwait as a “centre for humanitarian action”. How do you perceive Kuwait’s role and where do you see further opportunities for Kuwait to take action to resolve the crises?
The region is currently facing the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. More than 15 million Syrians depend on humanitarian aid, as do millions of Yemenis. His Highness the Amir has shown admirable leadership in rallying the international community, and especially the Gulf countries, to shoulder this unprecedented challenge together. As the third largest humanitarian donor in the Syrian refugee crisis, Germany, too, is bearing its part of the burden. Nonetheless, the truth of the matter is that international aid efforts for both Syria and Yemen remain woefully underfunded. We must all step up our efforts to not only provide for the refugees’ survival, but also to offer young people education and hope for a better future.
At the same time, I think Kuwait's political experience could be an inspiration for the region. Since its independence, Kuwait has shown that political and religious pluralism, the ability to tolerate divergent views and the spirit of compromise and consensus-building – despite difficulties or occasional setbacks – are a source of strength and stability. Only in this spirit will we be able to overcome the current crises.
The question of how to tackle the refugee crisis has laid bare the divisions in the EU. Is the EU equal to the challenges of the coming years?
Let me be perfectly honest: Europe’s response to the refugee crisis so far does not meet the standards that Europe must set for itself. We have therefore made proposals for a new, much more ambitious integration of European asylum policy, founded on the principle of solidarity and our shared values of humanity. In recent weeks, we have made some progress towards this goal, with an agreement on the distribution of 120,000 refugees among EU member states. But much more work remains to be done. The refugee crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing Europe in our generation. There will be no quick fixes. I firmly believe that we will only be able to find rational solutions by working together at the European level.
Germany and Kuwait have enjoyed close and amicable relations for many years. In recent years, there have been many reciprocal visits at the highest level, both by representatives of the German Government to Kuwait and by members of the Kuwaiti Government to Berlin. The visit by the Amir of Kuwait in 2010 – his first visit ever to Germany – was of course a particular highlight. Kuwait’s business relations with Germany date back to the 1970s. Where do you see room for improvement in German-Kuwaiti relations?
The friendship between Kuwait and Germany does indeed go back a long time. Last year, Kuwait’s Prime Minister visited Germany on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Kuwait’s investment in Daimler AG, the country’s first major foreign investment at the time. This is proof of Kuwait’s valued role as a reliable, long‑term partner. We are also working increasingly closely together in the health sector. After January’s dreadful terrorist attack on the Imam Jaafar al‑Sadiq Mosque, German doctors treated many of the injured. We are open to expanding our engagement. There are many fields where we could work more closely together, such as vocational training, environmental and transport technology, renewable energies and, of course, the cultural sphere.
We would like to find out more about the programme for your visit to Kuwait. How long will you spend in the country and who will you meet?
In these turbulent times, my main priority is to discuss the urgent political agenda in depth with our Kuwaiti partners. I am very honoured to be received both by His Highness the Crown Prince of Kuwait, as well as by my dear colleague Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al‑Sabah. And I am very much looking forward to meeting His Excellency Marzouq al‑Ghanim, Speaker of the National Assembly. It is no secret that I would have liked to spend more time in Kuwait and have the opportunity to learn more about its cultural and economic sector.