Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Munich Security Conference Core Group Meeting in Tehran

17.10.2015 - Speech

Dear Javad Zarif,
Dear Wolfgang Ischinger,
distinguished guests,

As you can see outside – We brought rain to Tehran, as a first gift in the strengthening of our relations! I am delighted to see so many international representatives and experts from around the world here today to discuss the implications of the Vienna agreement for the future regional and international role of Iran. I am glad to be here myself, for my first visit ever to Iran. Your presence – just as my visit – testifies to the hope created by the agreement negotiated between the E3+3 and Iran.. This conference thus marks a promise, just as the nuclear agreement: the promise of an Iran that will finally realize the potential of its resources, be they natural or human; of an Iran that acts as a constructive member of the international community.

Hope and promise, however, are both very well but they are not sufficient.

We Germans are great fans of the game of football. And I know many Iranians are too.

So let me share a piece of wisdom with you, from one of Germany’s great football philosophers: “Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel” - “After the game is before the game”. In spite of our shared satisfaction over the nuclear agreement, negotiated over more than ten years and during many long days and nights in Vienna, Lausanne and other places, this saying applies to the JCPoA as well. Yes, we have produced a thorough and far-reaching agreement. And yes, this agreement has already overcome some important political hurdles – in the United States and here in Iran. But today, on the eve of “Adoption Day”, it is important to remind ourselves that the real challenges still lie ahead.

As we all know, trust is a crucial category in international affairs, as in all human matters. Many of the debates and negotiations between Iran and the international community revolved around this question: Is it even feasible to come to an agreement in the absence of mutual trust?

You cannot order trust by decree, you cannot produce it in the market. Trust is a precious commodity, it must grow over time, it needs to be underpinned by real actions.

The glaring lack of confidence on both sides forced us to elaborate meticulous mechanisms in the agreement based on close monitoring and strong verification.

The fact that we got there in the end shows that cooperation and agreement are possible. It was possible because we didn’t take an initial “no” for a final answer. And there were many “No’s” along the road. These negotiations required stamina: something Javad Zarif and others in this room, like Helga Schmid and everyone else involved, had to prove over 12 years, and we should thank them for it!

Still, most critics and opponents of the agreement of Vienna focused on the question of confidence: ‘How dare you make a deal with the other side? You cannot possibly trust them!’ Not only in our domestic audiences we face criticism, other players in this region called this agreement insufficient at best, a dangerous delusion at worst. And I am well aware that also here, inside Iran, there are some very blunt and harsh discussions about this agreement. You, Javad, had to endure much criticism. Our best argument today to counter this doubt is to say: Our deal is designed to work even in the absence of trust.

In times when states are collapsing and the international order is in turmoil, this is no small achievement: To negotiate and sign and ratify a treaty that helps to peacefully settle a conflict that had often been on the verge of war. Yet again: this is only the first step. Now there is an opportunity to build on this agreement. To build confidence, step-by-step. Being with you here in Tehran, today, on the eve of “Adoption Day”, I sincerely hope that Iran will seize this opportunity:

- by implementing its side of the JCPoA diligently and without delay;

- by remaining committed to the “spirit of Vienna”, the spirit of diplomacy – not a work of wonder, but the product of patience, skills, and courage;

- and by doing its share to address the conflicts haunting this region.

We consider the agreement to be an opening for further diplomatic endeavors. This region needs more diplomacy, not less! We are here today because we want to explore the opportunities but also the hurdles for such a broader regional diplomatic effort. Is there a way to carry the momentum of Vienna forward to resolve some of the hot conflicts of this region? Can we put it to use in addressing some of the underlying tensions of the region that feed into these conflicts? That will be anything but easy. I have no illusions about how much it will take: courage and resolve, creativity and time.

Just take our own gathering: You are a truly distinguished group that has assembled here in Tehran today. But there are also some missing that should have a seat around this table to discuss exactly the issues we have on our agenda. It is – again – a matter of trust.

The purpose of my trip is to explore the political paths to end the bloody conflicts that tear apart this region. Conflicts that continue to cause terrible human suffering and that drive millions of people from their homes, more and more of them seeking shelter and refuge elsewhere, including in Europe.

We look at Syria, where over 250.000 people have died and over 12 million have lost their homes. We have seen further escalation in recent weeks with the Russian air-strikes. . This intervention has set back the efforts of the international community to forge a united approach by the major international and regional stakeholders. We should use the opportunity of this conference to discuss the fallout of these actions and a possible way forward.

There is also the dangerous and bloody conflict in Yemen, there is Iraq and there is Afghanistan, all of which raise similar questions. The answers are not easy to find and even more difficult to put into practice. But what is clear to me and this is why I chose to begin my trip to the region here in Tehran: We need and we are ready to discuss these questions with Iran. We want Iran to play a constructive role in the international community and toward its neighbours in the region – and this absolutely has to include Israel. In the best of all cases, Iran can become a responsible partner in solving these crises. Some guests in this room will doubt this, and many more outside of Iran doubt it, too. It is up to the Iranians to prove them wrong!

I know full well: Peaceful solutions never depend on one player alone, and that is why my voyage does not stop here. I have the privilege of a direct flight connection to Riad, and I will make use of that tomorrow.

Of course not everything just boils down to the conflict between two capitals. Theories of proxy wars are popular, I know, but they do not alone explain the sheer size and complexity of the conflicts we are facing in the region. The emergence of large-scale terrorist actors such as ISIS that simply decline to negotiate show the limits of diplomacy these days.

And yet we need to act, and we need to act diplomatically. I do not want to elaborate on the long and painful history of inner-European strife and conflict. I will spare you the details of the Thirty Years War, and two World Wars, and the Cold War. You have studied all that. And we all know that history does not repeat itself. Plus, recent events in Ukraine have sadly shown that Europe has its very own regional security challenges.

The only little lesson from our European efforts that I would like to suggest today is this: Agreeing on certain basic principles and processes can pave the way for structures of collective and common security. Confidence-building measures work slowly but steadily, they take time and they need constant investment. But in the long run they can provide greater security for all concerned. They work better than attempts to increase one’s own security at the expense of others - usually setting into motion an arms race that is risky, dangerous, and diverts precious resources needed for economic and human development.

Looking at Iran, looking at the region and its conflicts, looking at the threat of terrorism, I am convinced that serious efforts by the major regional players to build up trust – a trust that clearly does not exist today – is the best way to go for all involved. It is the pragmatic thing to do. It is also the wise thing to do. Because in times of eroding international order, each actor in this region has a responsibility that goes beyond national interests and that nobody from the outside can fill in for. In the end, I believe, this responsibility is more existential even than national pride and ambition.

I am fully aware: This will be a difficult enterprise. There are many question marks regarding Iran’s intentions in the region and plenty of suspicion, some of which might seem unfair and unfounded from Tehran’s perspective. We fully accept that Iran has legitimate security concerns of its own. But you should be aware of those question marks and you should not ignore but address them constructively.

My esteemed Indian colleague Sushma Swaraj once said to me: “There are no full stops in the grammar book of foreign policy – only commas and question marks.” Even the nuclear agreement was only a comma. And our meeting today is a great opportunity to look at the question marks. I look forward to our discussion.

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