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"We don’t want a new Cold War"

12.07.2016 - Interview

Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier on the results of the NATO Summit in Warsaw; interview with the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung published on 12 July 2016.

Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier on the results of the NATO Summit in Warsaw; interview with the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung published on 12 July 2016.

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Mr Steinmeier, a NATO Summit took place this weekend. How much sabre‑rattling did you hear?

We wanted a debate on the correct relationship between military strength and readiness for dialogue. That debate was held in Warsaw. In Warsaw we succeeded in sending the right messages. Yes, we will live up to our responsibilities in the Alliance, but no, we do not want an arms race or a new Cold War! The fact that the NATO‑Russia Council will meet again in Brussels tomorrow is a vital signal. It would be good if we managed to talk openly and transparently in this forum about all the issues of importance to both sides. I hope that we will thereby also manage to enter into a lasting and continuous dialogue with Russia.

What is Turkey’s role in the Alliance? Is it a reliable partner?

For us Turkey is and remains an important NATO partner. We have worked together in NATO for decades in a spirit of trust. This will remain necessary. The brutal terrorist attacks committed in the past months clearly reveal the extent of the threat to Turkey and to all NATO partners. Only together are we strong enough to confront terrorism. It is however also true that our cooperation has not always be easy in recent times. I hope that we manage to prevent the present discord from inflicting lasting harm on our relationship – the challenges in the region are too serious to permit that.

What can Turkey do to help solve the Syrian conflict?

Turkey has taken in almost three million refugees from Syria. That is an immense feat that deserves our greatest respect. Turkey also has a 900 km‑long border with Syria and is feeling the direct impact of the civil war. For this reason, Ankara likewise has a strong interest in seeing this conflict resolved at long last.

It is therefore good that Turkey and Russia have reached out to each other. We need both sides for a political solution to the conflict in Syria.

In Osnabrück you’ve mentioned the Peace of Westphalia as a possible model for Syria – i.e. peace imposed on the parties to the conflict by outside powers. What leverage does the West have?

The issue is not first and foremost leverage, but reflecting on how we can calm such a highly complex and brutal conflict that has already endured so long. In these circumstances, I think it’s worth consulting the history books.

The Peace of Westphalia shows that a major conflict which seemed to be out of control could ultimately be resolved. As regards Syria, we did manage to bring all relevant stakeholders to the table for the negotiations in Vienna. We agreed on a concrete road map. At our meeting in Munich we agreed on a ceasefire and on specific humanitarian steps. The ceasefire is extremely fragile, and a solution to the conflict is still not within immediate reach. But the fact that all besieged cities have now been accessed by humanitarian aid convoys has given the people in the country tangible cause for hope. We will continue to keep up the pressure with our partners so that assistance can get through to even more people, so that the ceasefire will finally be respected, and the prerequisites for continuing the talks in Geneva can be put in place.

Was it wrong to consider President Bashar al‑Assad the despot rather than a stabilising factor?

No dictatorship is stable in the long term. True stability can only be achieved if all groups are included in political processes and if the political system has the capacity to adapt to the conditions of the 21st century.

President Assad’s regime has not passed this test. At the same time, it is the Syrians themselves who have to agree on the political future of their country at the negotiating table.

My instinct tells me that now, after 250,000 people have died and 12 million have fled their homes, Assad will not find the necessary acceptance in all sections of the population.

Interview conducted by Burkhard Ewert. Reproduced by kind permission of the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

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