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“Threats of sanctions don’t help anybody”

20.10.2016 - Interview

In the interview, Foreign Minister FrankWalter Steinmeier talks about the situation in the Syria conflict and explains why he rejects sanctions against Russia and instead is continuing to pursue negotiations. Published in the Rheinische Post on 20 October 2016.

Mr Steinmeier, Russia’s Head of State Vladimir Putin is dropping bombs on Syria, in eastern Ukraine the Minsk agreement is being violated every day. When does a diplomat concede that he is not getting anywhere with diplomacy?

This isn’t about me conceding anything. If solutions other than political ones offered a real alternative, nobody in a position of responsibility, including myself, would reject them out of hand. But I don’t see that they do. On the contrary, the current chaotic situation in the Middle East is more a consequence of attempts at military Solutions.

But still, you are running from one peace mission to the next. Are you disappointed that foreign policy is progressing at such a snail’s pace?

Of course I wish we had resolved the Ukraine conflict a long time ago and put an end to the bombing in Aleppo. But just imagine if we hadn’t negotiated the Minsk agreement. We would now perhaps have a full‑blown war in Europe between two armies that are armed to the teeth. Or if we had broken off negotiations with Iran, either Iran would now have nuclear weapons or others would have tried to use military force to prevent that happening. And if we had listened to those who at the weekend wanted the outcome to be sanctions against Russia, there would have been no interruption of the bombing. This shows that the strengths of foreign policy are only revealed after a period of some years. For many people, the military intervention in Iraq seemed to be evidence of a strong foreign policy. In fact, it pushed an entire region into chaos and weakened us.

The situation in Syria is catastrophic. The country is a battlefield.

The situation in Syria is enough to drive us to despair. I am not the only one who can’t get the dramatic images out of my mind even when I go to sleep. But it won’t help anyone if we can’t move beyond the feelings of horror and outrage. Instead, our goal must be to help the starving people in Aleppo, to grant them a moment of respite, to provide them with the essential supplies they need to survive. At the moment nothing is more important. And that is therefore our priority.

The Green politicians Cem Özdemir and Katrin Göring-Eckardt have called for sanctions. You reject sanctions. Why?

We need to state the facts, clearly and unmistakeably. But we also have to realise that press statements, however vocal they may be, and threats of sanctions don’t help anyone, child, mother, father, the sick and the injured, in need of bread or medical care in Aleppo. And that is precisely the problem with foreign policy that, with a gesture of outrage, panders to media applause and then leans back, self-satisfied, the next morning when it sees the headlines it has generated. Responsibility in foreign policy is different: this responsibility requires us to leave our own comfort zone in the interests of the people who are suffering and – if other quick‑acting instruments are not available – to negotiate with those who are responsible for the suffering. We can’t expect media applause for that, I realise that – but it could help the people who really need it!

Reproduced by kind permission of the Rheinische Post. This interview was conducted by Michael Bröcker.

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