“What’s happening in Syria is horrific”

26.02.2018 - Interview

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in an interview with the Münchner Merkur on the UN Resolution on Syria as well as German-Turkish relations.

The bombing in Syria continues. Can Saturday’s UN Resolution bring about a turning point?
I’m relieved that the Security Council voted unanimously in favour of a ceasefire. It’s now vital to implement this ceasefire comprehensively and without further delay.
We’re therefore calling on all parties to the conflict in Syria to ensure that there really is a lasting cessation of hostilities now so that humanitarian assistance can be delivered immediately and freely. What’s happening in eastern Ghouta is horrific. However, a political settlement is the only way to bring about a lasting improvement in the situation. This respite must therefore now also be used to achieve progress in the political process in Geneva.

Your Minister of State Michael Roth has called it “hell on Earth”. Isn’t that an exaggeration?
No. The UN Secretary-General has also called it that – and he’s right.

Are we heading towards a new wave of Syrian refugees?
The 400,000 people who’ve been trapped in eastern Ghouta for the last few months have no chance of getting out. I’m convinced that if there isn’t a genuine ceasefire, we at least have to get humanitarian assistance into the area and perhaps even decide whether children and families can be evacuated with the help of the United Nations.

A targeted evacuation – also to Germany?
That will have to be discussed at the United Nations. However, I believe that Germany and Europe should offer to help the UN. At the moment, we’re trying to get aid into eastern Ghouta through the International Red Cross. I have agreed that Germany will provide an additional ten million euros in emergency aid to the Red Cross.

Let’s turn to Turkey. You’ve taken on a kind of mediator role and the very difficult relations between the two countries are now a bit less tense. Are you proud of that?
No, I’m not proud exactly, I’m glad that we’ve been able to get eight German nationals out of Turkish prisons. Although four are still being detained. We have to keep working on this. But this isn’t only about the Germans in prison. Turkey is a major neighbour of Europe. We have to do everything we can to resume our dialogue and our joint work on issues concerning the rule of law, economic relations, the human rights situation as well as freedom of the press and of expression in Turkey.

It was revealed at the weekend that the number of German arms export licences approved for Turkey was very high in December and January. Do you deny any kind of horse-trading for the release of Yücel or Tolu?
No matter how often I’m asked this question, the answer remains the same: there was no horse-trading and there was no deal.
Due to the difficulties with Turkey, the arms trade with that country – which isn’t at a high level anyway – more than halved in 2017. Arms exports have been halted for the last few weeks due to the Turkish offensive in Afrin; in particular, we’ve not approved the upgrading of tanks which Turkey had requested. Let me say it again: there hasn’t been any horse-trading for anyone. The truth is that there’s been a massive reduction in our exports. However, we also have to remember that Turkey is a NATO partner and it’s not in anyone’s interest to drive it into the arms of Russia.

Interview conducted by Christian Deutschländer


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