“The conference can be a first step towards peace in Libya”

19.01.2020 - Interview

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in an interview with the “Bild am Sonntag” newspaper ahead of the Libya Conference in Berlin

Minister, you have made the conflict in Libya your priority. Why is the civil war there so important to Germany?

Libya is part of Europe’s neighbourhood. A brutal proxy war is being waged there. Among others, Turkey, Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are involved. The parties to the Libyan civil war can only fight each other because they are receiving military support from external actors. We have to stop that in order to ensure that Libya doesn’t turn into the new Syria.

Will Germany and the EU face another refugee crisis otherwise?

Refugees are already coming to us via Libya and the Mediterranean. The longer the conflict in Libya lasts, the less we’ll be able to control the migration movements. Only if the country has functioning state structures will we be able to stop the human traffickers doing business.

What do you expect the Libya Conference in the Federal Chancellery to achieve?

The countries supporting the warring parties should stop sending arms and soldiers to Libya. Without this assistance from outside, the warring factions led by Prime Minister al‑Sarraj and General Haftar won’t be able to continue fighting. That’s how we intend to steer the adversaries towards a peace process.

That means that the weapons will fall silent on Sunday?

General Haftar assured me on Thursday that he is complying with the ceasefire. I’m glad we’ve managed to get everybody to sit down together on Sunday. That’s essential if we’re to reach binding agreements. The conference can be a first step towards peace in Libya.

General Haftar is a brutal warlord whose troops have committed war crimes. Do you trust him despite that?

That’s not the point. We have to create a situation in which General Haftar is prepared to enter into peace negotiations. To achieve that, we have to stop the deadly flow of weapons and fighters from abroad. No‑one can win this conflict militarily. Everyone has to understand that.

Only the foreign powers will be sitting round the negotiating table in Berlin. How can a breakthrough be achieved if al‑Sarraj and Haftar are not present?

Al‑Sarraj and Haftar will be in Berlin.

At the negotiating table?

It doesn’t matter which table they’re sitting at. I would even be happy for them to present their vision for Libya one after the other. But they’re part of the conference. I hope that both of them will take this opportunity to put the future of Libya back in Libyan hands.

If necessary, High Representative Borrell wants to send EU troops to Libya to secure the ceasefire. Is he right?

It’s certainly true to say that we intend to continue supporting the political process within Libya after our conference. Of course, it’s extremely important that the ceasefire is respected if this is to happen. So far, I haven’t gained the impression during the talks held in the last few weeks that an international troop presence is a priority for the Libyans.

In reality, isn’t this about the immense gas field in the Mediterranean in which Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Libya and Israel all claim a share?

The gas field doesn’t play a role in our conference, which is about a political process for Libya. Anyway, everyone can forget their interests in the gas field as long as the civil war is raging.

Greece is furious because it wasn’t invited to the Libya Conference. Did you give in to pressure from Erdogan?

No. The EU is involved. And I’m very sure that all EU member states are interested in seeing peace in Libya and therefore support the conference.

Only last Thursday, Erdogan transferred modern military equipment to Tripoli. Is German foreign policy not robust enough to assert itself?

Certainly not! We’ve assumed a leading role in the quest for a solution to this conflict. On Sunday, we will bring the most important players to Berlin, from Putin and Erdogan to the UN Secretary‑General. We’re the first for many years to have achieved this. And we did it with quiet diplomacy over many months rather than purely military logic.

In the conflict with Iran, the United States is demanding that the Europeans finally take a tougher stance.

The United States and Europe have a different approach. While the United States made a unilateral decision to withdraw from the JCPoA and has opted for maximum pressure, we want to achieve progress together through negotiations. France, the UK and Germany want to uphold the agreement in order to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In concrete terms, what do you expect of Iran now?

It’s quite simple: Iran has to comply with the agreement. The increase in the level of uranium enrichment has to stop. The International Atomic Energy Agency must continue to have access to all facilities in Iran in order to scrutinise this very closely.

But what about the fact that Iran is increasing its influence in the region through force and that the Iranian missile programme poses a threat to Israel?

Irrespective of the JCPoA, we have to talk to Iran about its destabilising role in the region and, of course, about its missile programme. Iran will have to make up its mind whether it wants to cooperate or whether it wants to continue down the path of isolation.

How close are the mullahs now to building a nuclear bomb?

The time that Iran would need to develop it is certainly much longer today than it was before the JCPoA. Without the agreement, Iran would probably already have a nuclear bomb. We have to do everything we possibly can to prevent this happening. That’s why the JCPoA and its control rules are so important. The International Atomic Energy Agency carries out more controls in Iran than in any other country in the world.

Do you really believe that you can prevent the mullah regime from acquiring the bomb with words alone?

We need both: talks as well as political and economic pressure. Iran is in a very difficult economic situation. Following the accidental shooting down of the Ukrainian aircraft, the regime’s domestic situation has also become more difficult.

Demonstrators critical of the regime have been protesting in Iran. Why hasn’t the German Government publicly expressed support for these courageous people?

We have. The way Iran’s security authorities are treating the demonstrators is completely unacceptable and we categorically condemn it. The leadership in Tehran cannot treat human rights in the way it has done during the last few weeks.

Germany has opted to engage in dialogue with Iran for the last 40 years, but there hasn’t been any progress when it comes to human rights.

If we want to achieve something for people in the country then stopping the dialogue would achieve nothing. Rather, we have to talk to Iran and demand that human rights be respected. At any rate, pure threats and military escalation have achieved nothing. We want to prevent a conflagration in the Middle East. The EU places its faith in diplomacy rather than escalation.

40 years of diplomacy with Iran: the result is a regime which exports terror and war and is about to acquire a nuclear bomb.

Let me say it again: threats and military action have done nothing to change that. What’s more, we shouldn’t pretend that a regime change in Tehran brought about by external intervention would automatically improve the situation. That approach has gone seriously wrong in other places, for instance in Iraq.

Interview conducted by Angelika Hellemann, Roman Eichinger and Björn Stritzel



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