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Foreign Minister Heiko Maas: “We will take an independent decision”

12.09.2018 - Interview

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in an interview with the German Press Agency (dpa) on the potential involvement of the Bundeswehr in a military intervention in Syria. 

Interview with Foreign Minister Maas
Interview with Foreign Minister Maas© dpa

Since Monday, there has been a debate about the Bundeswehr’s participation in military retaliation for the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. SPD Chairwoman Andrea Nahles has already voiced a very clear “no”, and there are considerable legal concerns. Does that mean that this is no longer on the cards?

Efforts to find diplomatic solutions are the absolute priority. We must do our utmost to prevent a military attack with chemical weapons. That’s what matters now. We’re engaged in talks at all levels as regards the situation in Idlib. We must try to avoid the worst case scenario; this won’t be an easy task. If Assad were to use chemical weapons that are banned and outlawed worldwide, then this would be totally unacceptable. It goes without saying that the Federal Government will take all decisions on the basis of our Basic Law and international law. We will liaise closely with the parliamentary groups in the Bundestag. At the end of the day, you won’t get anywhere without the Bundestag.

Has there been any request from the US at all for German involvement?

There can only be a specific request if poison gas has been used and if other states decide to respond to this militarily. It must first be determined what has happened, who is responsible and the extent of the situation. In the meantime, the priority right now is to use political talks to prevent a humanitarian disaster. That’s what we’re working on.

In contrast to the West’s first retaliatory strike in response to a chemical attack in Syria, the US now seems to have a genuine interest in German involvement. Do you feel under pressure?

So far, we’ve only heard the announcement by the US that it will respond to the use of chemical weapons. No matter what happens, we will take an independent decision that we must reach in accordance with the constitutional foundations that apply in Germany – and, of course, also in accordance with international law.

The US has long accused Germany of insufficient military spending. Should we expect further damage to German American relations if Germany refuses to participate in such a military operation? 

We don’t want to get things mixed up here. And certainly not with respect to such a sensitive issue. We’re in close and direct contact with our allies. By the way, as one of the world’s biggest humanitarian donors, Germany is doing everything it can to alleviate need and suffering. We’re also prepared to expand our humanitarian assistance. What we need are political solutions.

Does the West risk being divided if not all of the leading Western states take part in such a retaliatory strike?  

Even though, ultimately, everyone has to decide for themselves what to do, we will closely coordinate with our partners and expect the same from them. It wasn’t always the case that everyone was involved in everything in the past. This also depends on capabilities and the distribution of roles.

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