Foreign Minister, the US is going to the polls. People are saying that the congressional elections will determine the country’s fate. Former US President Barack Obama even said this is “the most important election of our lifetimes”. What do you expect from the midterms?
The election campaign has shown how divided US society is. And it has also furthered this division. Irrespective of the outcome, we are experiencing ever greater polarisation in the US. Unfortunately, that also holds true for many other western democracies. And it would be a mistake to count on Donald Trump adjusting his course. The US remains our most important partner outside Europe. However, we need to recalibrate and readjust our relations with the US. The policy of “America first” has led to Washington withdrawing from international treaties. “Europe united” is the only correct answer to this. We need to demonstrate the greatest possible unity in the EU, for example, as regards staving off punitive tariffs. We need to work more closely together on security issues. This process already started a long time ago. That is the right answer. We need to take on more responsibility for ourselves.
However, that doesn’t seem to be working very well. Europe seems very divided.
Things have never been purely harmonious in the EU. There has never been unanimity on every issue. We face great challenges today. Migration, digital transformation and climate change are all global issues. We need to address them together. We need to counter the withdrawal of the US from joint agreements by adopting a united European position. One of our greatest challenges in the near future will be to assert our values, but also our interests, resolutely.
Should we expect to see election campaigns accompanied by lies and demagogy in Germany, too, in the future, and how can we defend ourselves against this?
I’m afraid that fake news and defamation are by no means a new phenomenon in Germany either. It’s incredible what sort of utter nonsense is sometimes spread. This is toxic for our democratic culture of debate. We need to repeatedly counter this with clear facts and rational arguments.
US President Trump is threatening to quit the INF Treaty. Will we now witness the return of a nuclear arms race like in the time of the Cold War?
President Trump’s statements on the INF Treaty and on its termination provide grounds for concern. We do not want a new arms race in Europe or anywhere else. That cannot be in anyone’s interest. We must do everything we can to prevent that. That is why we are liaising closely with the US Administration and our partners in NATO. This topic will also be on the agenda of our NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in December.
Can the German Government take on the role here of mediator between Washington and Moscow?
We will campaign resolutely and persuasively for disarmament and arms control. We will remind everyone that we can only create peace and security as partners, not as opponents. This requires transparency, as that is the only way to build trust. Trust has been lost due to Russia’s refusal to provide evidence to refute the grave allegations that it has violated the INF Treaty. I have called on my Russian counterpart to adhere to the treaty and to ensure full transparency. Unfortunately, this has not occurred so far.
Would a new treaty, perhaps one that included China, be a way to build new trust?
Irrespective of the INF Treaty, the challenge for us is to create a disarmament regime that includes systems for which there are no clear rules so far. We need regulations that keep pace with the constant technological development of new weapons. In the near future, space weapons and autonomous weapons system will no longer be science fiction – they are likely to be a fact. And of course it would also make sense to include China in future international regulations. I will also use my talks in Beijing in the coming days to press for greater transparency and arms control.
The Greens are now calling for the withdrawal of all US nuclear weapons from Germany. Would that be helpful and sensible in this process?
Irrespective of this, our goal will always be a world without nuclear weapons and not only a Germany without nuclear weapons. To achieve that, however, there must be talks with the nuclear powers. We need to create a disarmament regime that pursues this goal.
We are still waiting for complete clarification of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. In the meantime, have you received answers from Riyadh to the questions about the murdered journalist and regime critic?
No, we still have more questions than answers. We need complete clarification.
Will Germany stop supplying arms to Saudi Arabia on a permanent basis or is this just a temporary stop?
As long as questions remain unanswered, no arms at all will be exported to Saudi Arabia. We are now also looking at supplies that have already been approved. The humanitarian situation in Yemen is catastrophic. Momentum in the endeavours to reach a political settlement is long overdue. The case shows clearly that we need channels of communication with Saudi Arabia in order to spell out our clear expectations.
French President Macron doesn’t think it’s a good idea to stop arms deliveries.
It is important that we keep talking with our French partners. That’s what we are doing, and we are searching for a common solution. However, we adhere to our policy decision to stop arms exports.
We see no sign of an end to the war in Yemen, where there is a risk of a humanitarian disaster and of hundreds of thousands of people starving to death. How can this still be prevented?
There must be an immediate ceasefire in Yemen. Aid organisations must be granted humanitarian access without delay. We are willing to provide humanitarian support. We need a ceasefire and prospects for a political settlement.
The new US sanctions against Iran have entered into force. Has the European strategy failed or do you think the nuclear agreement can still be upheld?
No, it hasn’t failed. There is consensus in the EU that our line is correct. The nuclear agreement with Iran increases our security in Europe. It is better to have this sort of agreement rather than none at all. We do not want further escalation that drives Iran to start enriching uranium again. That poses a risk of escalation far beyond the Middle East. We are now working on a solution so that legal business can still be conducted with Iran in accordance with the current regulations. I am pleased that we have managed to preserve EU cohesion on this matter. We will continue on this path.
The 80th anniversary of Reichspogromnacht will be commemorated on 9 November. Germany is currently experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism. The Central Council of Jews in Germany has expressed its concern. How should policymakers and civil society respond to this?
There can be no tolerance for anti-Semitism in Germany. All anti-Semitic perpetrators must be subject to the full force of the rule of law. Society as a whole must make clear that there is no room for anti-Semitism in Germany. An anniversary like this one can remind people clearly of this again. In recent weeks in particular, many people have taken a stand against racism and anti-Semitism. Over 200,000 people attended an anti-racism demonstration in Berlin. These are hopeful signs.
Hundreds of Nazis were able to march unimpeded through the streets of Dortmund, where they shouted anti-Semitic slogans and gave the Nazi salute. Jewish restaurants have been attacked in Chemnitz and other cities. Doesn’t this awaken memories of the darkest period in Germany?
We can never stand by and allow this to happen. It should serve as a stark reminder to us that we are all called upon to defend our free and open democracy. It is important that we all join forces to give the right answer and show anti-Semitism the red card.
What image of Germany is this creating in the world? What is your counterparts’ reaction?
When something like this happens in Germany, naturally people pay particularly close attention. At the same time, our partners around the world see that the vast majority of Germans is not willing to yield the floor to anti-Semites. Hundreds of thousands of people recently showed in various cities that the vast majority of Germans does not accept that anti-Semitism is on the rise.
People are making comparisons with the Weimar Republic once again. How stable is our democracy?
I would always be very careful with historical comparisons. Our history should teach us very clear lessons for today. For me, that always includes the responsibility to do out utmost to protect Jewish life. We must not allow anti-Semitic or racist resentment to take hold.
Interview: Andreas Herholz
Passauer Neue Presse