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We will continue to need the Americans

08.11.2018 - Interview

Interview with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, published in the Saarbrücker Zeitung

Foreign Minister, as a social democrat, are you happy about the outcome of the US mid-term elections? The Democrats, after all, are now in control of the House of Representatives.

The outcome will certainly change the dynamics of power in the United States. But beyond the current majorities, it is important to not overlook one thing. In these elections, many Americans voted for the values that the United States has always stood for, namely diversity and accommodating people from all walks of life. The winners in these elections are younger, include more women and are more modern – especially among the Democrats. Muslim women and Native Americans are now headed to Congress. I’m happy about the democratic signals that sends. It gives me grounds for hope.

American society is deeply divided. Will these elections help overcome that division?

The new Democratic majority in Congress will renew the system of checks and balances. However, in principle, we should expect to see the trend towards ever greater polarisation of the American people continue. This is something that we unfortunately are also experiencing in Europe. Fake news and below-the-belt attacks are ever more frequently poisoning debates, also on foreign policy. But we must stay level-headed. We must oppose these tendencies in a calm and decisive way. We need to provide objective arguments and keep trying to have discussions as equals. 

In his domestic policy, do you expect President Trump to now reach out to his opponents, or will he become even more confrontational?

I think it would be naive to assume that the situation will get easier. Democrats and Republicans will need to find ways to work together constructively. In all democracies, politics ultimately functions only on the basis of compromise. This will also to a large extent shape the United States’ foreign policy.

Is there a danger that Trump will pursue even more adversarial foreign policy instead?

What is clear is that we will continue to need the Americans in terms of foreign policy. The problems with which our world is grappling cannot be solved without the United States. If for the foreseeable future the motto continues to be “America first”, then we must react. I see only one possible response – and that is “Europe united”. Whether it be digital technology, migration or climate change – we need shared, international responses to these global challenges. We will remain key players only if we have the courage to bundle our European resources even more. 

In the trade dispute with Europe, he may be tempted to prove to his followers that the time for “America first” has truly come. Do you fear a hardening of America’s position?

Particularly regarding trade disputes, we Europeans have proven how much weight we can bring to bear through united action. Taking a joint stance for free trade and against tariffs has been a core value of the EU ever since it was founded. We will not allow ourselves to be divided on this issue. That prepares the ground well for our upcoming negotiations. 

Regarding Iran, the United States appears determined to push through massive sanctions. What will Germany’s and Europe’s position be?

What’s important first and foremost is unity within the European Union. We all share the view that it is the right thing to do to uphold the Vienna nuclear agreement with Iran. This is part of our European security interests, and that is what we will work to achieve. Our objective, and clear expectation towards Tehran, is that Iran must continue to fully meet all of its obligations under the agreement. Because the last thing that we need is further escalation – or Iran resuming uranium enrichment activities. That would jeopardise security not only in the region, but also in Europe. And that is why we must do our part to make sure that and licit and legitimate economic exchange with Iran remains possible, within the existing framework. We are fully determined to continue down this path.

Interview by Werner Kolhoff

Saarbrücker Zeitung


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