Iran: “We are not taking the threats lightly”

13.01.2020 - Interview

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in an interview with the Saarbrücker Zeitung on the current situation in the Middle East and on the talks he attended with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow at the weekend.

Minister, Iran has admitted that it accidentally shot down the Ukrainian passenger aircraft. What consequences will this have for the US/Iran conflict?

It is important that Iran has provided clarity. Now Tehran needs to talk to the countries who are mourning the loss of their citizens about what solutions can be found with regard to dealing with this tragedy. Given the indications from Washington, we hope that both sides are interested in defusing the tensions.

Yet even though it appears that a direct military confrontation has been avoided for the time being, the conflict between the United States and Iran is hanging over the region like the sword of Damocles.

Our efforts to prevent a renewed escalation are therefore continuing unabated.

What are your expectations of Tehran now?

The most important step to reduce tensions would be for Iran to return to compliance with its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and to cut back its uranium enrichment. The fear of Iran’s neighbours that the country could develop nuclear weapons significantly increases the risk of a dangerous escalation. We keep pointing that out to Iran.

How great is the current risk of further acts of revenge by Iran?

We are not taking the multiple threats heard from Iran over the past week lightly. Although escalation has been prevented for the time being, our experience with Iran has taught us that we should not equate that with a real easing of the situation. Iran has officially declared that its response to the US military operation has ended. We are using our communication channels with Tehran to insist that this remains the case.

In your view, who bears responsibility for the escalation in the Middle East – President Trump or Iran?

That can’t be answered with a simple one or the other. Over the past few days we were in crisis mode and fully focused on the question of how to prevent an open military conflict with unforeseeable consequences. One thing is clear – with its threats against Israel, its support for Hizbollah, its attacks on oil facilities and tankers and most recently the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iran has continuously fuelled the escalation spiral. However, the military action taken by the United States has not helped to defuse tensions.

What does Europe now need to do to defuse the conflict?

We Europeans are the only parties to maintain reliable communication channels with all sides, which we need to bring to bear on this situation. Yet we need to speak with one voice if we are to be taken seriously.

That is why in Brussels we issued a mandate to the EU’s chief foreign policy official, Josep Borrell, to conduct talks on the ground, above all with the goal of preventing Iraq from becoming caught up in this conflict and the terrorism of IS from returning.

Can Germany still exert any influence on the parties to the conflict?

In recent years we have invested a great deal in the region, particularly in Iraq, both from a military perspective and with regard to civilian stabilisation. Germany is a sought‑after partner that is taken seriously.

Anyone seeking military confrontation will acquire missiles and mercenaries. But for de‑escalation and civilian reconstruction you need diplomatic channels, and that is what we Europeans primarily have.

You were in Moscow with the Chancellor at the weekend. What do you now expect from Putin in connection with the conflict with Iran?

As a co‑signatory of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Russia has a responsibility to ensure that this agreement remains intact as a factor for stability in the region. It clearly expressed its support for the agreement at the weekend.

In the upcoming discussions we want Moscow to help persuade Iran to return to complying with the rules. Russia can also use its influence in Syria to prevent the tensions spreading throughout the region.

Interview conducted by Hagen Strauß



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