“The US is more than the White House.”

02.10.2018 - Interview

Interview with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Spiegel Online.

Foreign Minister, you are travelling to the States this week where you will meet your US counterpart. After almost two years of Donald Trump, what is the state of play in German US relations?

Better than some people think. Despite all the differences, we still have a functioning dialogue. I value Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a colleague and interlocutor. He listens to our viewpoints and deals with them constructively.

Unlike US President Trump?

Well, the final decisions are made in the White House. However, we are not going to make our relations with the US dependent on a few tweets. Our partnership consists of more than 280 characters on Twitter. The US is more than the White House. And the the US will remain our closest partner outside Europe.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly in New York, Trump said that he rejects “the ideology of globalism” and embraces “the doctrine of patriotism”. In light of that, how do you want to have a constructive exchange?

Globalism and patriotism do not have to be opposites. All of the major challenges, such as policy on migration, climate and trade, can only be resolved by working together. We are encouraging the US to keep international cooperation as the basis of politics.

You support an “alliance of multilateralists”, but during the UN General Assembly in New York you only managed to have one high profile meeting – with the Canadians. Is that enough as regards standing up to Trump?

Your description doesn’t tally with what I experienced in New York. My interlocutors raised this topic with me in each of my many meetings. My impression was that supporters of multilateralism form the vast majority in the UN General Assembly.

You are referring to the moment people laughed at Trump during his speech because he boasted about his alleged achievements as President. Why don’t you simply call your group the anti Trump alliance ?

That’s absolutely not the point. Multilateralism won’t be served by a confrontation with the US.

Did you ask the Americans if they want to join your alliance ?

The network we envisage is open to like minded partners who want to stand up together to preserve the rules based international order and to defend multilateralism. Naturally, it is also open to the US, but unfortunately the idea that one can assert one’s own interests by imposing economic sanctions and exerting the greatest possible political pressure on third parties currently seems to be the predominant way of thinking in the White House.

A video clip shows you smiling to yourself while Trump criticises Germany’s energy policy during his speech to the UN. Your reaction did not go unnoticed – you were celebrated in the US as an opponent of Trump. Are you flattered by that?

No. But Trump mentioned Germany’s alleged dependence on Russia for its gas supply. I am happy to discuss this topic, but on the basis of facts .

Did your colleagues in New York raise this issue with you ?

Yes. But no one expressed criticism.

The clip was shown over and over on US television.

Apparently. We were given a friendly welcome by a waitress in a restaurant who had seen the clip in a late night talk show, so it didn’t do German US friendship any harm.

You’ve taken a tougher stance on Russia in recent months. What is the benefit of this compared with the softer approaches adopted by your predecessors Sigmar Gabriel and Frank Walter Steinmeier ?

My open and clear approach to criticism of the Russian Government has not led to a new Ice Age. On the contrary, the Russians are making a greater effort to communicate with Germany. We now have more dialogue with Russia than we did before the new German Government took office in the spring. And that was exactly my aim.

SPD Chairperson Andrea Nahles has categorically rejected the idea of German involvement in a military strike against Syria, even if the Assad regime were to use poison gas in the battle for Idlib. So far, you have seemed less categorical on this. Which position is valid?

This decision would ultimately be made by the German Bundestag, and not by the Government, because a parliamentary mandate is needed for a deployment of that nature. In that regard, Andrea Nahles has made her position clear for her parliamentary group. That is valid.

Doesn’t the Foreign Minister’s position play a role in this?

Andrea Nahles and I discussed this matter in detail. I am focusing all my efforts on ensuring that such a decision will not be required. We need to do our utmost to prevent the use of poison gas and a humanitarian disaster in Syria.


Interview conducted by Sebastian Fischer and Severin Weiland


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