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“We have considerably more questions than answers” 

20.10.2018 - Interview

Foreign Minister Maas gave an interview to Germany’s ARD Tagesthemen news programme about the violent death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (20 October).

The Saudi crown prince has been denying Khashoggi’s death for weeks. Now he’s saying that the journalist did in fact die in the consulate but as an, er, accidental consequence of a fist fight at the age of almost 60. How credible does that sound to you?

First of all, everything we feared has been proved correct: Mr Khashoggi is indeed dead. And he died in an extraordinarily shocking manner. There is a host of inconsistencies: first, it was announced that the Saudi journalist had walked out of the consulate; now, they’re saying that he is dead after all. So more questions remain open than have been answered. And it is up to the Saudis to make sure that the truth about what happened comes out in the course of the ongoing investigations, and we will be observing that process closely. As things stand, we still have considerably more questions than answers.

Is it enough for the Saudis to investigate or are you advocating an inquiry supervised by the United Nations?

We will support anything that sheds light on this case. However, the most important thing right now is for the investigation to be continued by those directly involved, meaning the responsible authorities, not only in Saudi Arabia but also in Turkey, where the incident occurred. If it would help to have third parties join the investigation, wherever they may come from, to bolster the objectivity and indeed the credibility of its findings, then that might be an option. The important thing right now is for those directly involved to lay out the facts and see to it that the world finds out what happened in that consulate.

It’s no more than a month ago, Mr Maas, that you issued what was almost an apology to Saudi Arabia for the fact that your predecessor, Sigmar Gabriel, had accused Riyadh of “foreign policy adventurism”, which the prince had long resented. Are you annoyed with yourself for that bit of diplomatic kowtowing?

Now then, we have acknowledged that there have been misunderstandings – on both sides, I might add. We had had no official diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia at all in recent months. There was no Saudi ambassador in Berlin, and our new ambassador in Riyadh was denied accreditation too. That was an untenable state of affairs. The key to diplomacy is talking to one another, even when our views differ. I would do the same again any day. In the case we are discussing, it is essential for us to frankly talk about the need to bring the perpetrators and those who gave them their orders to justice; for that, you need such diplomatic channels, so it’s a good thing we had re-established them.

The crown prince has invited the international finance community to a major investor conference next week called Davos in the Desert. The heads of several major US companies have already dropped out, but the Siemens chief has not. Shouldn’t Joe Kaeser refuse to go too?

That’s a decision Mr Kaeser has to make for himself. I don’t think much of the idea of me, as foreign minister, recommending what Mr Kaeser should do. He will no doubt be reviewing the matter in the light of what has happened and of the statements that have been issued today.  How he responds to all that is his decision, after all. You are right to note that a large number of politicians, and businesspeople too, have backed out of attending. This is a response to what happened in the consulate in Istanbul, to the unsolved circumstances of that killing, and I don’t think it’s sending the wrong message.

Do you take the same position?

I would certainly not attend an event in Riyadh at this time.

So can we take that as advice directed at Mr Kaeser?

Clearly, that company has to decide for itself. I don’t advise any companies as to where they should or shouldn’t go. We currently are not taking part in events in Saudi Arabia, as I announced some time ago. We want to see the facts properly investigated there, and we have a lot of sympathy with those who have dropped out of the event in question.

Mr Maas, here’s a clear yes-or-no question for you: should Germany stop supplying arms to Saudi Arabia?

Relative to the number of export applications, in the past, only small shipments of arms have been supplied to Saudi Arabia. I believe that while these investigations are ongoing and we still don’t know what happened, we have no grounds for issuing licences to export military hardware to Saudi Arabia.

Mr Maas, US President Donald Trump says he believes the Saudis’ claim that Khashoggi died in a fist fight. Does that mean Saudi Arabia is going to get away with it because their most important partner in the Western world, the United States, is giving them a kind of blank cheque?

I don’t think even that blank cheque would suffice. We are currently in liaison with our UK and French friends about how to deal with those developments, what we want to say about them, what we want to do, what response there will be. I also presume we will be discussing the matter in the G7, as we also agreed a joint stance with the other G7 countries on this last week. The Americans will have to nail their colours to the mast in that forum. And we are sure to discuss the topic within the European Union as well. After all, once we have answers about what happened, as soon as all the facts are on the table and the truth can be worked out, it will be important to have the international community respond in as unified a manner as possible.

Interview conducted by Caren Miosga

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