Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper - interview with German Foreign Minister Sigmar GabrielEnlarge image
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper is pleased to hold an interview with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, considering Germany’s important international political, security and economic role, by answering the attached questions for publication in the newspaper in conjunction with the visit.
How do you see the announcement by US President Donald Trump to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and what are the political and security implications internationally and regionally? To what extent does it harm the Palestinian peace process?
Our position, like the position of the European Union, remains unchanged: a solution to the status of Jerusalem must be found through negotiations. Saudi Arabia set out an important peace vision with the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002. It contains key elements for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and for building a regional security framework. All those who are committed to resolving the conflict between Israel on the one hand and the Palestinians and the Arab states on the other must take these elements into account. We firmly believe that a negotiated two-state solution that meets the aspirations of both sides is the only realistic way to achieve lasting peace and security. At the same time, I would like to make it quite clear that there is no justification whatsoever for inciting hatred against Jews or for calling Israel's right to exist into question. Neither can we tolerate Islamophobia in our countries.
In order to achieve lasting peace, it is not enough to accept that the other is here to stay. In order for Israel and Palestine to be able to coexist peacefully, the leaders of both sides must have the courage to say that the other belongs here.
How do you view the reality and importance of Saudi-German relations? What is the content of recent negative statements about Saudi Arabia about the backdrop of the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and certain other regional issues? What is the impact on relations between the two countries?
I have seen that my comments on the crisis in Lebanon have not been accepted in Saudi Arabia, which is why I am most grateful to you for asking this question. It is very important to me that there be no misunderstandings here. My comments on the Lebanon crisis were not about taking any particular country in the region to task - that includes Saudi Arabia. I want to make that clear. My personal and our political concern in Germany was only directed at the people of Lebanon. I am old enough to remember the devastation of the 15-year civil war in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. I also recall the Lebanon War in 1982. Time and again, foreign powers have also plunged the country into crises and violence. The people of Lebanon have had to make enormous sacrifices and, at the same time, the country offers protection to many refugees from Syria today. That is why stability and peace are so important in Lebanon. All of us, Germany, Europe, the United States and, of course, the countries of the region, must work together to safeguard peace and stability in Lebanon. I am quite sure that this objective is also shared by our friends in Saudi Arabia.
It is important to make this clear as German-Saudi relations are not only of great importance to us bilaterally, but are also important for the region. We are moving in the same direction on important foreign policy issues, for example in the fight against so-called "Islamic State". Our relations are so important and strong that we will surely be able to cope with having different views on individual issues from time to time. We must not allow ourselves to be divided!
Berlin and Riyadh certainly have similar views as regards their analysis of policy. Saudi Arabia is very concerned about Iran. Like Saudi Arabia, we are most concerned about Iran’s foreign policy role in the region. I made this point abundantly clear in Washington quite recently. Together with the United States, we want to work to counteract the problematic role played by Iran in the region – without jeopardising the nuclear agreement. It was with this in mind that we also clearly condemned the Iranian missile tests as they are not in line with Security Council Resolution 2231. Our strategic objective must be to persuade Iran to refrain from such actions and for it to act constructively.
As far as Lebanon is concerned, we share Saudi Arabia's concern about the role of Hezbollah as a militia and about its role in the region. The fact that Prime Minister Hariri has returned to Beirut and has managed to convince all Lebanese parties to commit themselves to a policy of dissociation is a positive step. We will keep a close eye on whether everyone keeps this promise.
What is your view of the Qatari Gulf crisis? Will you make new attempts to push for a solution to this crisis?
Germany has a strong interest in a united and strong Gulf Cooperation Council. It is with this in mind that we want to achieve as quick a solution to the crisis as possible. And we believe that it is possible for all parties to come together when they get round the same table. Germany has never taken sides in the conflict, but has always supported Kuwait’s mediation efforts and the initiatives of the US. We enjoy excellent relations with all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and intend to continue in this vein. And so I am pleased that an important first step towards bringing the region together was taken in Kuwait. Only the countries in the region can resolve the crisis. We stand ready to offer our support in areas where we can be of assistance.
What is your assessment of the Syrian crisis on the ground and the extent of the international response to it, and to what extent has Russia used the American complacency to reach a settlement with them?
Contrary to what some people are saying these days, the Syrian crisis is far from over. People are being bombarded, displaced and starved every day. Take eastern Ghouta, for example. Hundreds of thousands are trapped, many of them women and children. The regime is preventing the United Nations from being able to distribute food and medication there. And why? For tactical reasons. That is more than cynical. Germany has already done much to reduce the suffering of the people in Syria. We have contributed over 700 million euros for humanitarian aid measures in this year alone. And yet this is not enough as long as the conflict continues. This is why we need a political solution at long last - under the auspices of the United Nations and on the basis of the relevant resolutions. I am referring to Resolution 2254 here in particular, which sets out a clear framework. This resolution was adopted also with Russia’s approval.
The delegation of the Syrian regime refuses to negotiate with the opposition delegation in Geneva, while the negotiations may be relocated to Sochi. What is your comment on this, and can Sochi or Astana be a substitute for Geneva?
We have emphasised time and again that two sides are needed for negotiations. In Geneva, we have an opposition that is united and constructive and prepared to engage in unconditional negotiations. This is impressive, and clearly also thanks to Saudi Arabia’s untiring efforts and to the work done by my good friend and counterpart Adel Al-Jubeir in particular. On the other hand, we have the Syrian regime, which blocks, protracts and distracts and does not budge one inch. I am not sure what impact a change of location would have upon this. If Russia genuinely wants to see a lasting political solution for Syria, it should get the Assad regime to move at long last – in Geneva, where the political process belongs.
The main point of disagreement in the Syrian negotiations is Assad’s departure or his remaining in office during the transitional phase. How do you view this dispute and its impact on the entire political process?
Negotiations on a political transition do not take the resignation of Bashar al-Assad as their starting point. The opposition admitted as much in Riyadh recently. At the end of the day, the shape that Syria’s political future is to take is something that the Syrians themselves must agree on. However, I can understand the opposition’s objection to the notion of allowing the country to continue to be ruled by a man who has fought mercilessly against his own people.
What is your perception of the Yemeni crisis, and how do you view the killing of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh vis-à-vis the future of a political solution in Yemen?
Our objective in Yemen - and we are on the same page here- is the restoration of peace and stability and the return of the legitimate government to Sana'a, as well as the protection of the Yemeni people. The conflict can only be resolved in the long term by political means - through inclusive negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations Special Envoy, whose efforts we are lending our full support.
We are aware of the fact that a permanent threat posed by the arming of a militia such as the Houthis with ballistic missiles is unacceptable to Saudi Arabia. We condemned the Houthis’ missile attack on Riyadh in the strongest possible terms and are also deeply concerned by the killing of Saleh, as well as by recent developments in Sana'a.
Saudi Arabia is the biggest humanitarian donor in Yemen, which is a fact that is unfortunately sometimes forgotten in Germany. At the same time, Germany is also one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid in Yemen - which is also perhaps not sufficiently well known in the region. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Yemen and recently increased our humanitarian aid to a total of 165 million euros for 2017. In order for this aid to get to where it is needed, it is essential that ports in the north be fully opened up again to humanitarian and commercial supplies. Finding a solution here that takes even better account of legitimate Saudi security interests is a challenge that we must overcome together with the active support of the United Nations.
Immigration from conflict zones and from Africa continues to be an international concern. What is your view on that?
The issue of displacement and migration - and that includes immigration from conflict zones and Africa - continues to be very high up on the international agenda. On the basis of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted by the United Nations on 19 September 2016, two global compacts on refugees and migration are currently being developed - projects to which we are strongly committed. The Global Compact for Migration offers a historically unique opportunity to establish an international framework for safe, orderly and regular migration. The world’s refugee crises cannot be resolved by individual countries alone. The Federal Government therefore supports the international division of responsibilities, protection of human rights and respect for international agreements on the protection of refugees.
Libya is witnessing manifestations of slavery and the sale of slaves, exploiting the conditions of African migrants. What is your comment on that?
The reports on human trafficking in Libya are shocking. On the fringes of the EU-AU Summit in Abidjan, Europeans and Africans agreed in very constructive talks to improve the situation of refugees and migrants in the country. These steps will be closely coordinated with the Libyan Government of National Accord, which must take responsibility for ensuring that refugees and migrants in the country are treated in a humane manner. It is important to implement the measures that were agreed on in Abidjan without delay and to ensure that allegations of slavery in Libya are investigated swiftly.