By Frank-Walter Steinmeier
United States President-elect Barack Obama
Dear Barack Obama:
Last July, hundreds of thousands gathered before the Victory Column in Berlin to hear your vision of a better America and a more peaceful world. Your words moved millions of TV viewers. You rekindled the American dream for which countless people the world over have admired your country for more than 200 years, the dream of a society that has the power to change, that is open to new ideas, and that gives those with courage room to take their destiny into their own hands.
The expectations placed in you are almost beyond the human dimension, and the challenges you will face from day one are huge: a still-fragile financial system, an economy heading for recession, and an uncertain, changing world.
An impossible task? In any case one requiring courage, circumspection and stamina, and to be sure also new thinking that challenges old ideas and seeks new routes.
Your campaign was thrilling. You gave people, in the US and beyond, enthusiasm for a new start towards a shared future. You want to act in a spirit of partnership and to embark on a new course. This is why we see your incoming Administration above all as an opportunity, at this particular juncture, also for us here in Germany.
The tasks we are facing are enormous: to create a transparent and reliable global financial architecture; to combat the economic crisis; to revamp the global institutions; to create new trust between East and West; to build bridges between different cultures and religions that know little about one another; to bring peace and new prospects to places where today crisis holds sway; to take effective steps against climate change; to achieve global disarmament instead of the proliferation of ever more dangerous weapons.
All these aims can only be realized together. No country in the world, even the most powerful, can solve even one of these problems alone.
Together -- that means the US and Europe standing shoulder to shoulder. During the Cold War the West Germans benefited from America's commitment to freedom and democracy. Americans and Germans enthusiastically celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall together. After that, however, our relations all too often became daily routine. At times in recent years I was concerned that our links might become looser. But we must not become indifferent to each other, especially at this crucial time, as in an increasingly uncertain world we need to enter a whole new dimension of cooperation. Together we can continue to shape the 21st century world -- if we make a courageous new start, place the central issues of humanity at the center of our attention, and seek joint answers to the questions posed by the future. Let us together set out a "New Trans-Atlantic Agenda" and bring it to life.
1. Working Together for Stability in Conflict Regions
Looking for partners, reducing enmities -- nothing is more important in a world in which radical elements still use religious and cultural differences as a pretext to stir up hatred. Clearly no one can tolerate a situation in which extremists threaten the very foundations of our society with violence and terrorism. Every country has a duty to defend its values, security and the safety of its citizens.
But no battle, even one against terrorism, is worth undermining the achievements of our own civilization, thus compromising democracy and the rule of law. For that reason I am pleased that you intend to close the prison camp in Guantanamo. One of the most difficult issues arising from this is what to do with the released detainees. I am sure the international community will not abandon your new Administration in dealing with this task.
I am convinced that not even the strongest military forces can conquer terrorism and hatred alone. Peace will only be possible if we can convince people that there is a better alternative to enmity and violence, if we can win over their hearts and minds, if we help to create economic development and give people an opportunity to escape from poverty, and if we seek dialogue even, and especially, in difficult situations.
Because the world's economic and political balances are shifting, we are less and less able to take our Western values for granted. On the contrary, we must convince others of their advantages, build bridges, and foster mutual understanding. A policy of isolationism, a policy of closed borders is, in the final analysis, a policy of weakness. Those who act in this way demonstrate that they are perhaps no longer so certain about their values after all. I firmly believe that our shared values are strong enough to convince any interlocutor.
This is especially true in the Middle East. Recent events in Gaza show how quickly the modest progress towards peace can again be jeopardized. I have no doubt that the Middle East will be one of your new Administration's top priorities. We want to closely cooperate with you here: more than ever, only dialogue and cooperation, not suicide bombings and Qassam missiles, can lead to lasting peace. New trust and stability in the Middle East can only flourish under a system involving all the region's major stakeholders.
This can have limits, as we see with Iran. Dialogue can only lead to results if the other partner also wants to play along. If there is no willingness to adhere to international rules, cooperation is impossible. This is why the international community has very specific, non-negotiable expectations of Tehran -- no support for terrorism and violence in the region, no nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, to offer Iran a dialogue is neither a sign of weakness nor a concession -- it is sensible. For that reason I encourage you and your team to take that road, as you have announced.
Stability in this region will also be decided in Iraq. You and I were against the war six years ago, for good reason. Today our joint task will be to go forward and help the people of Iraq to create a stable and democratic society. My country will step up its contribution, particularly in the areas of health care and training. I will soon see for myself exactly where and how this could happen when I visit Iraq.
Together we are also working hard to achieve a bright future for Afghanistan. You have announced not only more troops, but also more commitment to reconstruction. We too favor a comprehensive approach to peace. We must, step by step, enable the Afghans to finally provide for their own country's security. To this end we have again increased our engagement. However, building roads, schools and water-mains is equally important. That is also our -- shared -- priority.
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