Five Questions, Four Agendas Germany's Top Parties Debate Foreign Policy Agenda

Part 4: How To Deal With 'Problem' States

How To Deal With 'Problem' States

For example, how can Iran be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons? And what is Plan B: How should we deal with a nuclear-armed Iran? Lastly, how can Germany and Europe contribute to a peaceful solution in the Middle East?

Erler: We continue to pursue a two-track approach in respect to Iran. First there is the negotiation offer that we initially made with France and Great Britain as the EU-3, and later with Russia, China and the United States as the EU-3+3. A revised version of this offer stills remains on the table. However, Iran should be aware: If the state leadership rejects a diplomatic solution then we are prepared to support harsher sanctions. On the situation in the Middle East: The conflicts in the entire region cannot be considered in isolation. They are often closely linked. As Europeans, we have a great interest in stability and security in this neighboring region. Consequently, in addition to solutions to the individual conflicts and crises, a comprehensive, regional strategy is required.

Minister Steinmeier has actively pursued the development of such a regional dimension within the framework of the European Union, which will need to be closely discussed with the US and partners in the region. The federal government maintains its position that without a two state solution, there can be no chance for lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

von Klaeden: In dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, the international community must not break ranks. The objective is still to obtain guarantees from Iran that its nuclear program will serve exclusively peaceful purposes and to make every effort to ensure that these guarantees can be obtained by diplomatic means. Unfortunately, the strategy pursued by the UN Security Council and the EU-3+ 3 has not prevented Iran from continuing with uranium enrichment. There is no alternative to the double-track strategy of sanctions and offers of cooperation. So far, Tehran has only vaguely responded to President Obama's offers to talk. We hope that the cracks in the Iranian power structure, which have become apparent in the wake of the manipulated elections and the subsequent protests, will, in the medium term, create new options for better relations with Iran.

The fact that the president of the United States put the Middle East conflict on his personal agenda from the start of his term is a welcome sign. We hope that the offers for dialogue and cooperation he offered in his Cairo speech have been well received in the region. The recognition and defense of Israel's right to exist must remain a cornerstone of German foreign policy. The Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has repeatedly made clear that Germany gives great importance to renewing the momentum in the Middle East peace process with the aim of achieving a two-state solution. Germany and Europe will naturally do all they can to support this process.

Trittin: I am honored that you should wish to learn the master plan from yours truly. How can one solve all the problems in the Middle East region -- in ten words or less? But it is indeed the case that these problems are all closely related and must therefore be treated as a whole. I also believe, incidentally, that President Obama recognizes this.

As for Iran, up until now, "Plan A" has proven unsuccessful -- that is, the attempt to prevent any upgrade of Iran's civilian nuclear program for military use. But it is my view that with his strategy of dialogue Obama has exerted more pressure on the Iranian leadership than George W. Bush with all his sanctions and saber-rattling. By extending his hand in peace in his message on the Iranian New Year and in his address in Cairo, Obama has unsettled the Iranian leadership. This naturally makes it difficult for someone like the "Supreme Leader" Ali Khameini to assert that the "Great Satan" is solely responsible for poor Iranian-American relations. In the June elections of this year, Ahmadinejad's opponents insisted that the country open toward the United States.

Since the election and its dubious results, the Iranian leadership has been nervous and has experienced an internal fissure while peaceful protests have brutally been beaten down by state authorities. It is of utmost importance that we show solidarity with these protesters. In any upcoming nuclear negotiations, the human rights situation cannot simply be swept under the rug. On the other hand, it remains the case that without direct dialogue with Iranian leadership -- discussion which includes the security concerns of Iran and its neighbors -- there will be no progress. There are more than enough proposals for compromise -- for example the head of the IAEA, Mohamed El-Baradei, has proposed a "freeze-for-freeze," a simultaneous suspension of sanctions to match a halt of Iran's nuclear development.

Without negotiations there can be no solution. Any war perpetrated as a result of Iran's progressing nuclear program would be a wildfire catastrophe that could plunge the entire region into chaos. Yet doubts about the success of any such negotiations with Ahmadinejad are not unwarranted, especially in view of Iran's swift progress on uranium enrichment. Estimates say the country could make military use of uranium in the next one or two years.

The result of all this is that the US will have to increasingly consider implementing "Plan B" -- how to deal with an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons. But for Israel there is no Plan B. It refuses to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran because it sees this as a threat to its existence. This was recently made clear to US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates by his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak. Therein lies a great danger. Iran, in possession of nuclear weaponry, would trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. So it's better to stick to Plan A.

Moreover, I believe that Barack Obama is correct in attempting to solve the Middle East conflict as a stepping-stone on the path to dealing with Iran, a country that supports Hamas and Hezbollah. Additionally, Germany and Europe must assume responsibility in the Middle East conflict. With our participation in UNIFIL, we already have a presence in the region. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the European Union should not only be a "payer" but a "player." With the present right-wing government in Israel and the political divide in Palestine, chances of reconciliation between the parties seem slim. Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, is therefore right in proposing that the international community should draft a compromise solution and then implement it in a step-by-step fashion together with the parties to the conflict. And in any such solution both Germany and the EU must play a consonant role.

Westerwelle: The dispute with the Iranian government over its nuclear program is one key aspect of the Iran situation. The other key aspect is the series of demonstrations in the wake of Iran's presidential election. It is extraordinary to see so many, above all young people, in Iran engaging in the struggle for the rule of law and democracy. In Iran we are seeing a generation of extremely well-educated and Western-oriented people take a stand. They see the opportunities the world has to offer them obstructed by the current regime and its policies. These are people who want to take advantage of globalization's possibilities. They rightfully regard enemy stereotypes, conflicts, and self-isolation as restricting their freedom to structure their lives as they wish. Repressive measures cannot easily cap the spirit with which these people are struggling for a better future.

Finding a solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program is proving so difficult for the parties involved in part because their relationship with one another is so complex. One of the keys to finding a solution lies without doubt in the relationship between Iran and the United States. In his Cairo speech, President Obama confirmed a change in policy and took an initial, courageous step. In expressing his admiration for Iranian culture and offering direct negotiations, he unambiguously differentiated his approach from his predecessor's policies of containment and escalation. Obama has proved his capacity for de-escalation without at the same time appearing naïve. This approach is correct because it prevents the hard-liners in Teheran from being able to present the West as a provocateur, which is exactly what are they are trying to do in the face of the internal political pressures they face. Another obvious key element that can contribute to the diffusion of the nuclear dispute is the implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), that is, a consistent policy of disarmament and arms control. Two fundamental elements of the NPT are the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and the guaranteed right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The more seriously the existing nuclear powers take their obligation to help create a world free of nuclear weapons, the greater credence they will have in the eyes of states like Iran, who find the prospect of possessing a nuclear arsenal extremely tempting. As regards the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, we need creative approaches that can balance the energy needs of one country with the legitimate security interests of all the others. The idea of a multilateral organization of the nuclear fuel cycle is an approach that may be helpful. And, as is the case of all questions regarding disarmament and arms control, the issue of how such schemes are to be monitored is, of course, crucial.

Regarding the Middle East conflict, the FDP has long been proposing a regional approach modeled on the CSCE (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) process. Experience has shown that it makes little sense to approach the different conflicts in the region separately because they are simply too interconnected. We therefore need to try to integrate all relevant parties into a framework of negotiation that avoids the kind of highly charged situations that repeatedly develop between different stakeholders. My own party's view is that ensuring Israel can exist in peace and within secure borders is a goal that Germany will always remain obligated to, but that this cannot be separated from the need for an independent, viable Palestinian state.

Germany is in a position to contribute to the resolution the Middle East conflict because we not only enjoy a close friendship with Israel but also have a good reputation in large parts of the Arab world. Furthermore, the fact that we have convincingly overcome the obstacles created by the Cold War proves our ability to diffuse and ultimately overcome even the most entrenched political antagonism. We now need to apply our experience and skills to the resolution of the Middle-East conflict.

At the same time, it would be a great over-estimation to imagine that Germany and Europe alone might somehow be able to find a solution that has eluded the region for decades. The United States, Russia, and the United Nations all need to play a major role if a viable and peaceful solution to the problems of the Middle East is to be found. It is also for this reason that I wholeheartedly support President Obama's early and intensive engagement with the Middle East and the fact that he has urged all parties to provide clear signals of their readiness to embrace peace and compromise.


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