Germany’s voice is once more echoing on the level of international foreign policy. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a veteran German politician, has become once again the leading figure in Berlin’s diplomacy after the formation of a coalition between the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to which he belongs and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
One of the indications of this comeback was Steinmeier’s answer when asked by As-Safir about his views on the Geneva II talks, taking into consideration the conflicts within the opposition and the vagueness surrounding the final goal of the peace conference that has yet to be held. Steinmeier stated that the conference would be useless without the participation of Iran and a balanced participation of the opposition. Also, the conference would be meaningless without deciding on humanitarian corridors to deliver aid to Syria. According to Steinmeier, the corridors issue should have been included in the deal on chemical weapons, which he explicitly criticized.
Steinmeier’s statement came during his first visit to Brussels after his meeting with the leaders of EU institutions, including EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton. Steinmeier discussed with the European Parliament President Martin Schulz the necessity of restoring the integrity of the European policies, which were severely harmed by the financial crisis.
As-Safir interrupted the European visit and asked Steinmeier about the current situation of Geneva talks. Steinmeier began by expressing his uncertainty about the holding of the conference, saying, “First, I hope for the conference to be held. Many parties are currently working for this purpose. I hope the conference will be attended by the participants who are crucial to achieve, at the very least, some sort of significant progress.” He noted, however, that there are no guarantees in terms of achieving the sought after progress: “We cannot say that this [progress] will be achieved. We do not know for sure whether the opposition, or a part of it, is ready to participate in Geneva talks.”
The other reason behind his concern is related to the participation of Iran, which has [thus far] been excluded. Steinmeier put Iran under the category of “necessary participants” for the conference to achieve progress. “We do not know to what extent the neighboring countries of Syria will participate in this process. This affects Iran and its participation in particular. These questions are still prompted. Nevertheless, I hope for [these issues] to be resolved in the upcoming days,” Steinmeier continued.
This rhetoric is different than that adopted by German diplomacy during the era of former Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who warmly welcomed the approach of his US counterpart Secretary of State John Kerry. Westerwelle would not have espoused such a rhetoric or uttered any words that would disturb the work of Kerry, especially in terms of a conference co-brokered by the United States and Russia. Steinmeier, however, has done so.
The veteran politician has been a minister, vice chancellor and parliamentary leader. The German press nicknamed him “the Grey Efficiency,” for his active role behind the scenes, where Steinmeier went beyond causing mere disturbance. His predecessor had always praised the importance of the Syrian chemical deal. Yet, according to Steinmeier, a better deal could have been concluded in exchange for the destruction of chemical weapons to include the opening of humanitarian corridors.
In this regard, Steinmeier said, “We are not satisfied with the deal concluded regarding the destruction of chemical weapons. The next step should be related to opening humanitarian corridors and providing periods of non-fighting to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians.” The cessation of fighting and the delivery of aid are seen by Steinmeier as two crucial conditions to convince the Syrians of the advantages of holding and subsequently supporting the peace conference. “Without hope for these [conditions] to be fulfilled, the public will perceive the conference on Syria as meaningless,” Steinmeier said.
In an assertive tone, he added, “To sum it up, we should work on ensuring that there is indeed still a chance to achieve this kind of progress in Syria.”
Steinmeier assumed the position of foreign minister from 2005 to 2009, and was appointed again for the same position at the end of 2013. When he was the leader of his party’s parliamentary coalition, he reiterated the necessity of focusing on the issue of humanitarian relief and aid. In the middle of last year, he led a campaign with other members of parliament to raise donations and oversaw the distribution of the aid to the Syrian refugee camps in neighboring countries.
Steinmeier noted that in order to achieve progress on the humanitarian level, it is important to ensure the holding of Geneva talks through answering the prompted questions about the representation of the opposition and the participation of Iran. He justifies this by saying, “The killing in Syria will continue and the plight of the Syrians civilians [taking place], not only in Syria, is too severe to be described,” adding, “Whoever was acquainted with the situation in the refugee camps, and that of the refugees themselves in neighboring countries namely Lebanon and Jordan, knows that it is our duty to achieve progress in this regard.”