On September 29, Sharq newspaper in its 2,126th issue published an exclusive interview with Niels Annen, the spokesman on foreign affairs of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag and a member of the SPD’s Executive Committee.
Previously Annen served as an analyst of international policy in German think tanks and for years chaired the Federal Executive Board of the German Social Democratic youth organization. He has contributed extensively to Europe’s socialist publications. He is favored to be a key figure in Germany’s foreign policy in the future.
IFP has decided to publish this interview only to focus on its strategic points, including the opportunity that has been created for Germany, thanks to nuclear talks between Iran and P5+1, to press its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, something Annen fails to elaborate on. Instead his emphasis remains on the revival of The Weimar Triangle and on the fact that time is ripe to make a final decision on Iran’s atomic case.
The interview could be viewed as an indication of the revival of Germany’s power which is floated based on a “Never go it alone” approach. What you will read below is the translation of the interview in its entirety:
Germany is the strongest and most populous country in Europe. It is common knowledge that Germany is not after political ambitions, although it is very close to being accepted as a member of the UN Security Council and seems likely to become the sixth veto holder in the UN in the near future. How important the Iranian nuclear case is for the Germans at this point in time? Is it a new opportunity for them or will we continue to see a Germany that keeps abstaining from playing a more active role on the world stage? Why is it that your party has bucked the trend and has taken a special and serious look at an active foreign policy? Where do Iran and the Middle East stand in such an attitude?
What you asked is a hot-button issue these days. Various groups and people are trying to carry out more reviews of Germany’s foreign policy. I cannot give meticulous details of all aspects of the issue because we do not have an active foreign policy, but it is no secret that a country’s history and the ties it holds with neighbors influence – and will influence – the formation of foreign policy, one way or another. As for Iran, it has experiences of its own. This is normal for all countries.
Personally, I hail from a younger generation of foreign policy officials. The experience of war in Europe has left an impact on Germany. Without taking account of such impact it would be impossible to appreciate the fact that we are a mighty economic power at the heart of Europe, but have such a [dormant] foreign policy.
Given such an historic experience, Germany cannot go it alone when it comes to political issues. After all, Germany’s foreign policy is not comparable to that of the US where the president makes a speech calling on all people [at home and abroad] to form a coalition. That who joins the coalition is of little importance.
Germany is not seeking to establish its domination in Europe or something like that. Germany played an active role in recent crises – in Ukraine for instance – but its role is a far cry from the US stewardship. We want to see all parties to a crisis get engaged.
Actually, the model the European Union has provided calls for such an approach: more convergence inside Europe and with our neighbors. The bottom line here is “Never go it alone”. Perhaps all our friends do not see eye to eye on such things; for example, Balkan governments may have certain considerations about their ties with Russia. All their efforts are not done out in the open, of course. Many backstage efforts are made for persuasion to eventually arrive at an agreement. They are all done behind the scenes.
This policy could be powerful as well. This could show our power, but it shouldn’t be a show of force on our part. What Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is trying to do is activating such a policy. On the other hand, the Germans see that they have over time secured economic growth and welfare thanks to the presence of a united Army and NATO’s security umbrella, so why should they change course?
Recently, the question of Iraq and a more active role of Germany have been brought up in the German foreign policy organization. That’s why we need to lay out new policies and display new capabilities.
In a democracy, you need both consultation and public support. We need to involve people in these debates and secure their backing for parliament. In fact a kind of public debate has got underway. We need to listen to people. If they do not want us to play a more active role internationally, we have to put their demand at the core of our policies.
How significant is Iran’s nuclear case to Germany’s foreign policy, especially for your party? What is the weight of this case and what opportunities does it offer Germany in general and your party in particular?
Iran is a key regional player. A number of countries are now engaged in the Iraqi question. Even in Iraq, the transfer of power from Nouri al-Maliki to Haider al-Abadi was all but impossible without Tehran’s de facto approval, to say the least. Insecurity in the Middle East takes on new dimensions by the day and certainly Iran is not immune to its ramifications.
Iran too is concerned about this crisis, seeking to see a satisfactory and stable situation prevail in the region. One can say that Germany and Iran share security concerns; in foreign policy we talk about tension, but ties between Tehran and Berlin are exemplary. The translated versions of Germany’s cultural and literary works into Farsi are invaluable. The two countries’ bilateral trade is satisfactory as well.
As for Germany’s foreign policy, our party has taken the control of the Foreign Ministry in its own hands, but that does not mean that the current foreign policy differs from that of our predecessors. The principles are the same, but new steps are taken and activities are gathering pace. All parties in Germany have reached a consensus that they don’t want to see the rise of another nuclear power. Such a thing is cause for concern, not only for Germany and its neighbors but also for far-off areas.
Ties between Germany and France inside the EU have expanded into very strong and close cooperation, as a result of which France coordinated the presence of German forces in Africa. Mass media are talking about the revival of a unity triangle among France, Germany and Poland. Are we going to see strong cooperation in Europe on Iran’s nuclear case? I mean something like Europe’s Troika in nuclear talks one decade ago.
Well, efforts to boost the Weimar Triangle are in fact in parallel with measures to activate foreign policy. This is a good idea for a stronger role of the Europeans. France is Germany’s top political partner. Poland is of extraordinary significance too. It had a key role in Ukraine’s developments. This country has a very special place among countries in Eastern Europe.
All in all, the reactivation of the Weimar Triangle would produce good results. But if you ask how much such political cooperation could advance Iran’s nuclear case, I should say the fact that we have constant consultations within the framework of P5+1 is constructive. This could have been non-existent or the European sides could have been divided, but that is not the case at the moment.
Personally I believe a breakthrough in this case does not hinge on the political leanings of the Europeans, rather it relies on the decisions of Iranian political leaders. If this case has moved forward, it’s because of such decision making, and the actual breakthrough down the road lies in Iran’s hands.
Iran’s president is fully ready; his opponents too are speaking loud and long [about the nuclear dossier]. Everybody admits that Rouhani has personally put in so much energy into settling the nuclear case. The final step is taken when Iran’s leaders make the [final] decision, and this guarantees the talks. For years, we had tough talks and now the time has come for making a crucial decision.
Currently the situation is good in the US, but it’s unclear who will adopt what policies in a year and a half – after Obama. I hope Iran, like other nations, can successfully manage its nuclear case in order to access peaceful nuclear energy.
And finally, how are [Iran’s] nuclear case and Germany’s strategic position related? Martin Kontez, a German author, has recently said Iran’s nuclear case has been a [good] opportunity for Germany to improve its global status as it is vying for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Don’t you think that the nuclear case has been a launching pad? Is the nuclear case important to German aspirations?
You related these two points from an interesting aspect. Germany has been part of P5+1, because it has regional and global security concerns. However, the foreign policy in Germany is seriously different from that in other countries. We have never thought that Iran’s nuclear case can help us have a stronger presence on the world stage. What you said is interesting, but that has never been what we have in mind. Germany is in the talks to serve the cause of security; it is not a show of force or a power-seeking attempt.
We thought talks with Iran, as a security partner in the region, could be stabilizing. Germany’s presence in the talks is intended to help establish collective security of which Iran is a good regional partner. The nuclear question is a key obstacle in the way of such a goal, something which should be cleared.