"The Iraqi People Must Develop Consensus!"
Al Arabia: Mr Minister, let me start off by asking a few questions about Iraq. In a few days as you well know power is supposed to be transferred to the new Iraqi Interim Government. How confident are you that this new government will be able to handle the situation after June the 30th?
Joschka Fischer: Well first of all I think we produced a very good resolution in the Security Council, the Security Council Resolution 1546, Lakhdar Brahimi had a very delicate but at the end successful mission, there is an agreement of all the relevant Iraqi parties to the process which should end by transferring power based on direct elections but now we start on July the 1st with a real transfer of power to an Iraqi authority, and I think this is a tremendous opportunity which should be used by the Iraqi people.
Do you think that the government will have enough power, enough authority to execute the needed reforms?
Fischer: Well I am not a prophet, we have to see this, but the Iraqi people have all the interest to improve the security situation, so this is the first element. Secondly, the neighbours must have all interest that this is a constructive development which will lead to legitimate elections, free and fair elections and a real Iraqi sovereignty based on a democratic constitution, and not to a civil war because no one in the region could have an interest in Iraqi civil war. And certainly we all interest all together, in the West, in the Arab world, everywhere, to fight against terrorism. So these three elements I think should unite a common action.
Do you foresee any role perhaps in the near future for NATO troops to be in Iraq or maybe for some other formula whereby multinational forces will be present there?
Fischer: Well there are coalition troops on the ground, but I think the most important element to improve the security will be to restore Iraqi security forces, and we had a very successful experience our police people together with police people of the United Arab Emirates trained Iraqi police forces, and I think this is a good example for cooperation to improve the Iraqi capabilities to secure security in their own country.
There has been talk recently about handing over Mr. Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi official to the new Iraqi government. Some are afraid that this might probably not be a fair trial, perhaps it will turn in a trial of vendetta or vengeance. Do you have any concerns regarding this?
Fischer: Well, we are in favour that everybody, even a dictator or an ex-dictator who committed terrible crimes against the own people, should be tried in a fair way. I think this is very important. Also, for the future, but I don’t want to intervene, we are not part of the coalition, I think this must be discussed between the Iraqi authority and the coalition.
Germany took of course a very strong position in the past opposing the war, as you are aware probably the independent council in the US that is looking into this issue has issued a report saying that there was no relationship between the Saddam regime and Al Qaeda. Also, so far we have not found any weapons of mass destruction. How do you look at this? Does that fortify Germany’s position that it took all along?
Fischer: Well, I mean the United States are crucial for us, they are our most important ally, the United States – this is my experience as Foreign Minister after more that five years – are playing a central role for peace and stability in the world, but on the other side we are close friends with the United States. If we are not convinced we have to tell them. This is our understanding of real friendship. But now we have to look forward, and we are where we are, and the transfer of sovereignty to a legitimate Iraqi government improving Iraqi security by strengthening own Iraqi security forces and keeping Iraq together I think these are the main issues we have now to deal with.
There has been a very close cooperation between Germany, France and Russia over this issue in the recent past. How is this cooperation developing now after the Unites Nations Security Resolution has been passed unanimously?
Fischer: It was not only these three, there were others in the Security Council, from Latin America, China was playing a very important role, but I think the Security Council Resolution 1546 is very important, and the implementation now. I mean this is the only game in town as the Americans used to say to such a situation, and it must be a success. This is in the interest of the Iraqi people, of all the relevant groups in Iraq. This is in the interest of the region, of all the neighbours, and this in the interest of peace and stability in the world.
In your opinion, what are the main obstacles that are there today that perhaps would hinder the developing of this political situation in Iraq?
Fischer: First of all it will be in the hands of the Iraqi. They must develop consensus. It will be at the beginning a fragile one, but we made the experience in Afghanistan that we can move forward all together if the relevant groups define the national interest, the interest of their nation, and the basic interest must be to avoid a civil war, and to have a transitional process which will improve the security and end with free and fair elections and a democratic constitution which reflects the free will of the Iraqi people. This is the core of the Security Council Resolution, and this must now be implemented, and this is in the hands of an Iraqi authority.
Now, moving on to the Middle East peace process, or now frozen peace process, the EU leaders have issued a statement recently welcoming Israel’s unilateral move to withdraw from the Gaza strip. Do you think that this in itself is a sufficient move, or does it have to be followed by other steps?
Fischer: Yes, there must be other steps. But I think, much more important, it’s part of the Roadmap, and it’s not outside or against the Roadmap. But then, if it’s done well, and Egypt is working very hard, the Egyptian government, to improve the security and to create an efficient Palestinian security for a real takeover, an orderly takeover. If we can strengthen the Palestinian self-government in Gaza after withdrawal of all troops and dismantling of all settlements, and if it will be also the beginning in the West bank, then I think this is a real opportunity, and this opportunity should be used, because there is an ongoing tragedy. It is painful to see the suffering of the people there. Innocent people were killed, children were killed or severely wounded, houses were destroyed, there are terror attacks, and everybody in the international community including in Israel and in Palestine knows what will be the only positive answer: two states living peacefully side by side. All the elements are a hundred times, maybe a thousand times discussed, and it’s a question of the will and of trust to put these pieces together and create this two state solution, the two states Israel and Palestine living peacefully side by side.
Having mentioned that, the suffering and what people go through in the Palestinian territories, some here in the region criticize Germany for not taking strong enough actions and measures against what Israel is doing specially recently in the Gaza strip and the Rafah region. How do you respond to that?
Fischer: Well, all our Arab friends understand that we have a special relationship to Israel based on our historical and moral responsibility with the genocide in the 40s. This defines our special responsibility. But ask our Palestinian friends. Our contributions are the most important contributions for the reconstruction in the Palestinian areas before the Second Intifada started. We have good relations to both sides. And sometimes it is not a question of how strong you speak up. Sometimes it is much more important to have open doors on both sides and try the utmost to reach an agreement. And I think our Palestinian friends who know very well our policy and especially me personally, as our Israeli friends understand that we are playing a very constructive role.
Let me move on to the war on terrorism issues. Germany has in the past extradited a few people to the United States even after they were found innocent in German courts. How are you justifying this?
Fischer: Not innocent. I mean there was an arrest warrant, an international arrest warrant from the United States when they were controlled on a German airport. They were arrested and then we had a legal procedure up to our Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided they can be extradited. We have an extradition agreement with the United States, so we had to act.
Now you have a new immigration law that is being considered in Germany. Mr. Schröder described it as a very modern law, but it seems that there are others who disagree with this, saying that this law singles out people of Arab and other Muslim origins and makes them subject to deportation, immediate deportation, and be looked upon as potential terrorists.
Fischer: No, definitely not. Look, we have in Germany a strong Muslim minority, and they are welcomed. And many of them … before we changed the immigration law, created an immigration law, we have changed the citizenship law. So many of the second generation and third generation of these Muslim immigrants from Turkey, but also many Arab states are now Germans, and we live together peacefully. And mosques are built in Germany, and there is a climate of tolerance, and we want to increase that. We are fighting against terrorism, but terrorism means not Christianity against Islam. This is Bin Laden’s strategy who, he wants to create a clash of civilisations and of cultures, of religion. And for us, our neighbours are not terrorists, our neighbours are partners. There are terrorists on all sides and we have to fight terrorism, but we should not follow the strategy of Bin Laden and his group to create a clash of civilisations between the West and the Arab World. And to avoid that we need tolerance and we have any interest to live peacefully together.
So you don’t think this law will be singling out people of Muslim religion …
Fischer: … definitely not, definitely not. We made the experience that terrible crimes were organized in Germany, or maybe organized in Germany, or those who were responsible for 9-11 lived for a longer period in Germany. And this forces us to draw consequences against terrorism, but I mean it’s quite clear, come to Germany, go to for example Berlin, Berlin is the biggest Turkish city outside of Turkey. And we live peacefully together, and I think more than 95% of those who immigrate from Turkey are Muslims.
Switching gears to Libya now, as you know Libya has been taking steps in the recent past trying to re-integrate itself into the world community. From your point of view, the German point of view, what is required from Colonel Gaddafi to re-establish his dialogue with Germany?
Fischer: Well we appreciate it very much. This is a very positive development, and we accompany that very positively, but there is a problem from the past. A terror attack, and the survivors, and the families of those who lost their life, they need some compensation and there is an ongoing discussion between the lawyers and the Libyan side. And I hope that they will reach as soon as possible an agreement.
So in your view monetary compensation will suffice to re-establish the dialogue with Libya?
Fischer: This is a discussion I think between the Libyan side and the lawyers, we are not part of these discussions, but we highly appreciate this positive development between the international community and Libya.
Now when it comes to the EU issues, the EU constitution has been approved after lengthy and difficult debates. There are, however, still issues of contention such as the forbidding of religious symbols for example which the Vatican clearly objects to. How do you see this issue resolved?
Fischer: Well I think now you mix something. The question is whether there is a wording, language about Christianity or if not about God in the constitution, in the preambula, this problem is solved, it’s a very neutral language now because we had to reach an agreement. The second issue about religious symbols, I mean this is an ongoing debate in member states including Germany. My own position is, I am here for religious tolerance, but there are other people who have a more limited position and I would be very glad if religious tolerance in Europe, in the Arab World, would be really one of the basic principles, because everybody should pray to God in the way he or she likes it. There are believers and non-believers, and if you start to fight about religious issues this will end in a terrible nightmare. I think tolerance for these issues is one of the basic principles of a globalized world.
Let me move to a more general question about the future relationship between the new European Union and the Arab World. How do you look at that, how do you see the relationship developing between the European Union and the Arab World?
Fischer: We both have strategic interests, but definitely we are neighbours. In a globalized world, the Arab World and Europe – if you look at the history, I mean the history of our both regions was a tragic one, but there were also very positive influences, and I think the regional cooperation is crucial for us. We have the Mediterranean process with all the Mediterranean partners including Israel, but all the Arab states around the Mediterranean and Mali, we have [talks with] the Gulf Cooperation Council, we had a very successful meeting I think two or three weeks ago in Brussels, and we are ready to improve these relations, because peace and stability in the Middle East means also peace and stability in Europe, and this is our main concern.
Mr. Joschka Fischer, Foreign Minister of Germany, thank you so much, Sir, for being here with us at Al Arabia, we appreciate your time pressure.
Fischer: Thank you!
© Federal Foreign Office Germany 2004