DEUTSCHLANDFUNK RADIO INTERVIEW
WITH FEDERAL FOREIGN MINISTER
GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTRY
February 5, 2006
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Adler: Now there has been a fourth case, one that was fortunately only a very brief hostage-taking, namely in Nablus. It involved Christopher Kasten, who is working there as an English teacher, in the West Bank region of Israel. Four cases of abduction reveal one thing: They have one thing in common. They are essentially heightened conflicts with the West, between the West and the Islamic world. Are we in the midst of a clash of civilizations?
Steinmeier: I hope that we are not embroiled in a clash of civilizations, but what is almost as bad is the fact that we are farther away from an intercultural dialogue than I would like. We embarked on this process three or four years ago with precisely those countries which today are the sharpest critics of the Western way of life, the Western concept of democracy. The former Iranian president Khatami was a partner in this dialogue. We have lost more and more such partners in recent weeks and months. And that is indeed regrettable. And it is one of the reasons why emotions can be fanned the way we are witnessing at the moment.
Adler: In other words, you feel that responsibility lies with the Islamic world, that the Islamic world is perhaps becoming increasingly radicalized or less willing to take a moderate stance towards the West?
Steinmeier: One of the reasons is certainly that the rules governing Islamic life or, to put it better, the rules in the Islamic states are different from ours. After all, in the more recent past we have successfully championed constitutional frameworks in our states to enshrine recognition of a sphere in which freedom of opinion, freedom of information, freedom of the arts and also freedom of reporting reign. And this constitutionally defined area means that within this sphere of protected freedom people can say things that are true and things that are false, that people can show things that are tasteful and things that are less tasteful, and that this is a sphere of freedom upon which the state cannot encroach. This concept of freedom is foreign to most Islamic states, yet we have nevertheless managed to launch a dialogue on the subject in recent years. And a focus of my concern and my efforts in the coming weeks will be to do my part – Germany’s part – to see to it that this dialogue is set in motion again.
Adler: The current cartoons of Muhammad, which have really caused great agitation, especially in the Islamic world – how do you view them? Are they basically unnecessary oil on the fire? Should the West perhaps also exercise some moderation? Do they also express a measure of arrogance on the part of the West, as has been said in the past few days, or must we instead state with utter clarity: We defend freedom of opinion, freedom of the press, our very democratic basic values?
Steinmeier: I believe the latter is crucial. We must insist that the sphere of the protected basic rights of freedom of opinion, of freedom of the arts continue to be guaranteed here as well. But we have nothing to lose by saying in the same breath that caricatures like these naturally pay little heed to religious sensitivities in the Islamic world and, in a situation in which some people are eager to instrumentalize, certainly lend themselves to being used as an instrument to this end. Nevertheless, we should not try to backtrack and say that news coverage, satire and caricature should therefore not be permitted. Rather, my ambition is to work to make it understood once again that this is part of the constitution of Western democracy, and to also make ourselves understood once again in the Islamic world.
Adler: Mr Steinmeier, the nuclear dispute with Iran also falls under this conflict between the democratic world and the Islamic countries. Here an Islamic country denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map, as the Iranian President Ahmadinejad has said. After much haggling in Vienna there was this rather clear solution, namely joint referral of the issue to the UN Security Council. But then there was Iran’s very first reaction, which was to do just what it had threatened to do, namely resume uranium enrichment. So will the game start all over again now or will this lead not only to discussion of the case of Iran in the Security Council but also to stronger reactions in the Security Council?
Steinmeier: Well, first of all, we have embarked on a process that we just agreed on this week. I have naturally taken note of the Tehran government’s initial announcements. At this point I can only advise the Iranian government to refrain from any rash reactions and instead recognize that the international community is acting very responsibly here, has not closed the door to negotiations once and for all, has stressed that it continues to seek a negotiated solution. At the present time, however, now that Iran is unwilling to suspend its enrichment activities, this does not rule out the option of resorting to the Security Council. We have resolved to do this as a first step. A report will be sent to the Security Council. And I do not believe it is necessary to speculate about further steps and their substance right now.
Adler: Based on our experience with Iraq, when that case was brought before the Security Council three years ago, how much must we mistrust the information provided by the secret services, by the intelligence services, as far as Iran is concerned?
Steinmeier: Ms Adler, I think our situation here is entirely different from the decisions that were on the agenda in 2002 and 2003 in regard to Iraq. Here, after all, the International Atomic Energy Agency has been engaged in an already very lengthy verification process. While we are not satisfied with this process, it has nevertheless yielded more and more information in recent years that enhances our joint knowledge of the actual status of Iran’s nuclear programmes. In this respect we are presently less in a position of having to rely on information from the intelligence services; instead, thanks of course to the presence of the inspectors at the installations in Iran, our body of knowledge is much greater than the information of the intelligence services on which we had to proceed three years ago. So here we are operating on the basis of this knowledge obtained by the International Atomic Energy Agency. And in his most recent public statements Mr ElBaradei has once again urged the Iranian government – also in its own, in Iran’s interest – to address the open questions posed the IAEA wants to be answered by the government.
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