Germany’s Responsibility

In an exclusive interview with JVG, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirms Germany’s responsibility for Israel’s security. Maas defends the nuclear deal with Iran. Despite its deficiencies, the agreement enhances Israel’s security. Should Tehran follow the example of the US and withdraw from the deal, Iran could resume its uranium enrichment program. This could lead to war…

What has happened to Germany’s model democrats? They seem to be running scared of right-wing extremists, or throwing up their hands in resignation. And worst of all, some are even marching alongside them…
For far too long, many people have been lulled into complacency, believing that Germany does not have any problems with racism or anti-Semitism to speak of. Thanks to social media and networks, we are now seeing the sad truth. This reality has long been ignored, largely because the debate within Germany has been dominated by purely economic issues in recent years. But now we have realized that we must urgently begin attending to the values that define us, and that have brought us a good life here in Germany. Freedom, democracy and the rule of law must not be taken for granted. We must make them our joint project, and stand up for them.
You want people to get up off their sofas, and get loud. What exactly do you mean by that?
We can all help in some way. We often encounter racism and anti-Semitism during our everyday lives – at home, at work, on the subway, on the soccer pitch. Then it is up to us. Either we pretend we didn’t hear what was said, and look away. Or we speak up. In many cases, even asking “why would you say such a thing?” is enough to signal disagreement. We must all be willing to take a stand against xenophobia and anti-Semitism. It’s not that hard.



When you visited Auschwitz in August, you said that we will need to choose between resignation, hopelessness, or draw upon fresh hope and strength…
It may seem paradoxical at first glance. When you’re at what I would call the most horrific place in the world, and see what happened there, you find yourself becoming very quiet. But we must not remain quiet. The lessons of our own history demand that we find the strength to ensure this past will never repeat itself.
Populism is on the rise worldwide – in the Philippines, Russia, the US, Turkey, Hungary. Why are we calling it populism, rather than nationalistic egotism, chauvinism, or excessive nationalism…?
That’s a good point. In fact, I do tend to talk about populism and nationalism in the same breath. Populism is a form of nationalism – one that seeks to promote isolation and exclusion. It’s the opposite of what we must do in order to meet the challenges of our time. We will not be able to solve our problems alone – and that includes economic and social problems, as well as problems related to climate, security and migration policy. No country in Europe, be it large or small, will be able to solve these problems on their own. We can only do it together. That is why we need the opposite of populism and nationalism. We need international cooperation and shared rules and norms that we all adhere to.




by JVG

by JVG

You’ve called for a “balanced partnership” between Europe and the US. What are the central pillars of that partnership?
First of all, we must assume greater responsibility here, in Europe. That’s the only way we will succeed in preserving our own interests and values in those areas where President Trump has departed from our shared path and left a vacuum. We will have to join forces to succeed. Our response to “America first” must be “Europe united.”
What do you see as the future of the German-Israeli relationship?
The German-Israeli relationship will always be a very special one – when it comes to our international relationships, this one is unique. Even apart from our own history, one thing is very clear: the security and existence of Israel will always be part of Germany’s reason of state.




I am concerned and worried about the fact that a deal was reached with Iran in 2015 that is purely technical in nature. Would it not have been incumbent upon Germany, which has a special relationship to Israel, to say that we want the agreement to incorporate a statement affirming that every state in the region, including Israel, has a right to exist? Given that the US has withdrawn from the deal, could Germany not take up this issue again?
What we must remember is that those negotiations were being held to contain the looming threat of an acute nuclear crisis. The German government believed that preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power would increase not only our own security, but the security of Israel. That is why we decided to support the deal.

Under the current circumstances, wouldn’t it be best for us to insist on an affirmation of the right to exist?
The German government acknowledges Israel’s right to exist in every interaction it has with Iran, at every level. It would be neither honest nor sincere for us to do something knowing full well that, given the current situation, there is no chance that we will succeed. Right now, our concern is whether this nuclear deal has a future at all. In the wake of the US withdrawal, we must ensure that Iran continues to abide by the agreement and prevent a possible nuclear escalation.
How can someone who is as aware of history and the past as you are be willing to allow a state to continue to publicly and without shame call for the destruction of the State of Israel? An exception has been made, but it is an unhuman and politically dangerous one…
I cannot and will not reverse the decision that has been made. I’m more concerned about the potential for further escalation should the nuclear deal fail. The deal is not perfect, but we must do everything in our power to prevent such a dramatic escalation.
But Iran is waging a campaign of conquest and intimidation throughout the region…
Together with France and Britain, we are devoting a great deal of attention to this topic, also because of the role Iran is playing in Syria and in Yemen. The same holds for Iran’s ballistic missile program, which is extremely problematic.
In the past, Iran and the Jewish state always had a good relationship. We have no common borders and no refugee problem. For Tehran, this is only a vehicle to gain power and esteem within the Islamic world. I believe that global pressure could bring Iran to the point where it would be willing to affirm the existence of all states.
Honestly – even if were able to discuss this issue, how realistic is it that we could reach such an agreement under the current circumstances?
So it all looks quite bleak…
I hope that’s not the case. We also believe that what Iran is doing is unacceptable, both in Syria and with respect to its missile program. But let’s say Iran succeeded in developing a nuclear program with military capabilities – that would be a far greater escalation than anything we are witnessing now. A deal that gets Iran to agree to shelve its nuclear ambitions, at least for now, is better than no deal. An imperfect deal is better than no deal
at all.


Heiko Maas talked to JVG editors Elisabeth Neu and Rafael Seligmann at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin

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