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German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer

October 31, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Now to our Newsmaker interview with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. He’s the highest ranking German official to visit Washington since the German election campaign that provoked a breach between the two countries. In his successful bid for reelection, the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder came out strongly against Bush administration policy in Iraq, chilling relations with Washington.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Minister, welcome back to the NewsHour.


RAY SUAREZ: You’re the first member of the cabinet to visit Washington since the last German election. What were the nature of your discussions with your American counterpart Colin Powell yesterday?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, we are in permanent contact by telephone and there are a wide range of issues we had to discuss. Of course, the war against terror, the Middle East crisis, enlargement of NATO, one of the most important issues, but also of course, irritations in our relations — namely the dispute about Iraq, whether there should be military action or not. I think this was a very important visit and it was very fruitful and open discussions. And I think for our relations it was excellent.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, how serious are those irritations in relations? Is it just a bump in the road or something that both sides really have to take very seriously and get to work on?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, we are close allies. I mean, we will never forget what the United States did for us. Our democracy is based on the second chance which we got from the United States after 1945. And you defended us during the Cold War — five decades — and without the United States I don’t believe that we would have reached so smoothly German reunification.

We are very close allies. We are fighting shoulder by shoulder, our Special Forces together with U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. We are the biggest net troop contributor after United States. I mean, we have now in Germany 10,000 troops on the Balkans, in Afghanistan, horn of Africa. And this reflects, I think, how close our relations are. But there are differences, of course, between allies, inside the family. And therefore, I don’t see there a really serious problem. If there is an irritation, I think we have to solve these irritations, overcome these irritations and come back to normal business.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, how would you describe Germany’s position toward military intervention in Iraq? If you had to plead your brief to a broad spectrum of Americans, what would you tell them about what Germany wants to see in that part of the world?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, first of all, we think that the main threat — and this is not over — is international terrorism. What we… this terrible crime of 9/11, and these terrorist forces which are behind these crime, they are still a threat. They are the major threat. And I think we must ask the question whether this is really strengthening the war against terror or not. I mean, this is our first serious question.

And secondly, the question is the day after. What would it mean for the whole region? This is a very terrible, dangerous region, and what will it mean for regional stability in the Middle East? This is the Middle East, and are the United States ready to stay there for long-term? Because to go in and the United States have the military capacity to get rid of Saddam, there is no question about that, but what will be there the day after? Will the United States then stay there and guarantee peace and stability in these very dangerous neighbor region of Europe? This is the second most important question.

And these questions up to now are not answered. I mean, we are fully in favor of implementation of all relevant resolutions of the Security Council. And this means that we hope that the Security Council will have a unified position to a new resolution and then implement it immediately. But we are very skeptical about a military action and the consequences of this military action. We discuss that with our American friends not only now, but since my first visit after 9/11 — it was in 18th, 19th of September, 2001, I was raising these questions with our American friends.

RAY SUAREZ: How does the German government answer some of those same questions? Does Germany believe that intervention in Iraq would be a distraction from the war on terrorism?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, we are… we are deeply skeptical that this could distract from the war on terrorism, and we are deeply skeptical about regional stability. I mean, we agree fully that after 9/11, the status quo cannot be accepted any longer because it’s too dangerous. And what we need is a new Middle East. But it must be based, I think, broadly on solving regional crisis and dry out the breeding ground of terrorism.

I mean, in the war against terrorism, the most important battlefield are the minds and souls, especially of young people. And you have to dry out the reasons why they can be attracted by terrorists; otherwise you will lose this war. And this is no option for us. We cannot live under the threat of terrorism, and therefore we think we should discuss whether this is the right priority. But this is an ongoing debate.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Germany is by some measure the largest country in Western Europe. And sometimes when Americans look at the size of German commitments to various overseas actions, they may forget how large a departure that is from the previous 40 years of Cold War West Germany. You, in fact, had no soldiers outside your own national territory, isn’t that right?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: When I started in the office of foreign minister, I mean, we had some soldiers in Bosnia. But then it cost us about 200 million, then deutschmarks. Today we have, well, almost 10,000 troops. If you would have asked me one and a half year ago whether German troops will be in… Afghanistan, I would say, “never ever. What are we doing there?”

Today we’ll take the lead after the Turks of the UN mission, military mission in Kabul, together with the Dutch. And we are part of Enduring Freedom after United States, the biggest troop contributor. For Americans, I mean, it might not be a big amount; but for Germany, with our history — and we had a terrible history, and therefore a strong hesitation in our people to use military force because it was misused so many times in the 20th century, by German authority especially; by the Nazis. You have to understand these, these very specific tradition to really understand the feeling in our people.

But nevertheless, I mean, we understood that we have to share the burden. And we share the burden, especially in the war against terror. And it’s the first time that we sent Special Forces outside to fight together with our American allies against the terror. This is a tremendous step for us. And therefore, if there are differences, these are differences between close allies, but the substance of our alliance, the substance of our relations are excellent and deeply rooted.

RAY SUAREZ: Should Americans appreciate, should the American government appreciate, that Germany already has plenty on its plate, with E.U. Expansion and European issues?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: A few days ago we decided to pay the farm bill of an enlarged European Union. I mean, this was a door opener now for enlargement for ten more members. This means that for the first time, NATO and the Prague Summit end of November and midst of December in the Copenhagen Summit, they will unite Europe that’s an historical step and we have now reached these door that we can walk through. And Germany is contributing a lot for that and there will be no changes.

That’s not only based on our interests, not only on economic interests, but also because we believe that Europe is our future. And Europe without the strong role of the United States, I think, is no option. We need the United States worldwide for peace and stability, but also in Europe because transatlantic relations, this is the real pillar of our peace and security on both sides of the Atlantic.

RAY SUAREZ: The United States is looking to Turkey to provide a lot of help in security matters in the region and may also be supporting Turkey’s petition to enter the E.U.. How does Germany look on eventual Turkish membership in the E.U.?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, let me explain. There is a big difference between NATO and the E.U. I mean, NATO means that you are an ally, yes or no. To be a member of the E.U. means to be a member of the coming United States of Europe. Turkey is very complicated, because on the one hand, they need the European perspective; on the other hand, they do not really match the criteria, the basics of the European Union, up to now. I mean, human rights, rule of law, market economy, that democracy is the real dominant factor and not the military. I mean, all these issues, we are working very closely with Turkey but there is a lot of work to do. But they need the European perspective, and Germany is supportive of that, but on the other side, it’s a very complicated and difficult country with a huge size and will need a long time. And it’s not good advice.

I understand the American position, and I share a lot of these positions because Turkey by strategic interests is a dominant country in the region. And, by the way, when Turkey will successfully modernize the country, it will be the first really important Islamic country based on democracy and the rule of law and market economy which would have an own way based inside Islamic culture to modernity. And I think this would be a tremendous, tremendous success in the war against terror, but not only, but also in the war against terror.

So all in all, we are supportive but we are talking about not having close relationships, friendships. We are talking about a marriage. And to marry someone because a good friend says to you, “You should marry this person,” I don’t know whether this is sufficient enough for a marriage. But with E.U. enlargement, and be full member of the enlarged union, it means to marry in a political and economical and democratic sense. So it’s a complicated issue, but we must work on that and move forward in the right direction. It means that Turkey will have a European perspective.

RAY SUAREZ: Minister, thanks for being with us today.