Frank-Walter Steinmeier: A profile
Germany took over the rotating presidencies of the EU and the G8 in January. We profile the key players and the issues facing them in a series of reports.
Steinmeier says that Iran is one of his most difficult issues
Fourteen months later, no one is posing that question any more. The 50-year-old Steinmeier has emerged from relative obscurity to become one of Germany's most popular politicians, even eclipsing the chancellor herself in some opinion polls.
Filling the shoes of his charismatic predecessor Joschka Fischer was no easy task for a man who kept a low profile as ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's chief-of-staff and had only limited experience in handling foreign affairs.
But he quickly adapted to his new job, jetting around the world, making contacts and setting new priorities for a country that was becoming more aware of the international role expected of Europe's biggest economy.
In one of his first acts, Steinmeier showed a high degree of diplomatic finesse in helping to repair relations with Washington that had turned sour because of the Schroeder government's opposition to the Iraq war.
Always impeccably dressed
Steinmeier, a bespectacled former lawyer with a shock of white hair, has visited more than 50 countries since taking office, some of them several times. Always impeccably dressed, he is regularly seen answering questions posed by television interviewers about one or the other of the world's flashpoints.
By his own admission the most difficult issue he has had to deal with is Iran's uranium enrichment programme, which Tehran says is purely for non-military purposes, but which the West believes is geared towards making nuclear weapons.
Efforts to persuade Iran to accept a package of incentives in return for abandoning the programme were rejected by the Tehran leadership and the issue is now before the United Nations Security Council, which is expected to authorize sanctions.
The Middle East has proved another quagmire for the foreign minister, who was earlier this month castigated by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for paying a visit to Syria in an attempt to woo Damascus into playing a constructive role in regional peace efforts.
As it turned out, Steinmeier returned home empty-handed, but will no doubt be in contact again if Chancellor Angela Merkel makes good her promise to try and breathe fresh life into the flagging Mideast peace process when Germany takes over the presidency of the EU and Group of Eight leading industrial nations in January.
Supporter of Turkey
The son of a carpenter, Steinmeier was born in the western town of Detmold on January 5, 1946. He is married and has a nine-year-old daughter.
He joined Schroeder's staff in 1991 and followed the SPD leader from Lower Saxony to Berlin in 1998, taking charge of running the chancellery a year later in a role which also saw him coordinate the activities of the intelligence services.
Steinmeier is a supporter of Turkish membership of the EU, a position which puts him at odds with Merkel and her Christian Democrats, who favour a "privileged partnership" with Ankara.
They have avoided a public falling out over the issue and the recent decision by the EU to partially suspend negotiations with Ankara over its refusal to open up transport links with Cyprus saw both politicians agree on the necessity of the move by Brussels.
rejection by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
January 18, 2007
Copyright DPA with Expatica 2007
Subject: German, Germany, EU, G-8, Frank-Walter Steinmeier