German FM Steinmeier visits Middle East again

14th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

14 August 2006, BERLIN - Just hours after the ceasefire in Lebanon took effect, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was jetting out of Berlin for his third visit to the Middle East in the space of just four weeks. The latest tour will be the first to include Syria, which the head of German diplomacy believes is an essential partner if any kind of enduring peace is to be achieved. Along with Iran, President Bashar Assad's regime is believed to be the principal sponsor of Hezbollah, the Lebanese

14 August 2006

BERLIN - Just hours after the ceasefire in Lebanon took effect, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was jetting out of Berlin for his third visit to the Middle East in the space of just four weeks.

The latest tour will be the first to include Syria, which the head of German diplomacy believes is an essential partner if any kind of enduring peace is to be achieved.

Along with Iran, President Bashar Assad's regime is believed to be the principal sponsor of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist movement that has fired thousands of missiles at northern Israel in recent weeks.

Syria forces which had been Lebanon for 29 years withdrew in April 2005 under international pressure.

Washington continues to regard Damascus as a rogue state and Syria's international isolation has driven it into the arms of Iran and the Islamist extremists whether it likes it or not, in the view of German diplomats.

"We have to test whether Syria really wants to hitch itself to Iran in the long term," said Steinmeier in a newspaper interview.

Diplomats caution that they are not actually expecting any concrete commitment during the Steinmeier visit from Syrian leaders that Damascus will play a constructive role in peace moves.

On the other hand, the Syrians will already be well aware of Steinmeier's proposals since he has frequently been on the telephone to Damascus in recent weeks along with his many telephone conversations with the United States, Israel and European nations.

In the near future, Berlin would welcome from Damascus a more conciliatory attitude towards the state of Lebanon. Syria does not recognize the country's independence or its borders and treated it as a protectorate until last year.

The three stops on this Steinmeier trip, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, are "all vitally necessary for a permanent settlement in the Middle East," according to foreign ministry spokesman, Jens Ploetner.

The minister was scheduled to arrive Monday evening in the Jordanian capital. He is to visit Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

In Amman and Riyadh, Steinmeier will be encouraging governments to stick to their constructive approach, whereas Damascus has still to be persuaded to play along. Among Steinmeier's inducements will be economic arguments.

As foreign minister of the European Union's biggest member, he can ask Damascus how it would like more trade with the EU. An EU-Syria "association" treaty has already been negotiated but never put into effect. Other nations would also like to improve their relations with Syria.

The telephone diplomacy in recent weeks has been aimed at telling Syria what it must do in exchange, or as German diplomats say, that "the path out of isolation is a two-way street." Berlin believes the Syrians have grasped the message.

While that represents some progress, they say Steinmeier's expectations from the trip are no higher than "realistic."

Ploetner warned that headline terms like "breakthrough," "quick settlement," or "easy recipe" don't go well with the Middle East's decades-old conflict: "You need a very long perspective."

DPA

Subject: German news

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