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Interview with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

13 December 2016

In a written interview with the Security and Human Rights Monitor, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier discussed a few of the topics that were addressed at the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting. The meeting was held in Hamburg on December 8 and 9. Foreign Minister Steinmeier also shared his views on arms control, the crisis in and around Ukraine, and how the OSCE can help to manage that crisis.

According to Steinmeier, the current security situation in Europe is tense. “For the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall,” he said, “Europe’s security is under threat again. In a situation like this, the OSCE, as the largest regional security organization in the world, is absolutely essential. It offers a unique forum for dialogue and confidence-building between East and West.”

In this way, the Foreign Minister’s goals of renewing dialogue, rebuilding trust and restoring security have proved useful in diffusing situations such as the renewed conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the conflict in Ukraine.

When asked what concrete outcomes he expected from the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Hamburg and which topics would dominate the debate among ministers, Steinmeier stated that the main topics of concern would be the conflict in and around Ukraine, as well as new initiatives for conventional arms control and the role of the OSCE in the prevention, mediation and follow-up of conflicts. He emphasised the urgent need for the OSCE to exert a joint effort in overcoming global challenges, preventing violent confrontations and solving existing conflicts.

One such joint effort was a roadmap agreed upon to help break the stalemate with regard to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. This roadmap was developed at the last meeting of the Normandy Format, held in October of this year in Berlin. While Steinmeier remarked that progress in this area was admittedly slow, both with regards to security and the political process, he nevertheless held out hope for a solution:

“I did, however, take away one important thing from our meeting in Minsk. Both sides, Kyiv and Moscow, have stated clearly that they want the mediation process in the Normandy Format not only to be continued, but actually to be finalized and brought to a solution. That is a hopeful sign.”

Perhaps the biggest of challenges has been the lack of a lasting ceasefire. With regards to the disengagement of troops, he remarked that both sides still seem to be “buried in their trenches and unable to move.”

Steinmeier was also asked to articulate his stance regarding the possibility of sending an armed OSCE police mission to eastern Ukraine to help ensure the security of future local elections in Donbass. As there has never been an armed OSCE mission, he was cautious in saying whether this is something he would definitively support. “If the two sides ask for such a mission,” he replied, “it is my duty as Chairperson-in-Office to examine the possibility.” However, he expressed the strict conditions for such a possibility, namely, that all of the OSCE participating states would have to agree. Furthermore, this would call for a well-structured proposal by all sides, which should make clear what form such a mission would take.

The interview concluded with advice for the incoming OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz. Above all else, Foreign Minister Steinmeier encouraged Kurz to keep in mind that “the OSCE is based on consensus”. While the necessary discussions and coordination sometimes mean a drawn-out, difficult process, Steinmeier encouraged his successor to “keep calm and carry on … I think is [sic] worth it!”

To learn more, read the full interview here