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Turkey wants a European future and has a European perspective

Germany - Interview: Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle in The Wall Street Journal

Does Turkey's constitutional referendum result make it more democratic, and should Europe now open the door further to Turkish membership?

The constitutional reform is a step in the right direction. It shows that Turkey wants a European future and has a European perspective.

No foreign minister should make grand promises. But nobody should rashly snub Turkey by slamming the door in its face after all its efforts. This is a negotiation process with an open outcome. Our relationship with Turkey is also a strategic question with ramifications that go far beyond the EU.

Your coalition partners don't seem open to one outcome: Turkish EU membership.

We must recognize that the power balance of the world is changing. It sometimes amazes me how self-assuredly countries that are influential today assume that things will always be that way. We will have to work hard to achieve that.

Turkey is one of the world's fastest-rising countries. Its economic success story is breathtaking. It is pushing forward on political reforms, even though it knows it still has work to do. Such fast-rising countries aren't satisfied to watch events from afar. They want to influence events as part of the international community. It's only a question of time before these young, dynamic societies are also among the political, cultural and intellectual centers of the world.

How should the EU respond to Turkey now?

Twice in the year since I became foreign minister I have made a personal contribution to ensure that two new chapters were opened. Now we must act wisely and early enough so that we don't arrive at a dead end by the end of this year, but instead ensure that this process [of EU accession talks] is continued.

German foreign ministers are usually popular at home. You and your party are unpopular right now. What has gone wrong?

Any government that from the beginning takes difficult but necessary decisions comes under pressure in opinion polls. Everyone wants to balance the budget, but many people cry out when specific cuts affect them.

Greece's experience shows that it is necessary for European states, with Germany in a leading role, to have sound public finances.

You can tolerate bad opinion-poll scores if you know that the situation in the country and the economy is good. That's why I'm sitting here feeling very relaxed. This constant squinting at opinion polls is the great problem in many democracies. Instead, we have to do what is right.

Has Germany's export-driven economic model been vindicated?

Germany has become a growth engine for Europe. Imagine the situation in Europe without the strong growth of Germany in these times. It's true that we export a lot, but we are also the biggest importer in the EU.

Are relations with the US as warm as Europeans hoped when President Obama was elected?

It is a pleasure to see the courage and strength with which President Obama advances, for example, the issue of disarmament. His vision of 'nuclear zero' sets a benchmark for the world.

We are very happy with the cooperative approach of the US government.

We have achieved what seemed impossible a year ago: to present Iran with a united front of the international community.

Iran hasn't changed course.

The sanctions have begun. They send Iran the clear signal to turn away from the path of insufficient cooperation and intransparency. I have the impression that this signal has been understood in the Iranian government, despite all rhetoric.

How do Poles view the debate in Germany over recent comments by Erika Steinbach [the German conservative lawmaker who criticized a respected Polish diplomat for having "bad character" and who appeared to suggest Poland was partly responsible for the outbreak of World War Two]?

I view it as a success of our foreign policy that there was no lasting fallout between Germany and Poland, because the Polish people know that we don't want to turn back the wheel of history, nor to rewrite history.

I see this as confirmation of my decision, when I became foreign minister, to pay particular attention to relations with Poland. It is no wonder that the German-Polish relationship is sensitive, given our terrible history and our German responsibility. The political generation before us managed to build an irreversibly deep and friendly Franco-German relationship. Our task is to achieve the same between Germany and Poland.

You're seeking a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. How hard are you also pushing for a permanent seat?

This discussion can only take place in the wider context of reforming UN structures. Independently of our German ambitions we are convinced that others too are underrepresented. The fact that neither Africa nor South America has a permanent seat on the Security Council and that Asia is underrepresented doesn't truly reflect the architecture of world politics.

Does Germany still have special reservations about deploying military force abroad?

We have more than 7,000 soldiers currently serving abroad under mandates from the international community. We are making our contribution for peace and security in the world. At the same time, we are convinced that most conflicts, in fact nearly all conflicts, don't have a purely military solution, but that the civilian and political work is decisive.

Some NATO Allies complain about the restrictions Germany has imposed on its troops in northern Afghanistan

I hear only praise and recognition of the successful work of German women and men, meaning not only the soldiers, in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan won't be won through military means alone, but only jointly with civilian reconstruction and a political solution based on reconciliation and rehabilitation.

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