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Germany

Berlin rejects Assad's call to mediate in Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he would welcome German efforts to mediate in the Syrian conflict. But Berlin has categorically rejected the idea, a decision that some policy experts believe was the right one.

Just as Syria had begun the process of destroying its chemical weapons stockpile under the supervision of international experts, President Bashar al-Assad surprised many by calling on Germany to play a bigger diplomatic role.

In a lengthy interview with the most recent edition of German news magazine "Der Spiegel," Assad rejected any responsibility for the violence in Syria and sent a signal that he would be open to have Germany act as mediator in the ongoing conflict.

"Of course, I would like to see envoys from Germany come to Syria to see and discuss the reality," the Syrian president told the magazine. "Coming here doesn't mean you support the government. But if you come here, you can do, you can talk, you can discuss, you can convince. If you think you have to isolate us, you only end up isolating yourselves."

For help, look to the UN

But on Monday (07.10.2013), German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle categorically rejected the offer.

"We have Lakhdar Brahimi acting as UN special envoy, and we fully support his efforts to mediate a political solution," Westerwelle said during a visit to Afghanistan. The foreign minister also criticized Assad's denial at carrying out the August poison gas attacks outside of Damascus.

"Denying and disputing are certainly not suitable to finding a peaceful solution for Syria," Westerwelle said.

According to Middle East expert Guido Steinberg, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), rejecting the role of mediator is the right move for Germany.

"All those working toward a political solution in Syria should support Lakhdar Brahimi," Steinberg said. Individual states should not unilaterally take on a mediating role, he added.

Germany is also politically indisposed at the moment, as Chancellor Angela Merkel is still in the process of building a coalition after winning the federal elections last month.

"At the moment, no one knows who the next foreign minister will be," Steinberg said.

Avoiding political arrogance

Thomas Jäger, professor of international relations and public policy at the University of Cologne, also supports the government's decision.

epa03797202 German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks to members of the media during a foreign affairs council meeting at the EU Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 22 July 2013. European Union foreign ministers were set to tackle the thorny question of whether Hezbollah's military wing should be blacklisted as a terrorist organization, as well as talks on Egypt and Syria. EPA/JULIEN WARNAND pixel

Westerwelle said Germany supports Brahimi's mediation efforts.

"The US and Russia, in particular, are on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict," Jäger told DW. "If the German government were to mediate in a dispute between the US and Russia, that would be seen as political arrogance."

According to Jäger, assuming the role of a mediator would also send a disastrous signal to Germany's allies. Such a move would signal that the German government sees itself as capable of solving one of the world's most difficult political conflicts. And Jäger believes that not only Germany, but Europe as a whole should show restraint.

"The European countries have overextended themselves by trying to find a solution, or even a relevant contribution to the solution," said Jäger. "This is not a foreign policy conflict that they can handle."

Refugee policy the right approach

Yet Germany could and should be active in the Syrian conflict, argued Steinberg.

"I think that the Germans must react in some way, to show the Syrians that their conflict is not unimportant to us, as it sometimes may appear," he said. Steinberg thinks the best starting point for constructive action is in the area of refugee policy.

As a first step, Turkey should reopen its borders and accept more refugees. Here, Steinberg said, Germany could provide logistical and financial support. At the same time, however, Lebanon and Jordan would also need help. These countries are threatening to become politically destabilized because they are harboring a disproportionate number of fleeing Syrians, said Steinberg.

"In a second step, the European Union must also take on more refugees. Here again, the Germans could also find a way to contribute," he said.

Jäger also believes humanitarian help is the right path for Germany. The government could help alleviate the consequences of the civil war in the region. In addition, Germany also could help "move the discussion on to some kind of solution." Developing ideas toward this end, Jäger said, lay "in the government's possible courses of action."

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