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Opinion

Opinion: Steinmeier's Mid-East trip a tough sell

The German foreign minister traveled to Tehran and Riyadh on a trip dominated by the topic of Syria. His journey ended at the Dead Sea. An editorial by Dagmar Engel.

The deepest place on the earth's surface is the Dead Sea. A comparison to the political situation in the Middle East begs to be made. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier used the analogy during the last leg of his diplomatic trip to the region: The situation is sinister, he said, and it is especially grim in Syria.

Two regional powers could do much to see that the situation changes: Iran and Saudi Arabia - neither a shining example for democracy, nor the defense of human rights. These nations despise each other so much, direct commercial flights between them do not even exist. Considering Steinmeier visited them one after the other, one can only assume that he is endeavoring to mediate; that he is trying hard to get Tehran and Riyadh to come to the negotiating table and work out a solution for the Syrian crisis.

Engel Dagmar Kommentarbild App

DW's Dagmar Engel

But one of the most repeated lines that Steinmeier used in his press statements was: "We are not here to mediate." When asked, why are you here then? He says: "To figure out what might be possible." To determine where bridges might be built and pass along that knowledge to those that are responsible for mediation. But who would that be? "Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria." But how much backing does he have?

It is certainly true that Germany is not a major player in the region. And that the German army is not the tool with which to leverage negotiations. Therefore, Germany is well advised to operate in concert with its partners in the European Union on foreign policy matters. And indeed, it has enough to do in terms of its mediations in Ukraine. Ultimately, the USA and Russia are pursuing their own interests in the Middle East - and with a lot more force.

Nevertheless: When the German foreign minister says at the end of his journey that a deciding factor in solving the crisis will be that states and personalities will have to step forward to accept risks and responsibilities, it applies to him as well.

Mediating takes time. A solution for the Syrian crisis will take time, and people will continue to flee by the thousands. A million will come to Germany this year alone. In such situations, the mediator can quickly be declared a guilty party. A mediator can fail.

So let's call it something else, let's call it brokering, instead of mediating; after all, Germany enjoys the reputation of being an honest broker in the region. We can go along with the foreign minister and call his activities soundings, bridge building, or holding talks.

I would like to call it action.

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