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Steinmeier called for Iran to reach out to the US, and for Russia to be engaged in dialogueImage: AP / DPA / Montage DW

New Security Structure

DW staff (nda)
February 6, 2009

The world needs to take advantage of new diplomatic opportunities to put together a new security infrastructure, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the opening speech of the Munich Security Conference.


"The Cold War has been over for 20 years - which means it is high time that we start breaking out of that way of thinking, a way of thinking that sometimes accompanies us like a long shadow out of the past," he said, during opening speeches at the Munich Security Conference.

To that end, Steinmeier said he plans to summon defence experts to Berlin in June to discuss ways to revive and strengthen the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). The treaty, which limits the levels of military hardware in Europe, has been in limbo since 2007, when Russia announced plans to withdraw from the treaty.

However, he said simply rejuvenating that treaty would not be enough and called for a broader coalition designed to plan further, more concrete, security apparatuses in the future.

"The old dream of a shared security area stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok, which has been discussed in this very room multiple times, is not just going to fall from heaven. I fear it will remain a dream if we seek its fulfillment through a legally binding treaty, with long years of negotiations and the uncertain outlook of ratification in more than 50 parliaments."

Steinmeier said the time is right for seeking a new way to achieve this new security apparatus, given a new US administration which has stressed its willingness to enter into negotiations on prickly issues. Steinmeier also noted that now is a good time to reach out to Russia, given that its president, Dmitry Medvedev, is from a younger generation less influenced by the Cold War than his predecessors.

Nonetheless, he said that any new security architecture could not replace NATO. At the same time, he said it was time to summon a group of "eminent persons" to review NATO's role for the next decade.

Steinmeier urges Iran to reach out to US

Steinmeier also said that Iran should seek take advantage of the recent change in US administration to find a way to resolve questions and concerns about its nuclear program in a peaceful fashion.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, left, welcomes Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, before talks in Berlin Thursday Sept. 28, 2006.
Steinmeier and Larijani will meet again in MunichImage: AP

"My impression from Washington is that, after a long freeze, the administration is prepared to enter into a direct dialogue with Iran," said Steinmeier. "Let me be clear what this is not about: It is not about blocking a country from its right to peaceful use of atomic energy. Rather, it is about preventing the cover of peaceful work from being used to build up a miltary program," he added.

Iran is under pressure from the international community over its nuclear program, which it says is peaceful, but which observers fear is intended to create a nuclear bomb.

Ahead of the conference, Ali Larijani, Iran's speaker of parliament, said that he would "bring the Iranian point of view" to Munich.

Steinmeier also noted that the focus on controllling the spread of nuclear weapons should be not be limited exclusively to Iran.

"Issues of non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament deserve a lot more attention than they have received in recent years," conference chairman Wolfgang Ischinger -- formerly German ambassador to Britain and the US -- said as he opened the conference.

Obama's presidency presents opportunities

President Barack Obama
Obama's presidency gives rivals a chance to talkImage: AP / DW

The meeting comes just two weeks after the inauguration of US President Barack Obama raised hopes that the US would be willing to hold talks with both Moscow and Tehran on disarmament issues.

Iran is under pressure from the international community over its nuclear program, which it says is peaceful, but which observers fear is intended to create a nuclear bomb.

Ahead of the conference, Larijani said that he would "bring the Iranian point of view" to Munich.

But British Foreign Minister David Miliband - one of some 350 top politicians attending the event - insisted that Iran should cooperate with the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"Iran can have its rights under the (nuclear) non-proliferation treaty if it exercises its responsibilities. And one of its responsibilities is to come clean with the IAEA and to respond to the UN Security Council," he said.

The US and Russia, meanwhile, are at odds over US plans to site elements of a missile-defense system in Europe.

Russia says that the plans threaten its nuclear deterrent, and in 2007 pulled out of the CFE treaty, which limits the deployment of tanks and bombers in the continent, in protest.

Obama has already said that he will analyze the missile-defense project carefully before approving it, and that he wants to agree a new generation of nuclear-arms reductions with Russia.

Those comments have given rise to hopes in Europe that the US could be willing to trade concessions on the missile shield for Russian cooperation on disarmament.

On Saturday, US Vice President Joe Biden is set to debate European security with Lavrov, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Sunday, top NATO officials are set to debate the future of the alliance's mission in Afghanistan with the country's president, Hamid Karzai.

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