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Interview: Michael Knigge / dbFebruary 21, 2013

The EU's Middle East envoy Andreas Reinicke believes Egypt will continue to play a constructive role in the region in the future. He also urges Israel's new government to agree to a two-state peace solution.

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Image: A.Gharabli/AFP/GettyImages

DW: An estimated 70,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war so far. Following an alleged Israeli airstrike, Iran and Syria recently threatened retaliation. Egypt faces continued violent clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition. Have you ever considered, over the past weeks, giving up your job as EU envoy for the Middle East peace process? 

Andreas Reinicke: No, but I have considered doubling the job or the working hours. But of course, you are right. The situation in Syria above all is worrying and tragic. You've indicated the air strike on a site near Damascus. This is just another factor that shows just how difficult the security situation is in Syria, also relating to its neighbors. We have the additional problem of the Syrian poison gas potential that everyone is worried about and we have the problem of the Palestinian refugees. There are about one million Palestinian refugees in Syria who are trying to remain as neutral as possible because they have no alternative to turn to. Some have meanwhile fled to Jordan and Lebanon and you can only suspect the problems that will entail.

Egypt has often played a very constructive and important role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in the wider Mideast in general, in the past. Do you believe Egypt can assume this role in the future with a government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood after remarks by Egypt's President Morsi were recently made public that could possibly cast doubt on such a move? 

We must acknowledge that the entire Arab world and the region are also caught up in a phase of strategic reorientation. Previous coalitions no longer really work and there has been a change in players. We've mentioned Syria, Morsi and Egypt are another area. Saudi Arabia is seeking a new role and the Gulf States also wonder what the future will bring in relation to their ties with Iran. That adds up to many new constellations.

What is clear is that Egypt will play a weighty role even under the new president. I am in touch with the Egyptians to discuss the possibilities, and it is a long-drawn out discussion process. But Egypt realizes it must be constructive, and it has in fact shown in the case of the Gaza conflict that it is in a position to play a constructive role.

So you do not fear that Egypt will constrain rather than drive the Mideast peace process?

I believe all states, including Egypt, realize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a problem that must be solved. They know their actual problems are domestic. And they also know that the Palestinian conflict is a problem that causes unrest in the entire Arab world. A solution is in everyone's interest, also in Egypt's. But it is a difficult route and we hope that, with the new US administration and the willpower of the EU and its 27 member states, we can make a new attempt this year and make some headway.

Dr. Andreas Reinicke, Diplomat im Auswärtigen Dienst der Bundesregierung, aufgenommen am 09.09.2010 am Rande der Botschafterkonferenz im Auswärtigen Amt in Berlin. Foto: Tim Brakemeier
Dr. Andreas ReinickeImage: picture-alliance/dpa

You've mentioned the US whose commitment is generally regarded as indispensible for a chance at success in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Do you see any signs- and are you hopeful - that President Obama will make a fresh start in the peace process during his second term in office?

The US plays an important and decisive role in the solution of the conflict, we all know that. But the Europeans will also play an increasingly important role, the European Foreign Ministers have repeatedly made remarks along those lines over the past months.

We've heard US Secretary of State John Kerry's remarks in the Senate hearing, showing the significance he attaches to the issue. The coming weeks and months will show how things develop. In any case, the EU, foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and I are in close contact with the US administration to explore the means and routes how we can take these steps together.

What do you expect from the new Israeli government - itself an important part of any solution to the Mideast conflict?

We expect the new government, currently still in the process of being formed, to be open to a two-state solution. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu accepted it in his speech at Bar Ilan University and we would like to see the new government take up his route and be open to negotiations just as we expect the Palestinians to continue to be open to talks after the UN General Assembly vote.

Apart from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the debate about the Iranian nuclear program is another hotspot for the entire region. The US and Israel recently once again said they would not tolerate Iranian nuclear weapons and again said they would not exclude a military option. What is the EU's position on this issue?

You know the EU and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton have a Security Council mandate to hold the E3+3 (Britain, France, Germany, the US, Russia and China - the ed.) talks with Iran. We have been negotiating for quite a while, with great patience and seriousness. We will continue in that vein for the time being and hope the Iranian government will understand how serious the situation is - and recognize the chances and opportunities the new US administration offers them.

Andreas Reinicke served as Germany's ambassador to Syria from 2008 to 2012. He was appointed the EU's special envoy for the Mideast Peace Process in February 2012.