German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was on the defensive as he traveled to Iran and Saudi Arabia in an effort to improve relations between the testy rivals—and he may have already seen some progress on the first day. In a report by the Iranian PressTV covering the press conference between Steinmeier and his Iranian counterpart, the German diplomat said he learned that Iran is ready to start discussions with the Saudis regarding the damaged relations between the two nations.
Steinmeier’s visit follows one of the roughest patches between the two Middle East powers after Iranians attacked Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran and Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran in response. But despite his role as attempted peacemaker, Steinmeier and the German government felt the need to defend his visit in the midst of the crisis between the countries. In short, they argued that talking to the sides now was better than doing nothing.
“Cancelling the visit would have endorsed the conservative forces. Especially now, it is important to show the moderate groups that we will not leave them on their own,” said a statement from Christoph Strässer, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the German Federal Foreign Office.
The German official argued that the discussions with the sides is necessary to “prevent a further escalation. The entire region is afflicted by a humanitarian disaster. Iran and Saudi Arabia play a key role in Syria in particular. This is another reason why the channels of communication must be kept open. I know that Foreign Minister Steinmeier will also address the difficult human rights situation in both countries.”
Steinmeier has his work cut out for him. Iran and Saudi Arabia are reportedly fighting each other in Syria and Yemen via proxy wars. If that indirect warfare wasn’t enough, the Saudis executed a cleric from the same religious sect as Iranian leaders—the Shiite brand of Islam—and angry Iranians erupted in response with the aforementioned attack of the Saudi embassy in Iran.
PressTV noted that Steinmeier said a mediator wasn’t needed between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but before he left the German diplomat told German media that he had to do something to try and de-escalate the situation.
“Even our own interest alone would dictate that we need to do all we can to prevent tensions spiraling unchecked and to use what options we have to keep channels of communication open and help build confidence,” said Steinmeier to “Welt am Sonntag” newspaper that was republished by the German Federal Foreign Office.
Steinmeier also defended his discussions with two nations whose human rights records have left much to be desired.
Welt am Sonntag quoted him as saying, “It goes without saying that problems do need to be spoken about openly—but we can’t do that from our armchairs; we need to go and engage in talks. That is the only way to bring about change.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, February 2, 2016)