The Green politician Jurgen Trittin, 51, on the US policy of the coalition and dealing with the Iranian nuclear program

[This interview is translated from the German in: DER SPIEGEL 20, 2006,  http://www.spiegel.de/.]

Spiegel: Mr. Trittin, foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier upon taking office promised to maintain the continuity of Red-Green foreign policy. Has he succeeded?

Trittin: Partly. The chancellor has silently accepted the Red-Green position on the Iraq war. In other areas, the government is moving in the wrong direction.

Spiegel: What are some examples?

Trittin: The supervision of the nuclear armament program is one example. That is really in the German interest. Washington recognizes India as a nuclear power – in the middle of the Iran negotiations over its nuclear program. That is a fatal signal. Governments in the third world rightly ask why India’s disdain of the international norm of disarmament is now given priority while Iran is treated so harshly. Berlin should have clearly criticized this. This is an obvious change of course.

Spiegel: Angela Merkel and Steinmeier claim they brought their objections to Washington.

Trittin: They merely spoke out at the final moment of the deal. They should have said clearly: the nuclear deal with India endangers the success of the negotiations with Iran – and that this is the most explosive international crisis at the moment.

Spiegel: Why does Berlin react so subdued in your opinion?

Trittin: Because Merkel and Steinmeier want to avoid a crash with Americans. They should accept a fracture with the German policy of non-proliferation pursued for years.

Spiegel: That sounds as though you refuse the chance for reconciliation with Washington.

Trittin: Oh no. A friendly relation is in our interest. But commenting on paramount questions and supporting the international supervision of nuclear technology are also in our interest.

Spiegel: Is this problem worth a conflict with the US?

Trittin: India is a very dramatic case with global consequences. India has evaded international inspectors in all stages of nuclear enrichment. This threatens to become the model for many – from Brazil to South Africa.

Spiegel: Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks more openly with the Russian president than Gerhard Schroeder.

Trittin: Yes, the Greens wanted Schroeder to be open. Merkel moves here in the continuity of Joschka Fischer’s foreign policy.

Spiegel: Is the new government exaggerating conciliation with the US?

Trittin: Important questions cannot be solved against Americans or with them alone. Take the case of the Hamas government in the Palestinian area. Germany refuses conversations with Hamas as long as they do not renounce on force and recognize Israel’s right to existence and the peace process. That is right. But Europeans and Berlin have gone too far under the pressure of the US.

Spiegel: What do you mean?

Trittin: The boycott resolution of April was much too extensive. The EU should have prevented that. Sending medicines as humanitarian aid to Palestine is useless if doctors and nurses cannot be paid. We cannot sit back and watch the collapse of civil structures and then be surprised that the Palestinian state falls apart. Disintegrating structures encourage terror and endanger Israel’s security. Now the errors are being corrected half-heartedly.

Spiegel: What frightens you more: an Iran with nuclear weapons or a war with Iran?

Trittin: Whoever dares a military strike will encounter a nuclear-armed Iran. In Iran, there is a consensus reaching deep into the opposition that the land has a right to the civil use of nuclear power. We need an agreement with Teheran that respects this right. Iran must renounce on military use in an internationally verifiable way.

Spiegel: That sounds good. But Iranian research is more advanced than experts believed.

Trittin: We will not persuade Teheran to abandon its research in enriching uranium. That would be naïve. Freezing this level is crucial.

Spiegel: Should the Security Council impose sanctions against Teheran?

Trittin: That serious negotiations with Iran bring results is much more important. The West must contribute to that end. Together with Russia, Iran has a claim to the commercial enrichment of uranium under international controls. The US must finally come out of its sulks. Washington must declare in discussions with Teheran that there will be no military escalation.

Spiegel: What role could Berlin play?

Trittin: Ms. Merkel should use her hot line to Washington. Dear George, she should say – she is now on first name terms – all of us are speaking with the Iranians but you refuse. We’d like to hear this.