‘Germans are going to have to play a larger role’

(Deutsche Welle) Germany abstained from the UN General Assembly vote on whether or not to grant the Palestinians observer status. Stephen Szabo, an expert on US-European relations, says Berlin walks a fine diplomatic line.

Deutsche Welle: Earlier this week, Germany signaled that it would vote against the Palestinian bid for UN observer status. But then Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle announced that Berlin would abstain. Why would Berlin decide to abstain from this vote?

Stephen Szabo: They don’t really agree with what the Israelis have been doing in Gaza. Obviously Germany has a special relationship with Israel, so it has to be careful. But at the same time, I think it’s not sympathetic with the American position on this and wants to show they have some independence … without being too critical of Israel.

During the Libya uprising in March 2011, Germany abstained from the Security Council vote authorizing the creation of a no-fly zone, which its NATO allies ultimately enforced. Does Germany find it difficult to take a clear position on high-profile international issues?

Yes it does, because it’s going through a transition period from having a foreign policy that was sort of contracted out to the United States, to one now that is essentially more of a German foreign policy. Also, it is confusing because the Europeans don’t have a consistent or coherent policy, so the Germans are sort of caught in the middle. They’re expected to play a more independent role, but they’re not used to it. I think at this point they’re still feeling their way, but they’re moving toward having what I would call a more “normal” foreign policy. The kind of foreign policy a country like France or Britain would have.

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Syrian uprising challenges Assad regime’s regional ties

(By Deutsche Welle) Syria’s violent crackdown on protesters has placed Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran in a tough spot as they try to reconcile their political ties to the Assad regime with their professed support for the Arab uprisings.

As President Bashar al-Assad’s regime faces growing isolation both domestically and on the world stage due to its six-month-long violent crackdown on opposition protesters, the increasingly real prospect of regime change in Syria has sent political tremors throughout the region.

The Assad regime claims the leadership mantle of the so-called resistance bloc in the Middle East (informal group including Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran – the ed.), a movement that opposes Israel and American influence in the region.

But the Syrian government’s violent crackdown, which has taken the lives of an estimated 2,700 people according to the UN, has begun to undermine the regime’s resistance credentials and could tarnish the reputation of its Islamist allies, threatening to permanently de-legitimize and weaken the current key players within the resistance camp.

“The whole raison d’être of the state is based on the whole slogan of resistance and we are facing Israel,” Khaled Hroub, an expert on Arab politics at the University of Cambridge, told Deutsche Welle.

“The rhetoric, the discourse is the backbone of the whole regime in the country, if you take this out nothing is left for the regime to promote itself, to justify its existence.”

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