The Cable

Germany Calls Ukraine Conflict a Threat to Europe, but Says No U.S. Weapons Needed

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the Ukraine crisis threatens Europe. But he argued Thursday that sending guns will not resolve it.

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There’s little doubt that the months-long war in eastern Ukraine is taking its toll on the rest of Europe — and, in particular, Germany. But if the West is serious about ending the fighting, said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, it cannot send more arms to the front — as Washington is weighing.

“It might only take days to spark a crisis, but it could well take years to resolve it,” Steinmeier said Thursday, March 12, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Instead, he said, preserving transatlantic unity is key to checking Russian President Vladimir Putin, and NATO allies need to have “strategic patience” to allow diplomacy and financial pressure to work.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s close relationship with Putin has placed Berlin squarely in the middle of the standoff over the fight between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists.

But because of its violent history and public opposition to any step that could lead to a wider war, Germany is firmly opposed to sending weapons. U.S. President Barack Obama told Merkel during a meeting in February that he did not plan to arm Kiev, a pledge that drew the ire of a bipartisan coalition in Congress.

Earlier, at a meeting with a small group of journalists, Steinmeier also chided some in Congress — namely, 47 Senate Republicans — for undercutting world powers’ credibility in nuclear negotiations by warning Tehran, in a letter, against striking a deal.

“To be clear, from my point of view, that was not really helpful, because we are in a decisive phase of the negotiations,” Steinmeier said.

He said Iran appears more serious than ever about finding a compromise — which would allow it to produce nuclear energy but not so much that it could build a bomb. “There is indeed progress,” the foreign minister added.

But the letter, drafted by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, plays into Iran’s propaganda that negotiating with the United States is a waste of time that will never produce a good-faith agreement for the world.

So: not helpful. “That was really an understatement,” Steinmeier said.

Thursday’s comments came during a three-day visit to Washington to meet with White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice and the top lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

Lara Jakes is the deputy managing editor of news for Foreign Policy magazine and a former war correspondent, Baghdad bureau chief and award-winning senior national security and diplomatic writer for The Associated Press. She's a 1995 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and lives in Alexandria, Va., with her husband. @larajakesFP

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