German foreign minister under fire for Libya remarks

BERLIN - Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle faced ridicule across Germany and even within his own party on Friday for stating that it was chiefly U.N.-imposed economic sanctions that led to the downfall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Fri 26 Aug 2011, 9:27 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:39 PM

In remarks this week, Westerwelle stressed that it was the sanctions — rather than rebel forces and NATO air support—that brought down the Libyan strongman. His comments were trashed in Germany, even by some in his Free Democrats.

“The sanctions and the international isolation were of great importance — that is what prevented Gaddafi’s regime from getting fresh supplies,” Westerwelle said.

Germany angered its allies in March for abstaining in a U.N. Security Council vote authorising military enforcement of no-fly-zone over Libya.

Westerwelle had been on the defensive for that decision ever since with critics accusing him and Chancellor Angela Merkel of breaking ranks with partners in NATO for domestic political reasons — especially regional elections in March.

Even during the months’-long NATO campaign in Libya, Westerwelle expressed doubts about the use of force — which can be a popular stance among generally anti-war Germans.

But that backfired this time. His party was defeated in the elections and opinion polls showed many were concerned about Germany isolating itself over Libya.

Unpopular, controversial

Westerwelle has been the most unpopular foreign minister in the country’s post-war history. His FDP party has plunged in the opinion polls and he was forced to give up the party’s leadership this year.

Westerwelle, Germany’s first openly gay minister, also ran into criticism for conflict of interest for taking his partner, a German businessman, on several of his official trips abroad.

Westerwelle said this week he believed that abstaining from the Security Council vote was still the right decision to make and added he would do it again.

On Friday, amid growing media criticism of Westerwelle, Merkel’s spokesman Christoph Steegmans supported Westerwelle’s view of events. He said at a news conference that Merkel is “in complete agreement with the Foreign Minister’s comments”.

When later asked if Merkel specifically backed Westerwelle’s remarks on the sanctions being decisive, Steegmans added: “Things that are self-evident do not need to be expressed.”

Steegmans added: “There is no foundation to all the talk about Germany going off on its own or being isolated.”

He also pointed out that Germany, which had chaired the U.N. Security Council earlier this year, played a vital role in getting sanctions imposed against Libya.

Westerwelle was nevertheless assailed by a former leader of his own Free Democrats, ex-Interior Minister Gerhard Baum: “Westerwelle’s abstention doctrine has caused major damage. Now his constant harping that it was sanctions that brought down the regime sounds like an arrogant know-it-all.”

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung quoted a member of parliament in the ruling centre-right coalition saying Westerwelle’s comments were “a huge embarrassment.”

Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the parliament’s foreign policy committee and a leader in Merkel’s CDU, also said it would have been wiser if Westerwelle had not made those remarks.

“One should have said ‘fortunately our concerns turned out to be wrong and we’re delighted about that — and we’re happy for our allies and obviously happy for the Libyan people’,” Polenz told Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday.

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