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Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister and leader of the Green Party, spoke with GLOBAL VIEWPOINT editor Nathan Gardels on April 30.

GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: Where does the Mideast peace ''quartet'' idea that you helped initiate stand?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: The ideas out there about where to go from here -- the Saudi plan, the quartet (EU, United Nations, Russia and the United States) among others -- are all moving in a similar direction: to realize the vision of President Bush of two states living peacefully side by side through, first of all, an end to the terrible cycle of terrorism and violence and then to establishing security and the right of existence of the state and citizens of Israel and to bring forward the political interests of the Palestinian people for a viable and independent state.

These different ideas need now to be brought together with a binding timeline, the implementation of which must be guaranteed by third parties led by the United States. The United States is in the driver's seat.

Above all, both sides must have a real option to decide against violence. This is particularly true in Israel, which is a democracy. The public opinion of the majority is the key element. They must be convinced that any agreement put forward will lead to security.

GV: Do you agree with the emerging consensus that, unlike Oslo with its incremental confidence-building going from easier to harder issues, the most difficult decisions about Palestinian statehood ought to be addressed first?

FISCHER: I am strongly in favor of an early declaration of Palestinian statehood, based on provisional grounds, that is, a recognition of Palestinian statehood before all the final details of boundaries, location of the capital, water rights, return of refugees, etc., are settled.

This will remove one of the biggest sources of Palestinian anger and frustration -- that a peace process will not lead to a state. And it is crucial to the whole process to begin to create viable democratic institutions -- full accountability and transparency, division of power with a legislature, executive and independent judiciary, a viable police force.

In this, the Palestinians will need the help of the international community. Democracy building is crucial for reconstructing trust in the process.

GV: Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy U.S. secretary of defense and a key player in the Bush debates on the Middle East, said that Europeans are just not doing enough to pressure Arafat, with whom they have great influence, to give up terrorism and convince him that suicide bombings will not get them a Palestinian state. Is that true?

FISCHER: I have had many discussions with Arafat and the Palestinian leaders. The European position is quite clear: Terror is unacceptable. Spain, the current president of the European Union, will never accept any position that will give terrorist organizations the slightest legitimacy. With the Basque separatist attacks over the years, Spain really knows what terror means.

We Germans have experienced what terror means. German tourists were killed just recently when terrorists blew up the beautiful old synagogue on the island of Jerba in Tunisia. The British have experienced what terror means. And so have the French.

There is no patience for terror from us Europeans. It is unacceptable. And we have been quite clear to the Palestinians. We have told them time and again that this armed intifada goes against their interests directly. There is no political reason to go into a pizzeria at noon and kill innocent people, whole families, or to blow up a cafe where innocent people are just trying to enjoy their evening.

GV: What do you make of Israel's rejection of the Jenin investigation by the United Nations?

FISCHER: I am a real friend of Israel. It is in the interests of Israel that we don't live with myths about Jenin but with the facts. So, it is in the interests of Israel to agree to an independent commission.

GV: The idea of peacekeepers is now on the agenda as part of a Middle East settlement. Would Germany participate in that?

FISCHER: Based on our history, of the Shoah (Holocaust) and the ongoing responsibility of Germany, I don't know if we are the best ones to keep peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Our approach on this is thus very self-restrained. We know the sensitivities.

GV: Wolfowitz said that the Bush administration has no faith that a new round of U.N. inspections would end Iraq's pursuit of mass-destruction weapons. What is your view?

FISCHER: Iraq must fully comply with the U.N. resolutions that call for uninhibited foreign inspectors. All pressure must be put on Saddam and his terrible regime to agree over the next month to real inspections and to fully comply.

GV: And if they don't?

FISCHER: Then we have to continue the debate.

GV: North Korea is now talking again to the United States, and there are new rumblings in Iran about getting its relationship with the United States back on track. The Bush administration claims this is a result of its direct threats against Iran as part of ''an axis of evil.'' Do you think that kind of diplomacy works?

FISCHER: What we have to focus on is this rise of a new totalitarianism and the Al Qaeda-type Islamic terrorists. The threat is not over. We have to go forward and hold together the coalition against this threat. It is not only a challenge to the United States but also to Europe.

Anything that moves us along a positive track is welcome. If there are positive reactions now in North Korea, whether in response to U.S. pressure or Kim Dae Jung's ''sunshine policy,'' then that is welcome.

Any change in Iran is also welcome. We have a very realistic view of Iran: It is a very mixed picture there.

GV: After the ''axis of evil'' speech, the U.S. withdrawal from Kyoto and the ABM Treaty, the insistent pursuit of a missile shield, Europeans like Chris Patten announced worries about America's ''unilateralist instinct.'' Do you share that worry?

FISCHER: Clearly, there is a need for an outspoken strategic debate. In America, everyone is looking at the so-called European mess -- why are the Europeans so weak and indecisive? In Europe, many people think America behaves only in its own interests and doesn't take Europe or anyone else into account.

There is a lot of misunderstanding. But the facts prove just the opposite in the end. We need American leadership. But leadership means unifying an alliance.

Now, despite all our disagreements and discussions about the Middle East, Europe and the United States are sticking together. We have different perspectives in the war against terror, but in the end we are with the United States. We are in Afghanistan along with the United States.

We had a debate about the ABM Treaty and had our concerns. But now we know, in the end, there will be a new agreement between the United States and Russia, the signatories of the ABM, to radically reduce nuclear warheads.

By definition, alliances between democracies will never be quiet. In the end, the result is always compromise and a unified political position. That is what counts.

(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services
For immediate release (Distributed 5/2/02)