Germany rejects US request to join Persian Gulf mission
Berlin disagrees with Washington’s policy of ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran
Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas: ‘Participation in the American strategy of maximum pressure is out of the question for us.’ Photograph: EPA/Friedemann Vogel
Germany has dismissed a US request to help secure maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf region.
Foreign minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday that Berlin disagreed with Washington’s policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran. Instead Berlin, in close consultation with Paris, would continue to press diplomatic efforts in the hope of avoiding a military escalation.
“The federal government will not participate in the sea mission foreseen and planned by the USA,” said Mr Maas, a senior member of the Social Democrat (SPD) junior coalition partner in Berlin.
A spokesman for his foreign ministry confirmed that “participation in the American strategy of maximum pressure is out of the question for us”.
Hours earlier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, federal defence minister and leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), sent out a different signal in Brussels.
“We now have a first general request from the United States . . . we are examining this request in close contact with the UK and France,” she told reporters before meeting Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg.
Relations between Tehran and Washington have been deteriorating since the Trump administration pulled the US out of an international nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. Relations have cooled further following a series of attacks on oil tankers. The US alliance plan follows Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
On Tuesday a spokeswoman for the US embassy in Berlin confirmed a formal request had been filed for Germany to join France and the UK to “secure the Strait of Hormuz and combat Iranian aggression”.
“Members of the German government have been clear that freedom of navigation should be protected,” the spokeswoman added. “Our question is, protected by whom?”
Hours later a series of leading SPD figures came out against the proposal.
Foreign affairs spokesman Nils Schmid said Germans saw a “risk of being pulled into a war against Iran on the side of the United States”.
SPD finance minister and vice-chancellor Olaf Scholz, chairing the weekly cabinet meeting during chancellor Angela Merkel’s holiday, said he was “very sceptical” about the idea – “a scepticism that many others share”.
Asked whether Berlin’s coalition parties shared the same standpoint on the US request, Mr Scholz added: “Yes, that’s my impression.”
Doubts over the US request are not limited to the SPD. Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Bundestag foreign affairs committee and a senior member of the CDU, dismissed joining the US-lead mission but backed the idea of a European mission.
“The alternative is a European mission, if necessary without the British, should they decide for the US,” said Mr Röttgen.
Public scepticism towards military action is widespread in Germany, a legacy of its disastrous military past in the last century. Until the 1990s Germany’s postwar armed forces, the Bundeswehr, avoided any foreign deployment. Even today, postwar constitutional restraints mean military engagement can only happen with Bundestag backing.
About 4,000 German soldiers are deployed abroad, many in Afghanistan, and 108 have lost their lives in about 50 foreign missions since the 1990s.
In recent years leading public figures in Germany have made the case for greater involvement in security missions abroad, but the public remains unimpressed. A survey last year found that 73 per cent of Germans opposed any military involvement in Syria. The greatest level of opposition, 80 per cent, was among over 65s while the lowest level – 65 per cent – was in the 18-29 age group.
Berlin’s apparent rejection of the US approach on Iran comes after years of sustained pressure from the US president Donald Trump on Germany to boost military spending in line with Nato commitments.