BERLIN – Germany is prepared to bend its restrictive policies on weapons exports and arm Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State militants in northern Iraq, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Wednesday.
The comments to German public broadcaster ZDF are the strongest yet by a senior German official and represent a wholesale shift in Berlin’s stance since the beginning of the week. On Monday Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said Germany was committed to upholding its position of not sending arms to conflict zones.
“We cannot just leave Kurdistan on its own and watch as people are slaughtered there,” said Steinmeier, a Social Democrat (SPD) whose party shares power with Merkel’s conservatives.
“If necessary, if the current threat level persists, I cannot rule out that we will have to deliver weapons,” he added. “Our principles on delivering arms are exactly that, principles. They take into account that we can have extraordinary situations in which a political decision must be made to take a different approach that is in our own security interests.”
In excerpts from the interview provided by ZDF, Steinmeier did not go into detail on what kind of arms Germany might supply. He said the German defense ministry planned to deliver nonlethal military equipment, such as protective vests, by the weekend.
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a conservative, has said the Iraqi government would be the recipient of such equipment.
Steinmeier, von der Leyen and President Joachim Gauck drew attention at a security conference in Munich earlier this year by saying that Germany, which has shied away from direct involvement in military conflicts for much of the postwar era due to its Nazi past, should be prepared to pursue a more muscular foreign policy.
Sigmar Gabriel, the economy minister and a party ally of Steinmeier, recently unveiled a more restrictive policy on arms exports to sensitive regions, sowing confusion about how Berlin might respond to the threat in Iraq.
But on Tuesday, after a meeting with representatives of Iraq’s minority Yazidis in Berlin, Gabriel described the onslaught as “preparation for a genocide.”
Islamic State insurgents — radical Islamists who have proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling parts of Iraq and Syria — have swept across northern Iraq in recent weeks, pushing back Kurdish regional forces and driving tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians from their homes.