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Merkel: “We Want Reliable Relations”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel comments on Russian energy relations in the Wall Street Journal. Complete transcript available here.

The Wall Street Journal: The interruption of oil supplies has spread much uncertainty in Western Europe about Russia’s reliability. What means of influence do you have to prevent such things happening in future? Chancellor Merkel: The message I gave to the [Russian] President is a very continuous one. Russia is a strategic partner of Europe. We are dependent on each other, and we want reliable relations. Such reliable relations must take place without irritations wherever possible. Irritations like those that have occurred should not be repeated. That’s why we will make every effort to anchor the security of energy supplies for the European Union in our Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia, which we will hopefully be able to start negotiating soon. Regulating it by treaty in this way offers an opportunity to build trust. That’s also necessary because Russia hasn’t ratified the Energy Charter [signed by the EU and Russia in 1991 to regulate energy cooperation], which is a repeated source of uncertainty. WSJ: Many people say that in your policy towards Russia, you may have changed the tone compared with your predecessor [Gerhard Schröder], but the substance remains the same. Do you see it that way too? MERKEL: I have difficulty with the question, insofar as we have foreign policy challenges today that my predecessor didn’t face. The topic of energy has taken on a much greater significance. We have higher oil prices, we have to renegotiate the cooperation agreement [with Russia], and Germany now holds the EU chair. So there are entirely new tasks on the table, and I am approaching them now in my own way: openly and honestly, but in the awareness that Russia and Europe are dependent on each other. WSJ: Have the energy-supply disruptions of the past year persuaded you that it’s also in Germany’s interest for other EU countries to have gas supplies that don’t arrive via Russia? MERKEL: We have to achieve two things. We must build a distribution network within the EU so that we can also help each other in an emergency. And we must pay attention to the need to diversify our energy markets, which concerns both the energy sources and also the suppliers. Still, the fact remains that we won’t be able to manage without Russian gas and oil in Europe, and we don’t want to either. It’s important to remember that, apart from these irritations, Russia has been a stable energy supplier in Europe over many decades, also during the Cold War. WSJ: Was Russia the main reason why tougher sanctions against Iran [over its nuclear program] couldn’t be agreed [at the UN]? MERKEL: It’s known that Russia and China have greater difficulty calling for very hard sanctions, but I would view the issue the other way round: It was a success that we achieved such a resolution in the Security Council, despite very different approaches between the EU, America, Russia and China. I also have the impression that Iran understood this signal very clearly. For me, a unanimous stance among the Security Council members is also a value in itself. And that’s why I firmly believe it’s worth having these negotiations again and again, even though they sometimes take a long time, even though on our own we would proceed more strictly.