Behind the Headlines Germany Seeks Mideast Peace Role
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Behind the Headlines Germany Seeks Mideast Peace Role

Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s visit to Syria, Egypt, and Jordan Feb. 9-12, and to Israel in March will be watched by Bonn diplomats with unusual interest. Though earlier reports of a planned German peace initiative in the Mideast appear to be exaggerated, there is strong evidence that Germany is seeking a more active and positive role for the European Economic Community (EEC) in furthering peace talks.

At recent meetings with the Ambassadors of Israel and various Arab countries. Genscher did not unveil any magic formula for peace, according to informed sources. Still, he stressed that peace prospects have never been better, calling on the combatants to “do everything in their power to make good use of this situation.” Adding the hope that the Geneva conference could soon be reconvened, he emphasized that it should “be so well prepared beforehand that it does not end in failure.” sources say.

As West Europe’s foremost economic power, nothing terrifies Germany more than the prospect of another Mideast war and the accompanying risk of a new oil embargo. About 95 percent of Germany’s oil needs are imported, and 64 percent of the imports are from Arab oil producers.

Hence Bonn also views seriously Saudi Arabia’s oil minister Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani’s warnings of increasing oil price hikes in the absence of Mideast peace progress. It fears more hikes would trigger off a new world recession with grave economic-political consequences for the export-heavy German economy.

GERMAN-ARAB TRADE MUSHROOMING

The visit comes at a time when German-Arab trade is growing by leaps and bounds. In the first nine months of 1976 (the latest figures available) German exports to Arab countries jumped 25 percent to $4 billion and Arab deliveries to the federal republic (mainly oil) also climbed 25 percent, to $5 billion. Last year, for the first time, Germany replaced France as the number one supplier of mechanical equipment and factory installations, and for most Arab countries it is second only to the U.S. and Japan as a supplier.

A cynic might cite this as the main reason for Genscher’s tour. But it can also be argued that the surge in trade gives Genscher added political clout in the Arab capitals, where German knowhow and technology are highly esteemed.

Another useful weapon is aid. Bonn has already supplied $400 million in capital aid (cheap long term credits) to Cairo. The World Bank has reportedly promised a major loan to ball Egypt out of its economic problems, and Germany, as a major contributor to the bank’s reserves would have a decisive say in settling the amount and conditions of such a loan.

The fact that Genscher was originally not planning to visit Egypt, but announced this additional stop shortly after this month’s Egyptian riots, lends credence to the view that more German aid — either directly or as part of a World Bank or EEC contribution — is in the offing.

FACTOR OF GUILT FEELINGS

Oil and trade are certainly not Bonn’s only motives for seeking a speedy Arab-Israeli peace agreement. Undoubtedly, lingering guilt feelings about the Holocaust add fuel to a genuine concern for Israel’s safety. West Germany is also a staunch advocate of in Genscher’s words, “cooperation instead of confrontation” both in Europe and in the world trouble areas.

Hence Bonn’s “ostpolitik,” and its backing for the U.S. peace initiative in southern Africa last year. As a newly elected member of the U.N. Security Council it intends using its influence to this end.

Genscher may want nothing more than to persuade the combatants to hurry up and start talking, or to sound out their different positions — which could conceivably be conveyed to U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance as background for Vance’s own subsequent Mideast tour.

Further clues about his aims might emerge this week at the EEC Foreign Ministers’ meeting in London where the Mideast is high on the agenda. Whatever Genscher’s goals, he can be sure of a sympathetic hearing both in Jerusalem and the neighboring Arab capitals.