‘Resume the fight against terror’: Merkel backs call for troops in Syria

German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw her support Tuesday behind a controversial call by her defence minister for international troops to create a "safe zone" in northeastern Syria.

'Resume the fight against terror': Merkel backs call for troops in Syria
Merkel and Kramp-Karrenbauer go to a parliamentary meeting on Tuesday to discuss Germany's involvement in Syria.

The German leader told conservative MPs that the idea of a security area was “very promising, even if there are many open questions”, sources from her parliamentary group told AFP.

But the initiative from Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer met with resistance from leading Social Democrats, junior partners in Merkel's ruling right-left coalition.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters the notion had provoked “a certain degree of irritation” among Germany's NATO allies.

Turkey's military intervention against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria launched earlier this month, as well as Russia's backing for the Damascus regime, mean “there are high hurdles for any internationalisation of the solution to the conflict,” Maas said.

For now, Berlin “has engaged with efforts to resolve the conflict” with “diplomatic and humanitarian” means, he added.

There had been “no discussion” of an international mission to northeast Syria with Germany's allies, Maas said, recalling also the failure of a similar plan for Aleppo in late 2016.

Not 'simply an onlooker'

Kramp-Karrenbauer had told broadcaster Deutsche Welle on Monday that a security zone could allow international forces, including European troops, to “resume the fight against terror and against the Islamic State” group (IS) as well as “stabilize the region so that rebuilding civilian life is once again

German Bundeswehr troops in Afghanistan in March 2018. Photo: DPA

The defence chief is keen to involve German soldiers, although a deployment would have to be in line with international law and secure approval from parliament.

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Europe and Germany must “come up with our own recommendations and initiate discussions,” rather than being “simply… an onlooker” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

She added that she had already floated her proposal to the British, American and French defence ministers and would discuss it further at a meeting of the NATO alliance in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Sources said Merkel pledged to discuss the safe zone idea during a previously planned meeting with the leaders of France, Britain, and Turkey ahead of a December NATO summit.

On Tuesday evening, Turkey and Russia agreed to ensure Kurdish forces withdraw from areas close to Syria's border with Turkey and to launch joint patrols.

The announcement followed marathon talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the southern Russian city of Sochi.

It also came shortly before the end of a US-brokered ceasefire between Turkish forces and Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria.

Turkey quickly moved to clear a “security zone” of Kurdish forces following President Donald Trump's announcement he would withdraw troops from the region.

The Kurds provided indispensable ground fighters in the US-led international coalition against IS, but their YPG forces are considered “terrorists” by Turkey.

Russia is a crucial ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has demanded that Turkey respect the country's territorial integrity.

When asked about Kramp-Karrenbauer's safe zone proposal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov withheld judgement.

“We don't have a position because this is a new initiative,” he said. “We need to study it.”

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

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‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.