November 21, 2017 / 5:35 PM / a year ago

Germany, citing own history, urges work to bridge Gulf divisions

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel offered his Qatari counterpart a small piece of the Berlin Wall on Tuesday, saying Germany’s post-war history was proof it was possible to overcome deep divisions such as those now plaguing the Gulf region.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel speaks during a session of the Bundestag, German lower house of Parliament in Berlin, Germany, November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Gabriel said Germany had a keen interest in maintaining good relations with all the Gulf countries and working for peace in the region, even if those countries were sometimes in conflict.

“Especially in politically troubled times in which dialogue has sometimes slipped into the background, it is all the more important to build bridges, to emphasize the things that unite us and to help remove walls,” Gabriel said at the opening of a new Qatar-funded Arabic cultural center in Berlin.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said he hoped the new center, erected in a neo-classical villa in the southern part of Berlin, could showcase Arab culture and help battle stereotypes of Arabs in Europe.

Sheikh Mohammed last week blamed what he called “reckless leadership” in the Gulf for a rift with Qatar and the current crisis in Lebanon, taking apparent aim at Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt this summer cut diplomatic, transport and trade ties with Qatar, accusing it of financing terrorism. Doha denies the charges.

Gabriel did not refer to the Gulf dispute directly, but lauded Germany’s World War Two enemies for building bridges and welcoming Germany back into the world community despite the devastation and horrors of the Nazi regime.

“After 70 years, we saw that it’s possible, even after a world war, to be partners in a first step and friends in a second,” he said. “Tearing down walls is exhausting but worth it.”

Gabriel said a full segment of the Wall that once divided East and West Germany would be delivered to a museum in Doha, fulfilling a promise he had made to the sister of Qatar’s ruler.

“Because as a politician, particularly in these days in Germany, we ought to fulfill our promises,” he said. “That is a hot topic in my country at the moment.”

Gabriel, a former leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), declined to comment further on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s failure to forge a new coalition government with the pro-business Free Democrats and environmental Greens.

Merkel is pressing the SPD to reconsider its refusal to join another “grand coalition” with the conservatives - a move that would stave off new elections that now loom.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Riham Alkousaa, Editing by William Maclean

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