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I would like to thank you very much for your hospitality, for hosting this meeting.
I want to start by expressing our condolences to our Saudi partners after the terrorist suicide bombing on Friday which claimed the lives of 20 worshippers in a mosque in the Eastern Province and say that our hearts are with their families and loved ones. We stand together against all forms of terrorism and we are ready to work together more and more to face this common threat.
Turning to today's Ministerial, I believe our meeting was a demonstration of our strong commitment to work jointly with our Gulf partners.
First of all, we agreed on the need to increase the intensity of our technical cooperation, which is not only technical, it's also highly beneficial from a political and institutional point of view. Our trade flows have been growing in an incredible way (+120% since 2004 to reach €150 billion last year) and we will continue to seek ways to further deepen our trade relations.
On a second level of what we call technical cooperation, the EU and the GCC have a mutual interest to work closer together on global issues of common concern, starting from climate change ahead of the crucial Conference of the Parties in December in Paris. But it's not only for the sake of the conference, it's because we know very well that this is a common challenge and a common priority for our people in Europe and in the Gulf.
Third element of our increased technical cooperation is the work on the Schengen visa-waiver agreements. We have signed the first one of this kind with the United Arab Emirates on 6 May in Brussels. This was for us a landmark step in EU-Arab relations and we hope this can pave the way for other agreements of this kind in the region.
We also stressed today the need to increase our political cooperation, notably to address the many and difficult crises we have in our common neighbourhood.
First of all, in Yemen where the situation is extremely serious and is on the top of both of our agendas. The continuing advance of Houthis and pro-Saleh forces in violation of UNSC Resolutions is clearly unacceptable. But only a political solution can restore stability. The UN Secretary-General's announcement of the launch of an inclusive Yemeni-led consultations starting on 28 May in Geneva is a welcome step. It puts a political settlement back at the centre of our international efforts following the Riyadh Conference last week, from 17 to 19 May, which has been a step forward in the search of a political solution for the Yemeni conflict.
We wish UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Sheikh Ahmed success in his efforts and we are ready to support him in all possible ways. All Yemeni parties should commit to attending the Geneva talks and should engage without preconditions and in good faith.
In view of the dramatic impact of the fighting on the Yemeni population, the swift resumption of sustainable humanitarian pauses is, we believe, critical. The first humanitarian pause had some positive impact, allowing delivery and replenishment of essential humanitarian supplies and providing respite for the severely affected civilian population. However, its short duration did not allow humanitarian agencies to effectively scale up assistance. And in this volatile environment, we believe it is crucial that humanitarian assistance can be allowed into the country and delivered impartially and independently.
We discussed Iran, as it was mentioned, and the need for a comprehensive deal and a good deal with Iran, after the understanding we reached in the beginning of April in Switzerland. Now I believe an agreement is within reach by the end of June.
We know that only a robust and comprehensive solution, which would give verifiable guarantees about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme will build a strong basis of mutual trust. And we believe it will increase security in the region. It would curb the risk of nuclear proliferation, in conformity with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and bring the Iranian programme under international oversight.
I assured, we reassured our Gulf partners that we know we have to be mindful of the regional dimension, and that the high stakes in terms of stability and weapons proliferation need to be addressed. We are aware of the concerns of the Gulf partners and we are working to address them in the most effective way.
On the conflict in Syria, and also Iraq, let me say, that the latest developments in Ramadi and especially in Palmyra, I just read the news coming in, of again 400 people killed in Palmyra, show that the situation on the ground is really dramatic. And the added value of us working together in the Gulf, and Europe and the international community, might hopefully bring some perspective of a political solution. Because only a political solution, both in Syria and in Iraq, can provide a settlement for the crisis.
In Syria, we support the efforts of UN Special Envoy de Mistura. We hope that ongoing bilateral Geneva consultations will help, in these days, to lead to an inclusive political process. The European Union is participating in this process with all our energy and we commend the efforts by GCC collectively and by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular to facilitate internal coordination and rapprochement within the Syrian opposition. We hope that efforts to create a negotiating team representing all segments of the Syrian opposition will bring results.
When it comes to Iraq, we agreed that a genuine national reconciliation process needs to be further developed. GCC and EU agree on the need to support Prime Minister Abadi, encourage him in his efforts to implement the inclusive program of reforms that he presented when his government was formed and he is working on that.
We then discussed two other very important issues, both for the GCC and the European Union, Libya and the Middle East Peace Process.
When it comes to Libya, you know, this is one of the top priorities for the European Union since now almost one year and even before. Now we got to a stage of the talks - led by the UNSG Special Representative Bernardino Léon - that makes it possible to reach a consensus on the National Unity Government. We shared, from the European Union side and the GCC side, the urgency for the Libyan parties to reach an agreement before Ramadan. It is a matter of extreme importance, first of all to avoid the vacuum that terrorist activities and terrorist networks could fill in, and also because we need to face the terrible situation of asylum seekers and migrants being smuggled and trafficked by criminal networks that operate, exploiting people's desperation, to make money.
And the European Union has started to take responsibility on this side, first of all from a humanitarian perspective, but we need Libyan authorities, different parts of Libyan authorities, to take their responsibility in this respect. And in terms of the European Union, we'll look forward to partner with them to make sure that their action on their own territory, on their own territorial and maritime borders, can be as effective as possible. We know how important the stands of the GCC and the GCC countries individually can be in pushing the Libyan parties to find and finalise an agreement that is within reach and would be beneficial for all the Libyan population.
When it comes to the MEPP, we shared the need to work with a new energy in this respect. It is now one year since we don't have a Peace Process anymore and the lack of process in itself can lead to bad news very soon. Both in the West Bank and Gaza the tensions are possibly raising again if we don't have new and positive developments on the ground and in terms of political perspective. That's why I visited the region just this week, a couple of days ago, and I shared with our friends my impressions from the visit. I believe, we believe that a GCC engagement, especially revising the Arab Peace Initiative, could be crucial to offer a new regional framework, a new international framework, to relaunch the Peace Process and to hopefully lead it to some concrete result. Inshallah!