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As I was already briefing you in the morning on the agenda – and you might have seen by now the Council conclusions that were adopted and have been made public – I know that you have a lot of questions and we are late and the time is short, so I would rather use the practice of trying to answer directly to your questions.
You know what we discussed. I will just say one thing that I will repeat at the end of the Association Council with Jordan, but some of you might want to know it now: we just had a working session, a working lunch with the Jordanian Foreign Minister [Ayman Safadi] where we addressed, together with the 28 Foreign Ministers of the Member States, not only bilateral relations and our partnership with Jordan, but also the Middle East developments, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the situation in Syria and the tensions in the wider region.
I want to say that there was a unanimous recognition and acknowledgment from all Member States of the quality, the wisdom of the Jordanian work in the region. We all praised our partners in Jordan for the remarkable work they are doing and we all expressed our strongest support to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. We are grateful to them for representing a voice of wisdom and moderation in a difficult region.
We will continue working with the Foreign Minister in the course of the afternoon and come back to the press room afterwards. But I already want to share with you that sense of him as a part of the family and all of us being on the same side when it comes to all the difficult issues that we have on the table in the region.
Apart from that, you know we discussed among other issues the situation in Sudan, the situation in Moldova and the implementation of the Global Strategy. I can show you this nice report that we have prepared - not only nice but also very substantial - where you will find what was in the Global Strategy three years ago and what has been implemented and done in these three years, thanks also to the work of the Member States, the Commission, the Parliament and the institutions all together. And we discussed with the Defence and Foreign Ministers how to bring this work forward, including in the next institutional cycle.
Q. Do you have any reaction to the announcement today by the Iranians that they plan to reach the limit on their low enriched uranium stock by June 27? And where is the red line for the Europeans? We have heard some diplomats talk about Iran needing to systematically, significantly breach the terms of the accord for sanctions to snap back, is that your view? Essentially, what Iran is doing now is what the Europeans have warned that Iran would do for a year: it is escalating militarily and it is escalating on its nuclear program. So is Iran to blame for this situation or is Washington to blame for provoking it?
Let me start by saying very clearly that our assessment on the implementation of the nuclear deal has never been, is not and will never be based on statements but on the evaluation that the IAEA [the International Atomic Energy Agency] makes, the reports that the IAEA produces. They can be done at any time, because we base our assessments and our judgments on facts, on the verification mechanisms that are in place and that we trust.
Announcements are relevant elements of political dialectics, but our assessment on the implementation of the agreement is based on the factual, technically sound assessment and evaluation that the IAEA makes in its reports. And so far Iran has been compliant with its nuclear commitments as we had expected it to be, as we had encouraged it to be. And the majority of the international community together with us has cooperated with Iran in helping this implementation to continue.
If the IAEA assessments and reports will change, we will assess the situation further, but so far our assessment is based on the technical reports of the IAEA, which also means that I would not elaborate on what happens if and when. As I said, at the moment, today, Iran is still compliant and we strongly hope, encourage, and expect that Iran continues to comply with its commitments under the JCPOA in full.
I would not enter into a blame game at all. You know me. The interest we have is to keep the nuclear deal in place. It is not an easy exercise; we never made a mystery out of it. During the last year, it has become increasingly difficult for all to keep the nuclear deal fully implemented. This has been our constant focus as Europeans, as the European Union, myself personally, as I have a responsibility in coordinating the work of the Joint Commission [of the JCPOA]. So our focus is not to enter into a blame game or giving responsibility for the collapse of a deal that might come.
Our focus is to keep the agreement in place and keep the implementation of it. And this includes, as you know, a lot of work we have done with the Member States, in particular the E3 [France, Germany and the United Kingdom] but also others, to put in place mechanisms that can allow the Iranians to benefit from the economic transactions that can legitimately take place.
This is all part of our effort to keep an agreement in place that so far has prevented Iran from developing a nuclear weapon – and this is our goal. So we will keep our focus on this objective.
Q: On Moldova: what is your message to Moldova right now, after a very turbulent weekend? What does Chisinau have to do in order for the European Commission to unfreeze the Macro-Financial Assistance that was frozen last year? The recent situation in Moldova is one of those rare moments where the United States, the EU and Russia actually are on the same page. Do you think that this can be a blueprint for e.g. Transnistria, or Iran or perhaps other places in the Eastern Partnership?
First of all, let me say that this is good. Every situation is different from the other. On the situation in Moldova we were closely following the developments and we were making clear statements in the last 10 days, encouraging a peaceful, orderly and democratic transition of power. And you know that Commissioner [for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes] Hahn is going to visit [Chisinau] in a couple of days from now.
It is clear for us and it has always been clear for us what needs to be done in order to have the full support of the European Union, including the financial one. And that is the work on the implementation of the [EU-Moldova] Association Agreement and the reform agenda of the country, not because of the European Union's request to do so, but because of the aspiration of the Moldovan people to see these reforms in place.
The message is first of all that of welcoming the fact that the crisis has found a peaceful and democratic solution for the moment; a message of engagement from our side and this is the sense also of Commissioner Hahn's visit. And I hope that we will receive visits from the Moldovan authorities to Brussels soon, including for an Association Council, an engagement in order to implement the agenda we have in the Association Agreement, including on the Free Trade Agreement we have in place. Ours is also a message of a cautious approach in the sense that we will monitor carefully the next steps and see if the commitments that the authorities have expressed are going to be put in place for real and what kind of developments will follow.
I would say that this is all in all the approach that we have and share with all the Member States. We will remain very vigilant on the next steps and encourage our Moldovan friends to keep a positive and concrete commitment to work in the direction of the reform agenda that the country has waited for so long, and I believe it is now time for them to deliver on that.
Q. After the discussion you had with the [Foreign] Ministers, do you have a European common assessment of the situation in the Gulf? And who is behind the tanker attack?
As you know very well, the European Union relies on the intelligence that Member States share with us. We do not have sources of intelligence of our own. By the way, this is one of the elements that you will find here [Third Progress Report on the implementation of the EU Global Strategy] on the ideas for the way forward - among others.
What I found among the [Foreign] Ministers - beyond the assessment and the intelligence-sharing - is a very strong element of concern for the risk of miscalculation or unintentional escalation that could occur in a region that is already at the limit of the stress test, I would say.
A common approach that all the Member States expressed is that of trying to focus all our action and all our diplomatic work to try to avoid an escalation and actually help de-escalating, because what we would not like to see is a military escalation in the region. We think that would be extremely dangerous and definitely not positive, neither for anyone in the region nor for Europe nor for the rest of the world. So beyond the assessment of the responsibilities, the call is for maximum restraint and de-escalation that we believe is in the interest of everybody.
Q. Puisque vous avez eu l'occasion de discuter de la Stratégie Globale avec les Ministres, avez-vous tenté de convaincre les derniers pays réticents, qui doivent prendre une décision demain concernant la Macédoine du Nord et de l'Albanie, que c'est un enjeu stratégique, et du potentiel problème stratégique que poserait un découplage à l'un comme à l'autre pays?
Oui, j'ai réitéré avec les Ministres, non seulement lors de la discussion sur la Stratégie Globale, mais aussi à l'ouverture de notre réunion ce matin lorsque nous avons célébré en quelque sorte l'anniversaire de la signature de l'accord de Prespa, mon avis personnel qui est aussi la recommandation claire de la Commission de la nécessité et de l'opportunité politique d'ouvrir les négociations avec la Macédoine du Nord et l'Albanie sans plus de délai.
Ils sont prêts, et les conséquences de ne pas le faire auraient des implications importantes du point de vue non seulement de la motivation des populations des pays mais aussi dans un contexte de sécurité et de coopération régionale, et surtout pour la crédibilité du processus qui rapproche les Etats des Balkans occidentaux de l'Union européenne.
Ici dans la Stratégie Globale, nous disons clairement que l'Union européenne a un outil unique dans la région des Balkans occidentaux, qui est lié au fait que ce sont des pays européens qui sont déjà dans les frontières de l'Union européenne. Aucun de ces pays n'est à la frontière extérieure de l'Union européenne, ils forment déjà une bulle dans l'Union européenne.
Nous avons en tant qu'Union européenne un intérêt dans l'intégration des Balkans occidentaux dans l'Union européenne. Si nous affaiblissons la crédibilité du processus de l'élargissement – qui est pour moi en ce qui concerne les Balkans occidentaux un processus de réunification du continent – nous renonçons spontanément à l'outil le plus efficace pour la stabilité, la paix, la gestion des frontières communes, le développement économique et la création d'emplois pour les jeunes générations.
C'est une question de crédibilité de l'Union européenne, et j'espère que les Etats membres vont bien comprendre ce qui est en jeu.
Time is not irrelevant in this process as we have electoral and political calendars inside the European Union and in also the Western Balkans. Politics is a matter of time. I hope that our Member States realise what is at stake with this decision and I hope they will make the wise decision to open negotiations as soon as possible.
Q. A partir du 1er novembre, il y aura un/une nouveau/nouvelle Haut(e) Représentant(e). Des candidats ont-ils été évoqués? Quel profil verriez-vous à ce poste? Êtes–vous impliquée dans la définition du nouveau poste?
C'est une question à poser à Mr [Donald] Tusk [Président du Conseil européen] jeudi soir ou vendredi matin. Ce n'est pas à moi de commenter, surtout pas maintenant. Après peut-être, mais pas maintenant, cela est sûr.
Des recommandations sur le profil de votre successeur?
Si je pouvais exprimer une recommandation, ce serait de choisir quelqu'un avec beaucoup de patience et de passion pour la politique étrangère, de sécurité et de défense, qui puisse dédier beaucoup de temps, d'énergie et de passion à ce travail qui est - je pense - le plus fantastique du monde.
Q. There are lot of talks about Iran's role in Iraq. Everybody knows that there are a lot of Iranian Shia militia in Iraq and Syria and other countries. Could you tell me what is the EU's position about the Iranian Shia militia in the Middle East?
You know well that we believe that many of the actions that Iran has undertook and is undertaking in the region are some of the elements that we discuss the most and not the easiest elements that we discuss with our Iranian counterparts, in particular their attitude on Syria, on Yemen, but also interference in other places. It is something that we definitely do not believe is positive, on the contrary. This is an issue for open discussion among us, it is no secret to anybody.
On the other side - you mentioned Iraq - we believe that countries in the region have only to benefit from good neighbourly relations with all. And Iraq is probably one of the clearest cases in point: a country that is coming out of a very difficult period, a country to which we are extending all our possible support and that for sure cannot afford - especially in this critical moment in its history, if you look at the security challenges in particular but also the economic ones - to enter into a direct confrontation with any of its important neighbours.
So as much as we do not want to see interference or hostile activities in the region, be they from Iran or others, we would like to see a cooperative, constructive attitude with all, when it comes to the region. The ideal solution to the tensions in the extended region of the Middle East but also farther away would be to build a cooperative security architecture where different players understand that even if they do not like each other, they respect a certain number of rules and behaviours that are respectful of security and sovereignty and that can allow even non-friendly neighbours to act properly and respectfully of each other's respective interests. But this seems to be far away.