Foreign Affairs Council

Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the press conference following the Foreign Affairs Council

Brussels, 11/11/2019 - 16:35, UNIQUE ID: 191111_19
Remarks

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Let me start with a good story for once, because we have just concluded our working lunch with the Foreign Ministers, hosting the Prime Minister of Sudan [Abdalla Hamdok] - an encouraging transition that the European Union is strongly supporting, both politically but also financially. We just announced an additional financial support for humanitarian aid and we exchanged views with the Prime Minister on the most pressing needs on which the European Union is going to accompany the civilian and democratic transition of the country.

I am starting with this, because we always tackle crises that seem impossible to be solved. In this case we have a good story that could represent not only success in itself, but also an inspiration for the rest of the region, for Africa, for the Arab world, and for our world in general. So let me thank the Prime Minister for having joined us today and also share with you the sense of hope and encouragement that we got from this important exchange that we had. 

Previously during the morning we addressed with the ministers the situation in Afghanistan after the holding of the presidential elections. We are still waiting for the preliminary results to be announced, but we are stressing our determination to accompany an Afghan-owned and an Afghan-led process for negotiation that we hope can start soon between the government and the Taliban and also our hope that the resumption of US-Taliban talks can happen soon as one step to prepare the launch of a genuine intra-Afghan peace process with direct negotiations between the government and Taliban. 

We would be more than ready to support this process from the very beginning, as well as an agreement in case and when it is reached. Obviously, for us - as we have repeated several times - the only condition would be that such a process would not be at the detriment but, on the contrary, to strengthen and increase the achievements that the country has reached already, in particular when it comes to human rights and rights of women. We know that this is the key aspiration of the Afghan people. 

We then discussed with the ministers regional security in the area of the Gulf. This is an issue that is extremely relevant for European security, but also for security of the world as such. We have seen some restraint and ideas floating around about the possibility to have some regional initiatives to de-escalate tensions. We discussed this with the ministers. The European Union is ready to support an initiative that sees the region and the regional actors as the key drivers. So, we would stay in a support mode. 

The European Union and European Member States have a significant experience on how to live together in a peaceful manner and in a cooperative manner, even when tensions arise. We would like to see these developments happening also in the Gulf. We would be ready to support any initiative that would go in this direction. We believe that there is enough awareness today in the region to understand that an escalation would be detrimental to everybody’s interests and also to European security. We had an open discussion about how we can contribute to this in the coming months. 

We also commented the latest announcements from the Iranian side on the decision to resume uranium enrichment in Fordo that is of major concern for us. As you know we rely always on the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] for verification. The IAEA inspectors were on site in the recent days. We expect the IAEA report later today, so you will see our reaction to that later on. 

As the coordinator of the Joint Commission [of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA] I am reaching out to all JCPOA participants to discuss the follow-up and the next steps, based on the IAEA report. But let me stress that there was around our table again today full commitment to the agreement that remains crucial for our security, even if it is increasingly difficult to preserve it. We will continue our efforts to have a full implementation of the agreement. 

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-180087

Q: The European Union is exercising maximum diplomacy during these crises. One country, which is Iran, is continuing its destructive role and it is becoming more visible in Iraq and in a larger perspective in Lebanon. How much of a diplomatic effort are you – yourself and your colleagues in the European Union - making to convince Iran to ease the tensions. For example in Yemen: do you see any positive signal elsewhere - despite the uranium enrichment - to ease the tension on a regional level? 

 We exercised and we continue to exercise maximum diplomacy not only with Iran, but actually with everybody. This is the feature of the European Union engagement worldwide and in the region. It is true, sometimes you do not have the results you would dream of. But sometimes you have to ask yourselves, what if we did not do this? Maybe the results on the ground would be even worse if there was not a power like the European Union and the Member States engaged in maximum diplomacy also to counterbalance some other attitudes that we see growing in the world - more confrontational ones, if I can say so. 

There is one element of optimism, I believe, and that is indeed Yemen. We have seen intentions declared and some steps in the right direction between the Saudis and the Houthis. I hope that this can lead to some positive developments. I remain convinced that Yemen is at the same time the most dramatic, but also politically the easiest of the crises in the region to be solved, if there is enough political will from all the sides. As you know, and as you mentioned, the European Union has tried to contribute to - I would say - help the different parties to identify the common ground, common interest that they could share in putting an end to the war and finding a solution to the war in Yemen. I hope that this can be something that we would see in the future. 

And in general terms, I remain convinced personally that in the Gulf, across the Gulf, there is enough interest on different sides - security interests, economic interests, interests linked to the links between people and families - to try and find a way for not becoming friends, but for living together next to each other - because you do not change geography-, avoiding the risk of a devastating escalation. I think there is awareness of this in large parts of the region today. If there is a spark of hope that is born in the region for some dialogue or some security architecture to be worked on, the European Union will be ready to accompany it. 

Q: In the beginning of your mandate you hoped to see the Palestinian state by the end of your mandate. This did not happen for many reasons. On the ground, the two-state solution is almost lost. Would you personally see that there is no future for the two-state solution and that people from both sides and the international community should go ahead with a one-state solution – one state for two people?

I remember very well that my very first visit in November 2014 as the High Representative and Vice-President of the Commission was to Israel and Palestine and to Gaza in particular. And I remember very well that I said that I believed that it was possible before the end of my mandate to see the establishment of two states, which means the establishment of the Palestinian state, because the Israeli state is clearly already established. I still believe that this would have been possible. I still believe it is possible to achieve this, even if the situation on the ground makes it a far-away perspective. I know that people are losing hope, especially on the Palestinian side, but also on the Israeli side, namely those that know that the only way to guarantee security and peace for the Israelis is the establishment of a Palestinian state. I know that hope is fading away, but I am still convinced personally. You know that this is also the official position of the European Union and the Member States. This is still the only realistic solution that we have at hand. I believe political conditions need to be in place before this happens. But I am still convinced that this is possible. And all the work that the European Union has done in these years has been to preserve this perspective in difficult times and to avoid that this becomes an impossible memory of the past, but that it stays as a perspective for future work. 

Q: Today, the Council adopted the framework from for sanction on Turkey. Which are the next steps and what should we wait for from whom and at which level? What will be discussed and who will decide?

It is an interesting phenomenon that whenever we take a decision, the immediate question is what next? Yes, we took the formal decision today that fully implements the decision that we took at the Foreign Affairs Council last month. Now, obviously, the framework for sanctions is in place. The next steps might be the proposal to identify individuals or entities for this list. We will see if and when this happens. That will be tackled at the relevant working groups levels of the Council and possibly by the Council itself. 

Q: Given the situation and the breaches of the JCPOA by Iran, what options are you considering to bring Tehran back into compliance? 

This is exactly what we will be discussing together with the other parties of the JCPOA in the coming days. As I said, we are reaching out to all of them. We are waiting for the IAEA report later today. And on that basis, we will consult with the others to see what are the next steps. And we might have a Joint Commission [of the JCPOA] meeting in the coming days. 

Q: On Afghanistan: can you go in a bit more into what you discussed? I know you are a bit nervous about the vacuum that is starting to appear now after the elections. It is taking longer to form any form of government. Do you think that the European Union has any role to play whatsoever now that it appears that some in the European Union see NATO as braindead? 

I will not comment on NATO. I never comment on other organisations, you know that. And normally, I am not nervous as a human being, otherwise I cannot do this job. But indeed, we discussed the situation after the elections. We might have the paradox of having probably had the best elections ever in Afghan history and still some doubt about some obvious shortcomings and the long time it takes to announce results. As European, I might not comment on the time that it takes to form governments, because we have our own issues here and there. Democracy sometimes is complex and takes time. 

The important thing that we also discussed is that when the preliminary election results are announced, we hope to see in the Afghan political landscape a responsible attitude, accepting results, uniting forces. Because what we have discussed today is this nervousness we have that if the election results are not accepted or are questioned in a significant manner and this creates turmoil, this could only benefit those that have been not investing in a democratic process in Afghanistan and weaken the perspective for a legitimate government to participate to peace negotiations. We would like to see political forces joining efforts in view of a proper formal peace process to be launched between a legitimate government following the elections and the Taliban with the international community and some regional players accompanying this properly. 

In this, we see a role for the European Union. The Afghans see a role for the European Union, because we have no hidden agendas. We have an interest only in peace, security and stability and rights for the Afghan people. And in this respect, we are ready to support.  We have presented to five point plan a few months ago that is still valid, that is still on the table for the Afghan people to know that the European Union is ready to accompany this process. We know very well that even in case of a peace agreement signed between the government and the Taliban – and we are very far from even initiating the formal talks -, we know that this would probably not even be enough, because different layers of the Afghan society would need to be involved in a very inclusive process. 

We know that peace needs to be achieved with a very, very inclusive process, starting with the role of communities, minorities, women, young people, children even - all Afghans need to feel protected in this process, I believe. But this is no excuse not to engage in this process. So we hope that the election results can be announced fast and that they can be accepted by all and that they can be the basis for unity on the democratic legitimate side of the institutions so that proper peace negotiation can start. 

Q: On Iran: are you in favour at this moment in time to trigger the dispute settlement mechanism according to Article 36 and 37 in the JCPOA? And has there been discussion about this today among Foreign Ministers? And if so, is there a rising consensus to do so?  

No, we have not discussed this specific option today. And as I mentioned, we will consider any further step and any reaction in the framework that is the proper one, namely the Joint Commission [of the JCPOA] that might be convened soon. 

Q: Regarding your initiative that you spoke about in the Gulf: has any country contacted you or are you going to launch such an initiative? 

As I mentioned, what we discussed today is the need for the European Union to support and accompany any initiative that would come from the region itself. Kuwait, for example, is a country that has the credibility and the reputation and a role to play in this respect. And I had the honour to discuss his several times in Kuwait. Others around the Gulf in the region have floated ideas about either regional conferences or back channels to be opened. We believe that it is not for the European Union as such to launch an initiative, but it is for the European Union to offer support and accompany any initiative that would be initiated in the region and that would be inclusive and with an eye to decreasing tensions and finding ways to live together peacefully across the region. 

Q: Madame Mogherini, je vous pose la question en français si cela ne vous dérange pas. Le JCPOA est un des fruits de vos efforts et vous avez beaucoup essayer de le sauver depuis un an, depuis que Donald Trump est sorti. Maintenant, après vous, comment pensez-vous que l'Europe peut préserver cet accord, quel genre de conseil donneriez-vous à vos collègues après?

I would have expected the question on how still in this coming weeks I would manage. Comme je l'ai dit, cela devient de plus en plus difficile, mon successeur n'a pas besoin de conseil de ma part, car il connaît très bien la situation, il connait très bien le dossier. Nous avons travaillé ensemble avec tous les ministres des 28 Etats membres pendant un an et demi pour essayer de sauver l’accord. Donc ça a été un effort personnel, mais aussi de toute l'équipe du service extérieure de l’Union Européenne que je voudrais remercier ici parce qu’ils ont fait un travail exceptionnel pour la réussite de l’accord, pour arriver à trouver un accord en première lieux mais aussi pour le sauver avec un travail discret et silencieux mais vital.

Ça a été un effort que nous avons fait avec les trois Etats Membres qui font partie du processus, la Grande-Bretagne, l’Allemagne et la France, mais aussi de tous les autres Etats Membres qui ont été avec moi, avec nous chaque jour, en première ligne pour sauver un accord que nous pensons fondamental. Donc je n’ai pas besoin de partager des conseils ou des avis parce qu’ils le savent très bien, ils connaissent très bien la question ils connaissent très bien le défis. 

Je peux seulement souhaiter beaucoup de courage, beaucoup de chance parce que ça devient de plus en plus difficile mais plus cela devient difficile plus cela devient important. Les actions que l’Union Européenne et les Etats Membres de l’Union Européenne mais aussi les autres Etats du monde sont en train d’entreprendre pour éviter une dégénérescence de la situation sécuritaire dans une région qui est très proche de nous. Nous venons de discuter de l’Afghanistan, les répercussions d’un Iran nucléaire seraient importantes aussi dans un autre contexte, plus asiatique ou centre asiatique. Donc il est vital pas seulement pour la sécurité du Golf, du monde arabe mais aussi de l’Europe et les autres continents donc le plus ça devient difficile le plus c’est important que nous tenons.

Q: Turkey says that it is now repatriating ISIS fighters. I know that this is a matter of national competence, but there is no way that the EU is not going to be concerned, if IS fighters are being sent back to European territory. Did this came up today? What are you thinking about it? And are you troubled by this development? 

It has been a long time since we discussed the issue of citizens of Member States of the European Union that have been foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. As you mentioned and rightly so, this is a competence for Member States. Each Member State has a different framework for dealing with that –  in legal terms, but also in terms of competence. Take five Member States randomly and you have even different ministries dealing with that. There is no competence, but there is also no aspiration from the European Union level to deal with that. There is an offer that I put on the table to Member States already a year ago or so. We can help them coordinate policies and actions if they wish so. They are working on it, but this remains a Member State competence and responsibility. 

Q: On Bolivia: are you concerned or rather relieved with Evo Morales out of government? Is the EU going to send an Election Observation Mission this time? 

If we are asked to send one and if the conditions are right, definitely we will do our best to send an Electoral Observation Mission. We have discussed this with the Ministers today. If the conditions are right, we would be ready to work on it. As I mentioned this morning, I hope that in this extremely critical moment for the country, everybody exercises the maximum restraint and sense of responsibility inside the country and outside and helps the country find its way towards credible elections that can happen soon, most importantly avoiding any form of violence from any side and showing a level of statesmanship that is needed in this moment. 

Q: Have you discussed about what happened in Iraq yesterday with the five Italian soldiers badly wounded, and if you have some follow-up or developments to report to us? 

Yes, Foreign Minister [of Italy, Luigi] Di Maio briefed us about the attack that the Italian militaries suffered yesterday in Iraq. We obviously expressed our solidarity to Italy, as I did also this morning arriving at the Council, but also other colleagues joined. And we had a more general discussion about the need to continue to keep a very high attention and work on the stabilisation of Iraq, when discussing about the wider Gulf region. We should never forget that there are countries, namely Iraq but not only, that need to be preserved from regional tensions and need to be accompanied in their complicated consolidating process. And we expressed our readiness to continue working very closely with the authorities in Iraq in this moment. 

Q: Is ISIL behind this? Do you have certainty of this? 

I cannot elaborate on that.

Q: Donald Trump said - intervening in an interview with Nigel Farage - that Italy would be better off outside the EU. You have not reacted to this yet. Do you think he is right or wrong?

You have not seen any reaction from my side, but as I am representing the European Union I think you can guess my answer. I do believe that all the 28 Member States and even some that are not yet Member States would be much better off inside the European Union than outside. And I think the history of the last two, three years proves me right. 

Q: How do you feel about the statements made by President [of Iran, Hassan] Rouhani, basically saying that Iran is interested in sticking to the deal because they really want to reap the benefits from having the lifting of the arms embargo of the UN. It is a very serious statement. Does it put into question the faith of the Iranian side to actually maintain the deal? Is it making it easier or not? I know you already made a comment on that, but in the light of the new statement?

I would not comment on that. One problem at a time. Well, actually, it is already more than one at a time. 

Q: Bonjour, Madame Mogherini, Mr. Heiko Mass, Ministre des Affaires Etrangères allemand quand il est arrivé aujourd'hui, avait dit que ce soir à Paris il va y avoir une rencontre, entre lui l’Allemand, ses homologues français et britannique sur l'Iran. L’un des sujets de votre agenda c’est sur l’Iran. Comment pouvez-vous expliquer qu'il y a deux rencontres sur l'Iran auxquelles participent des partis européens?

C’est parfaitement normal, cela a toujours eu lieu d’une part une coordination entre les trois pays européens et d’autre part un travail de coordination entre les vingt-huit. Il y a trois États membres de l’Union Européenne dans le processus du JCPOA, mais vingt-huit États membres contribuent à la mise en œuvre de l'accord et le soutiennent, il est donc tout à fait normal que les vingt-huit discutent de ça entre eux en tant qu'Union Européenne.

Il est également normal que les trois États Membres qui font partie du JCPOA trouvent un moment à eux pour coordonner leur position. Parfois ça s’est passé en ma présence parfois sans ma présence, cela dépend du timing. À un moment aussi délicat que celui que nous sommes en train de vivre sur la mise en œuvre de l'accord, je ne suis pas seulement la Haute Représentante de l'Union Européenne, mais aussi j’ai la responsabilité de garantir la mise en œuvre de l'accord. Cette fois je ne serai pas présente à la réunion de coordination entre les trois États Membres mais, bien sûr, mon travail couvre le travail des trois mais aussi le travail avec les autres parties du JCPOA qui doivent aussi être impliqués dans la mise en œuvre de l'accord.

 Q: In the last days, we have heard a lot of discussion about the health situation of NATO and about European defence and foreign policy. Germany has proposed to ahead with a European Security Council. Do you think that kind of Council would make European foreign and defence policy more effective? Or are there some other measures you would propose for the future? 

We have the Defence Ministers Council tomorrow, maybe I will discuss that with them tomorrow. This to say that you can reflect on many different options for strengthening the European Union defence work. I think that any idea, any plan can have some interesting elements. But what we have achieved in these years, and in the last three years in particular, on the European Union defence has been amazing and has been amazing because it has been extremely concrete and focused on what could be done without the necessity of changing the entire architecture or infrastructure.

Personally, I am a very pragmatic person, and I think that if you want to do something, you use the instruments you already have in front of you to start with and you make them work. And then if you need more, you will go further. And I think this has proven to be a right approach on defence and the European Union so far. For the future, it is for the future leadership to define. But in my experience, the more pragmatic we are on what can be done with the maximum level of concrete approach, the better. Because sometimes you focus on big abstract discussions and that covers the lack of political will on moving forward on concrete actions. 

My approach is rather to say, let us move forward with what we can achieve practically and concretely on the ground tomorrow. Tomorrow we will have a discussion on a new wave of PESCO [Permanent Structured Cooperation] projects. I think this is the best way: to proceed with concrete projects that are moving forward with concrete resources, with concrete budget, and with concrete steps that are really made. I think this is the way to go. And I think this is also what the European Union’s citizens expect us to deliver: results. Obviously we can discuss architecture in the meantime. But I think we have enough instruments that we can use already today. 

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-180088

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