Thank you Mr President,
The streets of the Middle East in Baghdad, in Beirut, in Tehran and other cities have witnessed large demonstrations – which in all countries are still ongoing. Events are unfolding and each case is different. Yet there seem to be some common causes.
The triggers have been specific policy initiatives, but the protests have then expanded, targeting inequality, sectarianism and corruption, and asking for better governance and better job opportunities.
Our response to these protests has common elements too: we have condemned any act of violence, from all parties. We have urged restraint in handling the demonstrations. We have asked for respect for freedom of expression and prompt investigation of instances of violence. We have also demanded that external actors always respect these countries' sovereignty.
Now let me briefly comment on a few specific cases, the ones you mention in the title of the debate.
First, on Iraq. The challenges that Iraq is facing are unique. The country is finally coming out of a long conflict: it needs reconciliation and reconstruction, but it also needs to deliver on its people's aspirations to a better life and better opportunities for all. These expectations need to be fulfilled if Iraq is to stabilise in the long-term. And I have seen myself during my last visit there in July how far the country has come when it comes to being ready to work on reconciliation and reconstruction but also how fragile this progress is. I think we are now seeing this clearly.
From the beginning of the protests, we asked for dialogue and steps to quickly address the protestors' concerns – including those steps suggested by the UN mission. This is even more urgent today.
We also continue to encourage Iraq to maintain its policy of constructive engagement with all its neighbours – in times when its role as a voice of wisdom is essential in the region.
We Europeans have always said that we want to help the people of Iraq “win the peace”. And this is what the people of Iraq are asking right now. So we will continue to be on their side, and to accompany Iraq on its path towards a stronger, more inclusive and fairer democracy.
In Iran, the recent protests also stem from genuine frustration with the current economic hardships. Citizens have the right to peacefully demonstrate and there is no justification for the disproportionate use of violence by the security forces.
All reports of these incidents deserve swift and full investigation by the relevant independent authorities. I also want to emphasise that we expect the Iranian authorities to ensure the free flow of information and access to the internet at all times.
Let me add something that is clear and obvious but it is important to clarify this once again, that this has nothing to do and should have nothing to do with the implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran.
We continue to fully believe in the diplomatic and security value of the JCPoA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], of the nuclear deal with Iran. Yet it is no secret that the preservation of this agreement has become increasingly difficult. A meeting of the Joint Commission [of the JCPoA] with [the E3+2 (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom) and] Iran has been conveyed at Deputy [Foreign Ministers/Political Directors`] level on 6 December to this end. As you know, together with the role of High Representative also comes the role of coordinator of the Joint Commission of the JCPoA. And we have worked in this capacity so far very hard to keep the unity, not only of the Europeans -that has been done-, but also of the participants to the nuclear deal that have remained in the agreement after the US withdrew. I believe this unity is key to preserve the agreement as much as possible and we all agreed just a few weeks ago that we must spare no energy to preserve the deal. Let me also say that I wish my successor all the best as he takes over also this essential and difficult role of coordinating the Joint Commission of the JCPoA.
Third and last -but not least-, let me say a few words on Lebanon, where protests have led to the Prime Minister's resignation. Lebanon is a very special partner for the European Union – and it holds a very special place in our heart.
Today the people of Lebanon are asking for good governance, good governance and good governance, beyond sectarian lines. This is truly inspiring, as Lebanon society often is. It is urgent to address the demands of the Lebanese people, while preserving the peace and the stability that Lebanon has so hardly achieved in all these years.
This calls first and foremost for the swift formation of a functioning government to ensure political and economic stability, followed by the rapid and decisive implementation of effective reforms on governance and corruption, in line with the Lebanese people's aspirations.
This moment can become somehow an opportunity to deliver the reforms that Lebanon so urgently needs, while at the same time preserving the country's stability and resilience.
Let me add one word on something that is not our focus specifically tonight but is still there. Let us not forget that the whole Middle East remains an incredibly fragile place. We just discussed the situation in Israel and Palestine. Let us not forget that the situation in Syria is still far from being settled, on the contrary. In the north-west of Syria the situation has got worse once again, only a few weeks after the Turkish military operation opened a new front in the north-east of Syria. Regional tensions are still running high and this is putting even more importance and pressure on those in the region and beyond the region that are trying to calm down the situation and find sustainable outcomes to the current dynamics.
In these years, we have been trying to build multilateral solutions to all crises in the region. And we have worked very closely with our partners – including Lebanon and Iraq – to stabilise those countries, to bring investment for reconstruction and economic growth, and to support these countries in their reform agendas.
Each of these countries will have to find its own way to overcome their current difficulties. Nobody can do it for them. But the European Union will continue to support dialogue and accompany reforms.
It is one of the regions that is closest to us, I often say it is our common region, and the European Union will continue to engage as a reliable partner and as a force for peace in the Middle East.
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
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EEAS Press Officer
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