Check against delivery!
First of all, I would like to thank you [Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation] Sergey [Lavrov] for this visit to Brussels that follows my visit to Moscow in April and several exchanges we had at the margins of different meetings we had around the world. We regularly discuss especially international issues that involve the engagement both of the Russian Federation and the European Union.
It is clear we do not share the same positions on everything, but our dialogue is constant and it is important. It is essential from our perspective to engage, to cooperate wherever it is possible, and on many of the crises we have exchanged views on today we indeed identified ground for cooperation.
First of all, on Syria. We welcomed the announced agreement on the ceasefire in the south-west of Syria that I also discussed with the Jordanian Foreign Minister [Ayman Safadi] yesterday and with Staffan de Mistura [UN Special Envoy for Syria] earlier today. We see this as a first step towards a broader nation-wide ceasefire and a political solution to the crisis. I believe we agree on the need to find a political solution through the UN-led Geneva talks and we discussed ways in which the European Union can further support this process as it is implemented.
We shared views and identified possible areas of cooperation also regarding the situation in Libya and the tensions around the Gulf. We reiterated our common engagement and commitment to the work on the Middle East Peace Process in the Quartet and based on the two-state solution, and our common work to have a continued full implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.
We also discussed the situation in the Western Balkans and further away, tensions in the Korean peninsula – all areas where we can cooperate with a certain reciprocal understanding.
We discussed also the situation in the east of Ukraine and in Crimea. For the European Union, the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements is essential.
We also discussed some bilateral issues and I had the opportunity to raise also some of our concerns when it comes to some policies regarding civil society and human rights in Russia. We agreed to increase the level of contacts between our people. The European Union is ready to build bridges when it comes to links between our societies.
Finally, we agreed to increase the level and the rhythm of exchanges at different levels on the main foreign policy issues we discussed today.
Q. We have witnessed an agreement on an initiative for a ceasefire in Syria by Russia and the US. This along with the talks in Astana by Russia, Turkey and Iran, is a direct action towards initiating peace in the war-torn country. In April, the EU made it clear once again that there is no future for Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but is this the only input by the EU when it comes to initiating peace process in the country? Or are there any other tangible concrete solutions that you may offer and be committed to?
The European Union, first of all, provides almost €10 billion now to Syrians inside Syria and outside Syria in the region. We are not only a humanitarian player, we are also the ones that are delivering food, medical aid, massively to Syrians. This is not just a humanitarian support – this also a way of supporting Syrians in their desire for a normal life and for peace.
We are not a military player in Syria. We decided not to be – and if I can add, we are even proud of not being one. But what we can do, and we are doing it, more each day, is using the support we can give, politically but also financially, to the political process based on military agreement. In Astana there is a clear military process ongoing and we welcome the agreement reached on the de-escalation zones.
We believe that on that basis a political agreement needs to follow and I discussed this with Staffan de Mistura [United Nations Special Envoy for Syria] who is leading talks in Geneva in these days. That is the support the European Union is giving and is ready to give more. Because as the ceasefire or the de-escalation zones will be implemented, and we hope that will be soon and well, the European Union is ready to come in with all its strength – financial, political, organisational, diplomatic convening power – to support the going back to normal life inside Syria.
Because building peace requires a ceasefire, but then it requires also building the living conditions of communities and here is where the European Union will bring its power of peace.
Just to be clear that none of our sanctions on Syria affect civilian population, they are all targeted to individuals who hold specific responsibilities in the war.
Q. You mentioned the complete implementation of the Iranian nuclear accord. A White House spokeswoman said yesterday that Trump pressed fellow G20 leaders last weekend to stop doing any business with states supporting terrorism, especially – and I am quoting: Iran. Is that a violation of the Iranian nuclear deal? And what do – what is the response of the EU and Russia to those comments?
On Iran, I simply reply with the numbers of trade and investments that from the European Union have increased to Iran in terms of double digits and this will continue. We see a security interest to not only fully implement the nuclear deal but also engage with Iran. And we see also, obviously, an economic interest on the European Union side.
We will make sure – I think together, but particularly personally as someone that has this responsibility to ensure – that the deal is fully implemented, and also as the European Union that is united on this. We will ensure that engagement with Iran will continue and that the deal will be implemented in all its parts by all. This means the nuclear part, this means also all the rest like the lifting of sanctions, as you know, and the gradual reengagement in all sectors. This is something that the European Union is doing, Member States are doing and we are committed to continue to do it.
I know that in the United States there is a review ongoing. We respect it, but we have also the duty to make it clear, the nuclear deal does not belong to one country – it belongs to the international community, to the United Nations system. It was endorsed by the UN Security Council with a resolution and I think we share responsibility to make sure that this continues to be fully implemented by all.