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First of all, on Syria - we are working day and night literally to try to guarantee the protection of civilians first of all in East Aleppo. I just spoke on the phone now with the Iranian Foreign Minister [Mohammad Javad] Zarif to urge Iran as well as we are working with the UN and the others to call on the Russian and Syrian authorities, the Iranians to uphold to their responsibilities and to protect civilians in these hours.
hope that his can happen and that the same can happen to other civilians who are currently besieged in other areas of the country. For us what is happening to civilians in this moment is completely unacceptable and our priority in this moment is this: protection of civilians. And we are behind the delivery of all humanitarian aid that is currently trying to be delivered by the UN.
I talked during the night with Staffan de Mistura [UN Special Envoy for Syria]. We are trying really to make the best and trying to make things move concretely on the ground. And then, as you know, we have the European Union’s initiative to work on the political transition in Syria, the reconciliation and the reconstruction, but first of all you need something to build on and this starts with the protection of civilians, the cessation of hostilities, the ceasefire and a political transition in Damascus. So we are working by the hour, especially with our contacts and with all the regional players to try and create better conditions on the ground.
The European Council today will also focus on two other elements I will present to the Heads of State and Government: the report on the Migration Compacts that are going well and having the first results. I was this morning with the President of Niger, [Mahamadou] Issoufou. Niger is a model country in this respect. We are cooperating extremely well and we are seeing the first results: compared to the 70.000 irregular migrants who were crossing the country a few months ago, today we are at 1500 with many traffickers arrested, vehicles ceased. So the cooperation is going well, also the cooperation through the IOM as well because it is the international agencies, the UN agencies, that we are working for assisting migrants all along the routes, so that they are informed and that voluntary return can happen most of all that their human rights are protected from those who are smuggling human beings and putting them in danger in the desert and at sea.
The second big element of the European Council today will be the package on security and defence. I will present to the Heads of State and Government a package formed by 3 pillars that we have prepared in these months. First of all, implementation of the Global Strategy, some concrete proposals on how to use the instruments we already have, from the Permanent Structured Cooperation to the use of the Battlegroups or how to better plan and run our missions and operations – we have 16 of them around the world bringing peace and security.
I have worked also on the second pillar of this package with the [European] Commission - the European Defence Action Plan supporting European work on the industrial basis of our defence; cooperation especially in the field of industry and research. And the third pillar, the EU-NATO cooperation. [NATO Secretary General] Jens Stoltenberg will be with us today; I was with him last week in NATO announcing 42 concrete proposals for the EU and NATO to cooperate in a very concrete manner, from maritime security to cyber-attacks.
So when the Heads of State and Government will today endorse this very substantial package, the European Union will be equipped with a much more credible, strong capacity on security and defence and we will continue to work then with the Defence and Foreign Ministers to implement all these strands of action. Obviously we will also have other issues on the agenda, but these are the three key elements that I will bring to the table on the Council today.
Q. On the UK leaving the EU.
A. That is not foreign policy yet.
Q. On Aleppo: can we expect new sanctions against Russia?
A. This has not been the approach that the Council has chosen in its last session. We are working in these hours, as I said, trying to use our influence and our leverage – especially with Iran in this moment – and trying to support the work of the United Nations to try and focus on the protection of civilians. It is clear that the regime and its allies – Russia and Iran – have a responsibility in what has happened and is happening in Aleppo. Our priority today is to try and to make things better on the ground for civilians. This is the priority in these hours and you will see news coming in. We are monitoring them closely on the ground in connection with the United Nations and whatever I say in this moment might not be valid anymore in half an hour, for good and for bad. The important thing in these hours is really our constant work to make the situation better for civilians, especially the children trapped in so many places but especially in East Aleppo. And it is very important that we all focus, the entire international community on improving the situation of civilians in Aleppo to start with, but also in other besieged areas all across the country.
Q. Transition in Syria?
A. The EU has started this initiative to start working with the regional powers on the transition in Syria. I often say, and I still believe and repeat it: the reality of facts in Syria is such that whatever happens in Aleppo, this would not lead to the end of the conflict. No one has an interest in winning a battle and losing the peace. Syria will have to be at a certain moment in the hands of an inclusive, accountable government; will have to face a difficult process of reconciliation; will have to find ways of including all parts of society in the reconstruction. We will have to mobilise enormous resources for reconstruction and that would be possible only with a true political transition in Damascus. So I believe that everybody realises – and the regional powers in particular realise - that a serious transition is needed and a serious cooperative approach is needed. And a serious transition, inclusive future for the country will be needed. And this cannot be built on the ruins of Aleppo or of other cities. This needs to be prepared with, first of all saving the Syrians.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I131231