Washington, 9 February 2017
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I just say a few words to frame my visit here. We thought – not only me personally, but obviously this is something I discussed with all the 28 Member States and the rest of my colleagues in the European institutions – it was good for me to come early after the new administration came in to start opening channels for cooperation with the new administration. So I am glad that a couple of weeks after the inauguration I could come and have meetings yesterday with Secretary of State, [Rex] Tillerson, with the [National Security Adviser] General [Michael] Flynn, with [Senior Adviser Jared] Kushner and with several senators, in particular with Senator [Bob] Corker, Senator [John] McCain and many others – I think 6 or 7 in total.
I also have today a public event at the Atlantic Council on transatlantic relations and some media to first of all pass the message that friendship across the Atlantic between Europeans and Americans is strong, goes beyond any change in the administration be it in Europe or here and that this continues to be the sense Europeans have.
Second, that we believe that even if we are entering a time of a more pragmatic and transactional kind of relationship with the United States, there are many fields on which we coincide and where it is vital for the US to work together with the European Union and for the European Union to work with the US, be it in counter-terrorism, be it economic growth, job creation. Our economic ties are incredibly relevant. We are the first market for the United States, we are the second economy in the world and the relevance, the impact of the European Union cannot be underestimated even if I know that sometimes this is put at question here and in the European Union. And this is the other issue and I would like to underline that it was part of my conversations, the strength of the European Union and the unity of the European Union - I believe it is more evident today that it was some months ago and this has to be clearly understood here and this also means respect for the European Union which is not simply an institution; it is a Union of 28 Member States. Still 28 and 28 for quite some months ahead of us; 8 months after the referendum in the UK we have not even been notified about the beginning of negotiations, so UK will stay a Member State of the European Union for another two years at least. This also implies that it will not be able to negotiate any trade agreement bilaterally with any third country which is the case of all the Member States, not because we limit our Member States but because this is the guarantee for all Europeans that we are stronger in trade negotiations, being the second economy in the world, and because this guarantee is that the benefit of any trade agreement goes equally to all Europeans without any internal competition so it is a form of guarantee for all Europeans and it is not a limitation.
So, Europeans have an interest in keeping and even making the strength of the European Union stronger or more evident and this has to be clearly understood and respected here, as we respect fully the internal dynamics of the United States in which I would not enter but it seems interesting to observe from the outside at this moment.
Q. What kind of reception did you get at the your meetings with Tillerson at the State Department, how do they deal with the EU and did you get any sense of whether the United States really has formed an unified policy and expression of administration?
I received an excellent reception. And I was received quite early in the beginning of the work with the administration. Tillerson just started one week ago so that is really early and gives me a sense of priority that is put in working with the European Union as such and I had excellent meetings both with the Tillerson in the White House and in the Senate. Again not only on the need to cooperate, but also on some issues we started to discuss: be it Syria, be it counter-terrorism, be it Russia and Ukraine, Libya, the Middle East Peace Process and many other files. We had excellent conversations and we decided to follow this up. Actually we have a quite intense round of meetings coming up because [James] Mattis [US Secretary of Defence] will be in Brussels for the NATO Defence Ministers meeting on Wednesday. I always join the Defence Ministers’ Meeting – and it will be the case also this time – so I will meet him there; then we will be together at the G20 in Bonn with Tillerson. We will be together with Vice-President [Mike] Pence and a large US delegation at the [Munich] Security Conference. We are very happy to welcome Vice-President Pence on his official visit to Brussels to the EU institutions on 20 February. So you see that the intensity of the calendar of exchanges and meetings is quite unique, exceptional and this also gives a sense of where priorities are put. So I see that there is an intention to work closely together and the same on our side. When it comes to how much policies are determined I think as with any transition this might need some time - to review some policies, to have people in places. Changes in the administration normally take some time and I understand that compared to previous American transitions this is taking a little bit more, but again this is not for me to comment. And, by the way, this is also a good opportunity for us to have early conversations on some policy orientations because I believe that it is not irrelevant for our American friends to know where the Europeans are on some issues.
Q. You mentioned Russia, Ukraine. Did you get any sort of assurances or were you looking for any sort of assurances that the US is committed to sanctions and that the Minsk agreement is implemented? There has been speculation that Ted Malloch is going to be the Ambassador of the US to the EU. Did you also raise specific concerns with the administration?
On the first issue: yes. We agreed on the need to have a full implementation of the Minsk agreements and on the fact that sanctions are linked to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. We discussed at length the ways in which we can support more the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. This is exactly the European approach also to this issue. For us, sanctions, are not a policy in itself, are a tool. The objective is to have the full implementation of the Minsk agreements and the conflict in the east of Ukraine solved and if we can work together to this goal that would be obviously good. So, yes, on this we share the same views.
Q. When you say ‘we’, are you talking about the discussions with the Secretary of State?
With [Secretary of State, Rex] Tillerson, yes.
Q. What about Flynn?
No, I am not going to give details, but I had conversations with all my interlocutors going in the same direction.
Q. And the message on Russia was consistent?
Yes. As I said, I did not see particular divergences. I received quite – not only reassuring but also coherent messages on the issues we discussed; some of the issues we discussed.
On the second point, I was told there was no decision taken on the next US Ambassador to the European Union. I made clear that, first of all, our procedures require the active consent of all the 28 Member States of the European Union for the accreditation of an ambassador and that has to be taken into consideration; that is our intention to have a smooth start and that as it is the case for any ambassador anywhere in the world, the basis is respect.
Q. It sounds like from what you are saying that the message is that he might not be the best…
I was told there is no decision taken and that there is no specific name considered at this moment.
Q. So how do you see the administration’s image of the European Union changed? Do you see that there has been as a significant change compared to the previous administration stand, did people as part of the solution ask more to Europeans to contribute on security?
The message I received here is of a high relevance of the European Union as such and I would build my considerations and policies and suggest to my European colleagues to do the same on what I heard on my official meetings here. Previous administrations - well I have seen only one - gave a very strong and powerful message - actually even the fact that Europeans had to believe more in the European Union. I would always remember that both the message of President Obama gave in Germany last summer and that Secretary Kerry gave in Brussels during the same period of time was exactly this sentence and I quote – and I quote it quite often to my fellow Europeans: “Europeans should believe in the European Union as much as we do”, which is a good message to hear and it is a message we hear from many of our partners in the world. They see the European Union is quite a miracle if you consider the centuries of war that we have behind us. Here I know very well – and I'm not going to be politically correct, it is not the time of history for that – that there are some that believe that any process of be it regional integration, be it multilateralism, be it an approach that brings together – you can call it souvereignism, or nationalism – this is not on their political agenda. But this is not the European choice. A new era in our relationship can mean that we can enter into a more pragmatic and transnational time; this can also mean that we differ in our political views from time to time and that we would be very clear on this. Europeans - and you will hear this from Poland to Portugal, from Finland to Malta –, Europeans feel and believe that their interests are better protected and promoted through our Union because we are more relevant and that in the world of today that being together as a Union is the only way we have to regain our sovereignty. This is not the choice that the majority of the UK population has expressed, but for the rest of the Europeans - and also for parts of the UK citizens who voted differently in the referendum that is the case -, so the European Union is here to stay, is here, I believe, to grow even stronger and sure there is this political debate also in some of the European countries, but elections will determine whether this will be a majority approach or not.
Q. Is there a concern now that there is some talk within the circles of administration that some are trying to tilt these European elections away from a pro-European Union path. I understand you do not want be political, but…
You know, we do not interfere in US politics. You might see this happening from other parts of the world; you will never see this happening from Europe. And Europeans expect that America does not interfere in European politics. Is that political enough? And I would add to be even more political: Europeans are wise enough to make their political choices for themselves. This has always been the case in history. This continues to be the case. No one tells us what to choose.
Q. Did you feel that you needed to communicate that?
Q. Did you discuss the Middle East Peace Process with [Senior Adviser] Jared Kushner? Did they reaffirm any commitment to the two-States solution and did you talk about the embassy?
Yes, we discussed about this, not only with him, but also with my other interlocutors. I raised two issues. One is the clear restatement of the European Union positions that are the positions we shared with the United States, Russia and the United Nations within the Quartet just a few months ago. We worked together on a very intense report with very clear recommendations on how to reach the two-State solution - which is the basis for us, continues to be the basis for us to engage directly with Israelis and Palestinians and we have very frequent exchanges both with Palestine and with Israel and we discussed about this; and the possibility, for us, to continue to work together not only the US and European Union on the two-State solution and the ways to get there, but also within the Quartet.
Second point I raised: yes, the issue of the possibility to move the Embassy of the United States to Jerusalem. I raised, first of all, the position of the European Union: we are not moving our Embassies anywhere, they stay where they are, not only the European Union embassy but also the others of European Member States because that is for us based on a UN Security Council Resolution. And I also raised the concerns I have had already the chance to express in public that such a move might inflame the Arab public opinions in a way that would not be productive and useful for Israel, first of all, and for the stability in the Middle East.
Q. What kind of perceptions did that get?
I am not going to share that. It is a good rule to share what I raised, but not what my interlocutors did.
Q. Do you think you have more work to do on these issues to advance your view a bit with this administration?
I think we have a space for common work on this. As I said, I know that there is sometimes the perception here that Americans are on the side of Israelis and Europeans are on the side of Palestinians. Our perception in Europe is that we are on the same side, being it of both. On the basis of our work with the parties for the two-State solution. This is what I often discuss with Prime Minister [of Israel, Benyamin] Netanyahu and President [of Palestine, Mahmoud] Abbas. Europeans are friends of both, Israel and Palestine and we work as an honest broker to try and build the space for them to come together. We believe in direct negotiations, not on an imposition of a solution. But we believe that the international community has a responsibility to create the framework and the space for the parties to come and meet and find their own way to get the two States - and on this I always agreed both with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Q. Is there a policy within the Trump administration regarding two-State solution. Did you express any concern?
I stated very clearly what the European Union's position and what the Quartet's position is and we share it.
Q. A follow-up on the Minsk Protocol: did you express a commitment by the Europeans to keep sanctions on Russia and that you saw that it was important to stay there until Russia makes a move on Ukraine? What was your discussion on Iran: there is a talk here that they could rip it up, and you have seen the rhetoric the actions against Iran lately. Does that concern you?
On Minsk, I think I stated this very clearly. We agreed that the full implementation of the Minsk agreements is a must and that sanctions are linked to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. And that we would be not only happy but actively supporting a full implementation of the Minsk agreements and the lifting of the sanctions if this happens, which you can also see the other way round: not happening until the Minsk agreements are implemented fully.
On Iran, this was extremely important for me. This was one of the objectives of my visit because, as you know, in this respect on the nuclear deal I do not only have the responsibility to represent the European position, but also I am still chairing the Joint Commission overviewing the implementation of the nuclear agreement, so I also have a responsibility towards Russia, China and the UN system as this has been endorsed by a UN Security Council Resolution. I always made clear from the very beginning: this is not a bilateral agreement, this is not even an agreement between Iran and some countries; this is belonging now to the international community as a whole. So for me, it was extremely important to stress the need to stick to the full implementation of the nuclear deal, as we see is happening now since one year. Four times the IAEA has certified the full implementation of the Iranians' nuclear commitments. So the deal is working and we need to preserve it this way and I was reassured by what I heard in my meetings of the intention to stick to the full and strict implementation of the agreement in its parts. This I think is a very important statement, and I would expect obviously that this would be consistently followed up.
Q. There are some that are reading the latest actions by the Trump administration as aimed at pushing Iran to leave the deal. Did you get assurances on this?
There are three separate issues here, and I would like to be very clear on that. First, common understanding and, for us, a must that the nuclear agreement is fully implemented in all its parts and by all sides. Second, there are issues that are outside the nuclear deal, that are related to missile tests, that are related to terrorist activities, that are related to human rights where the European Union has restrictions and sanctions in place, and we also discussed that. The third element is that the European Union and its Member States, continue and will continue, as the nuclear deal is implemented, to have open channels with Iran. We have several issues where we have started cooperation. I myself have visited Tehran several times with different colleagues. We have started fruitful cooperation and we will continue to do that, be it economic cooperation, be it scientific cooperation, be it dialogue on human rights, be it common work we do on migration, on energy. You name it. This European engagement with Iran will continue. Then there are things that are difficult to discuss with Iran even for us. That is clear. I mentioned human rights issues, I mentioned some of the regional crises where for sure we don't see in the same manner, but we believe in engagement and the European way to diplomacy is to talk and to try to work together even when you don't agree, and this will continue.
Q. Did you discourage the Trump administration from exerting additional pressure on their 'number two issues' for fear of the Iranians losing trust in the nuclear agreement?
No. As I said, in the European Union we do have sanctions still in place for non-nuclear-related issues. So we are doing that. It would be very strange for me to discourage that. In the European Union we are not introducing additional sanctions.
Q. Question inaudible
It's not something new the fact that European policy towards Iran is different to the US one. We have political and economic relations with Iran; that was not the case also with the previous US administration. We have different policies – the Europeans have different relations with Iran. And for us it's a priority to continue investing in Iran's engagement with us, with the international community – again, on issues where we can work together, on issues where it's more difficult. But the Europeans will continue to follow this engagement policy. That has to be very clear.
Q. Did you discuss the Russian cyber threat at all and the fear that they could impact European elections in the coming months?
That was not a major point of our discussion.
Q. Did you talk about the TTIP or about the plans to build a wall with Mexico? Could you tie together what you've said? You said this could become a more transactional and pragmatic relationship. After 8 years of the Obama administration, working together on everything. There is clearly a new direction in the US leadership. Does this mean that the EU will work for common objectives but will go its own way if agree with this administration?
It is not our responsibility to determine the sense of direction of US policy, now or in the future. And it was not even in the past. We want to work together on as many as possible of the common issues that we have on the table – and we have many – the world is getting quite complicated, to put it mildly. But we do it on the basis of our values and our interests. European values and interests are very well determined and very clear to us. And on the basis of that we start a conversation and see where we can work together, when we have different opinions. When we have different opinions and still we have converging interests, we have to be clear which are our positions. It is not for us to determine positions here [in the US]. It is for us to make clear what our priorities, our expectations are and to stick to that. Protect the interest of European citizens. When it comes to free trade, I see and I understand that this new administration is not yet clear on where they want to go on TTIP. We stand as a strong point of reference and a reliable interlocutor for all of our partners in the world on free and fair trade and on an open global system of trade. We are going to finalise our trade agreement with Canada next week. And the European Union will continue to be a reliable point of reference for everybody in the world on free and fair trade.
The same goes on migration where for sure we have a different approach. Again, it is not for me to determine US policies or to comment on US policies; domestic choices. I see that there is enough American debate for me to add a European voice. I leave it to the US political debate. But we make clear what we believe is the right way, which is the way that we are following, which is based on cooperation, partnership, protection of human rights, saving lives at sea and in the desert, for what comes to the European challenge to manage the migration routes, and a global work in the UN system. Just a few months ago in New York we launched, together with a big coalition of countries in the UN framework, a global compact for managing migration and refugees. We believe in the role of the UN system – UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organisation for Migration, and a rational, sustainable, human, sensible way of managing the flows. Which doesn't mean that our doors are open to everybody, but it also doesn't mean that we build walls or we discriminate on the basis of nationality. So, this is the European way. This transactional approach or this pragmatic approach means that we make clear what our position is.
Q. It used to be that the US provided a lot of leadership and now it seems that the Europeans are going to have to pick up a lot of that slack on leading these issues.
We are ready.
Link to the video:http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I133489