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"We had today a good Council with the Foreign Ministers.
First of all, we adopted conclusions on our position on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea that you might have seen.
The European Union's sanctions regime towards DPRK is currently among the most restrictive in operation. It is the country against which we have the most restrictive measures and we decided that we will consider adopting further measures in full coordination with our international partners, with our regional friends and allies and obviously in line with the UN Security Council deliberations.
We stressed the leading role that the Republic of Korea has in this file. We believe that the solution to tensions on the peninsula lies in the peninsula itself and that Seoul has to have full ownership and leadership in the way forward, including through confidence-building measures, including through this invitation that was extended from Seoul to Pyongyang to have military to military dialogues. The EU is ready to support these efforts in all possible ways, in all our contacts with the region. I will be in Asia myself in the beginning of August at the ASEAN Regional Forum where this issue will be discussed with our partners.
We affirmed strongly our belief that peace and the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula must be achieved through peaceful means – this excludes military actions – and we confirmed our policy of critical engagement with Pyongyang. Seven of our Member States have currently a diplomatic presence in DPRK, not the European Union as such, but we decided to coordinate more the action of the Member States that have a diplomatic presence in the DPRK. We decided to have a closer engagement with all our key partners in the region and from international perspective, trying to help avoiding further escalation and trying to find a solution to this crisis that is putting into danger not only the overall non-proliferation regime but also the security, in Asia and worldwide.
The second point the Ministers discussed was Libya. We had two discussions on this point. First and foremost, we had a full discussion with the Ministers on Libya itself, on the political priorities to solve the political crisis in Libya. I want to stress this because sometimes we refer to Libya only in connection with the migration file. Well, for the European Union, it is a priority to solve the political crisis in Libya. We had a timely debate that will provide a good basis to start working with the new UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, with whom I spoke in the previous week. As soon as he will officially take his role, we will invite him to join us, with the Foreign Ministers, at one of the next Councils.
We consider the role of the UN as central; the UN has a key mediation role, based on the Libyan political agreement and finding ways to have inclusive solutions within that framework. We believe several initiatives have been useful so far, but also that we need unity of purpose, a coordinated international and regional effort under the umbrella of the UN. This is why the EU continues to work with the Quartet for Libya – EU, UN, League of Arab States and African Union – to guarantee that there is a unitary approach to this crisis. Unity in the region, unity in the international community under UN auspices to help the Libyans unite themselves. Libya has enough resources including human resources, economic resources and natural resources, to find its own way out of this political crisis which is the essential pre-condition to work on security and also on migration.
We took a couple of decisions related to Libya. First of all, the revision of the mandate of EUBAM – our mission aimed at supporting the Libyan authorities in their border management. This is a useful framework also for cooperation with the Italian authorities’ projects regarding the southern border of Libya. There is also a lot of work we are doing with the Sahel.
By the way, just this morning, the Niger Interior Minister called us to thank us for the EU support because the authorities of Niger arrested yesterday 26 traffickers in their territory and the security forces that made this operation were those that were trained by the European Union mission. So this shows that some important results are achieved. Obviously, this is only one number out of many but important to signal that, every single day, there are some concrete things that are happening on the ground thanks to our work.
Today, we also took a decision to introduce restrictions on the export and supply to Libya of the inflatable boats and motors – as you know these are devices that are used by traffickers for their smuggling activities. So this decision we have taken at the European Union level will help making the traffickers’ businesses and their lives even more complicated.
We then had a common session together with the Director General of the Organisation for International Migration (IOM), William Lacy Swing, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. We work together with the IOM and with the UNHCR. I understand it was the first time they were both invited to join the [Foreign Affairs] Council and this shows the way in which we work daily, the three of us together. It is a coordinated work. It is a joint work also because the flows we are seeing are mixed flows. So we need the UNHCR and the IOM to work together – and this is the work we are supporting.
We work with them first of all on the global approach to migration and refugees in the UN framework, to build on the global compacts. We work with them everywhere in the world, but mainly, and especially in these months, inside Libya and in the Sahel. If you want I can share with you numbers that I already made public a couple of times. It is thanks to the EU support to the IOM and the UNHCR that their organisations have started in the recent months to regain access on the ground in Libya – still too little, but the trend has been inverted.
It is thanks to the European Union support to the work of the IOM and the UNHCR that we have had in these first 5-6 months of 2017, around 5 000 assisted voluntary returns of migrants from inside Libya to their countries of origin. And it is thanks to their work south of Libya, namely in Niger, that we have now the lowest point of access into Libya from Niger. It is also thanks to the cooperation of the authorities in Niger and the local authorities.
We have discussed with them ways in which we can improve our common work, especially with this focus - having more investments to support their work, more access on the ground. This is something we discussed also with [the Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Al] Sarraj and the GNA [Government of National Accord] also, and mainly I would say, with the aim of not only saving lives, as we are doing, but also protecting migrants – as they are trying to do every day, tackling the conditions of the detention centres. As Filippo Grandi pointed out very well entering the meeting, the purpose of our common work is to change not only the living conditions in the detention centres but to change the logic of the detention in Libya. This is a common work we are doing together and they know they can count on the European Union to continue supporting their difficult job.
Before I stop, let me mention an issue that was not on the agenda today, but to which we referred at the beginning of our meeting with the Ministers, as we touched briefly on our cooperation with Latin America in preparation of the EU-CELAC Summit coming up in October: it is the situation in Venezuela where violence has already claimed far too many lives and risks to further escalate ahead of the Constituent Assembly. We have seen clearly that the consultation that was organised yesterday by the opposition shows that there is a willingness of the people of Venezuela to have urgent peaceful solutions to their difficulties – of which there are many – and that a large part of the population clearly does not seem to support the Constituent Assembly. The convening of such an assembly risks further polarising the country and increasing confrontation.
And so, we believe it would be helpful if the government looked for political gestures to de-escalate tensions and create better conditions for a resumption of work towards a peaceful, negotiated solution. Suspending the process of putting the Constituent Assembly into place would be such an important gesture. We also believe that regional support to accompany the country would be important, with for instance the creation of a "group of friends" accepted by both the government and the opposition to accompany the negotiations of a peaceful solution in the interest of all the people of Venezuela, composed by countries of the region. This is a step that we would welcome and support very much.
This was not on the agenda, but obviously there are facts and trends that are worrying us very much. As you know we have many dual citizens there and we have worked so much for regional peace and stability, including in Colombia. We have good relations with all countries in the region, including in the Caribbean, and we feel a sort of political and moral responsibility to try and support and help in all possible ways.
Q. Your French colleague Mr [Jean-Yves] Le Drian [Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France] came from the Gulf. I imagined he briefed you and the Ministers. Can you tell us your latest assessment of the crisis and do you intend yourself to add your specific effort after [Rex] Tillerson, Boris Johnson, [Jean-Yves] Le Drian, to try to ease the region? I know that we have only one question but I have a question on Libya. The Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Mr Didier Reynders said: "On doit vraiment réfléchir à ce que l'Opération Sophia puisse jouer son rôle dans les eaux territoriales de la Libye." Did you discuss this issue with the Minister today?
First of all on the Gulf, I discussed with Jean-Yves Le Drian [French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs] the messages he would bring during his visit before he left, as I was in Paris on 13 July last week, just on the eve of his departure. So we agreed messages to be passed beforehand and he told me today about the contacts he has had. We discussed in particular the need to avoid that tensions in the Gulf have negative repercussions on the situation in Libya – and that is a consistent message that all the EU Ministers that have contacts in these days, and also Heads of State and Government in the Gulf, are passing. Because Libya and the political solution of the crisis in Libya is a priority for the entire European Union.
And, yes, I intend to visit the region. I will be visiting Kuwait, as a mediator that we support and accompany, and with whom we are constantly and daily in touch. So I will visit Kuwait next Sunday [23rd of July].
The second question about the further phase of Operation Sophia: as you know the possibility of continuing the work that we are doing in international waters within the territorial waters of Libya has always been part of the operational plan of the Operation Sophia. But this requires an invitation from the Libyan authorities. I would say probably this would also require more assets. So Member States that are eager to see this happening should also reflect on the number and kind of assets they would put at the disposal of the operation.
But I would like to say that what we are doing with the Libyan coastguards today - having already trained 133 of them and having an additional number of 75, making it possible to start the further package of training in September, and the fact that we are thinking of ways in which we can monitor the follow-up of the training of the Libyan coastguard - puts us in a pretty good position to have a direct control of the kind of activities the Libyan coastguard can do in the Libyan territorial waters. At the end of the day, the ultimate objective for us is not to have European Union presence in the Libyan territorial waters but to have the job done. If it is the Libyan coastguards that properly address the issue of dismantling the traffickers' networks in Libyan territorial waters, that is perfectly fine.
This means that Operation Sophia has to continue the training activity of the Libyan coastguards and probably add a way, a mechanism, to monitor the follow-up of the training once the training is completed. But let me say the cooperation with the Libyan coastguard is good. Training activities have worked well so far. And this is something that we discussed also with the IOM and the UNHCR, because cooperation with them includes also the training of the Libyan coastguard and the follow-up of the training.
Q. On Venezuela, you have said several times that time is not for sanction but to promote dialogue on political consensus. But the Spanish Minister, who agrees with you on that point, has said today that if this constituent assembly is convened, there is such an election next 30 July, then European Union should consider sanctions, stepping up pressure. Do you agree also with this reflection?
From now on till the 31 July, we still have some time and time is always there to be used wisely. I hope this is enough as an answer.
Obviously, all the options are always on the table for political consideration. But again as I said, I think that what happened yesterday in Venezuela is a clear sign that there is a political will of the population that includes negotiations and peaceful solutions. And I believe there is still space to re-start serious negotiations with the – hopefully – accompanying groups of friends of the region that could be trusted both by the government and the opposition. The region is diverse enough to offer many different participants to such a group and we would be more than happy to support such a regional process with all our means. So I hope that the time from now to the 31 July can be wisely used to look for the unity of the country and avoiding any further escalation.
Q. My question is on migration. Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have accused the coastguards of abusing the migrants and sending to unknown detaining centres. Are you aware of this and did you discuss about it?
This is exactly the reason why we are working so much with the IOM and the UNHCR. To guarantee they have access to these centres where living conditions appear to be inhuman, to improve the living conditions of the migrants, to protect their lives and their rights. As I said – actually as UN High Commissioner Grandi said and I share his words – to change the very same logic of detention, which is not the logic the European Union, or the UN system, follows. And to assist the stranded migrants who are already inside Libya in all possible ways, in humanitarian terms but also with assisted voluntary returns. We have heard terrible stories about that. We have – and I have personally heard from migrants who managed to cross – stories of slavery, inhuman conditions, of men and women, in particular women, that nobody should not only live but nobody should even listen too.
The work the European Union is doing with the UN agencies, with the international NGOs is exactly the one to protect the migrants – try to protect the migrants – and we are asking our Libyan friends to help us: helping the international organisations to have full access to improve the living conditions of the migrants, to protect their rights and assist those who, from Libya, would want to voluntary return to their home countries. For the moment around 5 000 of them have returned this year – that is more than the double of the number of assisted voluntary returns of last year. I believe that more and more migrants realise that with these journeys they put their lives in danger, at the expense of high costs economically but also from a human perspective, and without necessarily achieving the goal of arriving in Europe. So we are offering alternatives, always with the UN agencies and the international NGOs, while also creating economic opportunities for the migrants in their own communities or closer to home.
Q. In relation to North Korea. It is agreed by all observers that China has a very important role to play in this. You said that you support the overtures by Seoul today and yesterday to encourage military to military cooperation. Are the efforts of China in this regard sufficient at this point?
Our efforts in international community are never sufficient until the crisis is solved. This is a rule that is true for all of us unfortunately. On the other side, what I have seen in recent months in my dialogue with the Chinese authorities from the highest level down, has been a sincere commitment to find a solution to tensions in the Korean peninsula. I have discussed this for hours in Beijing during my last visit, we discussed this during the Summit between China and the European Union.
As I said, I have the impression that this will form a consistent part of our talks in Manilla in August, at the ASEAN Regional Forum where the European Union will be. Exactly to try to put together the efforts of China that has a role to play; of Russia – we discussed this with Sergey Lavrov last week in Brussels; of the United States – with whom we discussed the approach to DPRK especially in the format of the G7 but also bilaterally – and with the other key regional partners we have: Japan again in the context of the G7 and the Republic of Korea.
For the first time ever, the President of the Republic of Korea sent his Envoy on DPRK here in Brussels for talks with me and President [of the European Council, Donald] Tusk just after his taking office. We share similar analysis and similar views and we are sharing with them all the expertise we have at different levels on nuclear negotiations even if the situation of Iran and DPRK are completely different and I do not want to put them in anyway in the same basket. But we are working in this manner, again, do not get me wrong: there is no EU initiative on this but there is a full EU support to initiatives that can be taken in the region, putting at our disposal our capacity to talk to many and our technical and political expertise in this kind of negotiations.
Q. Yesterday, there was a declaration of the Belgian Minister of Migration Theo Franken and he said that boats saving refugees in the Mediterranean should not bring them to Italy but bring them back to Africa. What is your reaction on that?
I did not hear this proposal from the Belgian Foreign Ministry today.
Q. On your comments on the Chinese role. Do you believe that giving all these talks that are going on that any move directly puts pressure on China – sanctions for example – over North Korea would be a mistake?
We are in the stage of discussing with China, as well as with Japan, the United States and South Korea, ways in which through keeping the pressure that is very high from our side on DPRK a political track or a diplomatic track that is meaningful and serious might be opened. I said pressure from our side is the toughest because I believe we are the ones with the toughest regime in place. I was looking at the numbers to prepare the meeting today: trade between the EU and DPRK is less than 0.5% of the total trade of DPRK which you know is not so consistent and that big anyway. So, we are talking about a sort of a relation on trade that is almost non-existent and as I said, we have the toughest regime in place in terms of sanctions compared to any other restrictive measure we have with any other state in the world.
Keeping the strongest possible pressure is there. The discussions we were having with the Ministers today and with our partners in the region and internationally is what else, what more to do, not to substitute but to accompany especially the initiative from Seoul to try and find a path of meaningful and serious dialogue. That is the state of discussions today and again I would like to stress the ownership and the leadership that we believe Seoul should take in this file because at the end of the day, the denuclearisation of the peninsula and peace in the peninsula should be locally grown and owned if we want this to work.