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Washington D.C., 7 November 2017
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Thank you very much for coming.
It is quite a regular thing that I come to Washington D.C., I think it is my third visit in the last nine months, for regular contacts both with the administration and with the Congress on a series of issues we have in common and exchange of views on the main priorities of the time. Beyond this, obviously, we have regular contacts in Europe, in Brussels, elsewhere, wherever we have the chance to meet.
This visit gave me the opportunity to discuss mainly with friends and colleagues in Congress - both in the Senate and in the House [of Representatives] - about the main security challenges we are facing today.
First of all, the work we are doing to strengthen the European Union defence, in strong coordination with NATO. I will be at the NATO Defence ministerial meeting tomorrow night in Brussels. We are developing, fast, a deep coordination and cooperation with the European Union Member States on defence and security, and we are strengthening more than ever our cooperation with NATO, especially on cyber and hybrid threats but also maritime security and other issues. So, I took the opportunity to debrief our friends in Congress about this process, especially those who are working on security issues.
We are also facing threats and challenges in our region: obviously, the situation in the Middle East, the ongoing crisis in Syria, the work we are planning to do with an upcoming conference in Brussels - the second of this type that we will host in spring to accompany the work in the de-escalation areas - and obviously we discussed also related issues in the region.
It is no secret that on the Iran nuclear deal we had exchanges in the recent weeks and obviously that was also part of my discussions with the colleagues in Congress, with full respect of the national domestic side of the debate, here in the United States. But we thought it was important to explain and present to our American friends the clear European position on the fact that the nuclear deal with Iran is delivering and working.
I know that the Director General of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], [Yukiya] Amano, is in town in these very same hours, we had a meeting yesterday here in these premises. We trust the IAEA and its eight reports on the fact that Iran is fully compliant with its nuclear commitments and we have, as Europeans, a clear top priority, a strategic interest that is linked to our security to keep the full implementation of the deal in place, from all sides, and we discussed the way ahead.
I heard from our colleagues in Congress their views and the state of play of their work, after the presentation by the President [of the United States, Donald Trump] of the new American policy on Iran. As you have seen, the European Union is completely united in supporting the deal and its full implementation; both at the level of foreign ministers and Heads of State and Government, we used very clear expressions and words. And again, we wish to see the United States continuing its implementation of the deal in the future and we are ready to work with them in this regard.
We also discussed other pressing issues we work on together in these months. Still nuclear related - the situation in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea], especially in a time when President Trump is visiting the region. I have had the chance to discuss the ways in which the European Union can support the diplomatic efforts. The European Union has increased its sanctions on DPRK - we are now the ones who have the toughest sanctions regime on DPRK in the world and DPRK is the country in the world against which we have the toughest sanctions regime.
We believe that pressure has to be at its maximum, both economically and diplomatically, and we are doing our part on this, in coordination with the United States. We also believe that sanctions are a way to push for opening a political space for negotiations - a political space that we have not seen so far. But we hope to see it as a result of a coordinated, united pressure from the international community and we appreciated the United States approach on DPRK, especially when it worked on the UN Security Council Resolution last September. So we are coordinating policies also on this.
And last but not least, we have a common interest in working on security but also on development and the management of migratory flows in Africa. The European Union has increased its work in Africa with partnerships all over the continent. We see an interest and have seen this also today in Congress to work more and more together, especially on the security angle – counterterrorism, control of the territory.
I noticed with satisfaction that the United States announced last week in New York in the Security Council a contribution of USD 60 million for the military joint force of the G5 Sahel, which is following a EUR 50 million contribution the European Union made during the summer. We welcome this and this is also a field where we will work together more and more.
We will host in Brussels in December an international conference to coordinate the international support to the countries in the Sahel to better manage their security challenges and especially the organised crime and trafficking in the area.
So, a wide range of issues and I am sure I am not covering all of them, but I count on your questions to complement the picture. A lot on Iran, but not only. Thank you.
On the ongoing discussions at the US Congress on the JCPOA and potential violations of the agreement
Have you seen a draft? I have not. I made it clear and it is very important for me to clarify this: US legislation is a matter for US legislative bodies. The European Union does not interfere in national decision making or policy making. So, what I discussed with people on the Hill is the need for us to have the United States compliant with the deal, and I got reassurances from their sides - different sides on the Hill - that this is exactly the spirit in which they are working - to keep the United States compliant with the deal. And this is also our interest to support a solution that can keep the United States compliant with the deal. This is our interest.
Then, the way in which the legislators on the Hill will do that is an internal process in the United States; we are not going to interfere in political processes of the United States. We are very respectful, as we expect our American friends never to interfere in domestic decision-making processes in Europe.
But obviously, we are ready to discuss and we started a bit to discuss, the contents that would mean a compliance or not with the deal.
Follow-up question inaudible
What I can tell you is this: we are exchanging views with the legislators on the need to make sure, before a bill is presented, that its content does not represent a violation of the agreement. I can tell you that as the High Representative of the European Union - which means bringing here the position of the 28 Member States of the European Union - and also as the coordinator of the Joint Commission that supervises the implementation and the monitoring of the implementation of the deal, I have a clear interest in keeping the deal working. I made clear that any outcome of any process - that is an internal process and as such has to be respected - has to be, at the end of the day, compliant with the deal. The Joint Commission that I chair will, at the end of the day, monitor that.
To be more specific: would an American law be compliant with the JCPOA, if it states that after the expiration of certain deadlines, automatic sanctions are imposed on Iran if it does things after those deadlines that it is not supposed to do until these deadlines. Would that be a violation of the deal?
I would not speculate on possibilities as they are discussed, I am sorry about that. I know it is a delicate moment especially for a press conference like this - you would understand that. Work is ongoing; what I can say is that I made clear the European positions, I made clear the framework of the agreement and I got clear indications that the intention is to keep the United States compliant with the agreement and find ways to do that in coordination with the E3, the European Union as such - that goes beyond the E3 - and the rest of the international community, which is a starting point for common work on the way ahead. I cannot share more details at this stage as work is ongoing in Congress and I have to be respectful of these political procedures here.
Did any of the persons on the Hill that you talked to asked you in any way to help them find a solution that might accommodate the concerns of the administration? Did you hear creative ideas?
Well, we moved from a situation where, a couple of years ago, the European Union was perceived as somehow and sometimes not relevant, to a situation where you would expect the European Union to mediate between the White House and Congress – that is a bit too much, that is not a way in which we work. But, we expressed readiness and willingness to accompany the legislators here, as we would do with any other country party of the agreement, to find solutions that are compatible with the compliance of the agreement.
On sanctions on Russia and Nord Stream II: did you get any clarifications from the American side how that would work and do you have any concerns to get sanctions having this project with Russia?
This is not an issue we discussed during this visit I paid to D.C. But this is an issue on which contacts have been very intense in the last months and will continue to be very intense. For us, there are two key elements here. One is that we want and we need full coordination with our American friends on the sanctions system we are putting in place on Russia. The second point is that we want European concerns to be fully taken into consideration when it comes to the implementation of the bill. And we are now entering this phase.
So, work is constant, mainly at the Ambassador level and at working level here. We have been working on this all over the last months and we will continue to do so. The letter of the bill is broad enough to allow different ways to interpret and implement it. For us, what will count will be the implementation of the law that would not affect European interests, keeping a good coordination across the Atlantic on the sanction regime we have put in place on Russia.
Is the EU working into ways to isolate the European businesses from secondary sanctions that the US is to adopt?
We have made it clear that the European Union and its Member States will protect European interests. I would like to make it clear: in this field, European interests are first and foremost security interests. We believe that the full implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran is a considerable part of the security architecture of our region. We therefore have a security interest to keep it working. But obviously, the European Union and the Member States are also always ready to protect European economic interests.
But let me tell you: I have the impression that here, in the United States, there is sometimes an overestimation of the economic relations that the European Union has with Iran. We have enormously increased our trade relations and our investments with Iran, which is and was supposed to be part of the consequences of the implementation of the agreement. As you remember, Iran has been compliant with its nuclear commitments, we have a commitment to reciprocate somehow with different measures like the CIP [Citizenship by Investment Programme], lifting of the nuclear related sanctions, which we have done, but also with economic relations that have grown in quantity and quality. However exports from the European Union to Iran - just to mention one number - amount to 0.4% of the total exports of the European Union in the world, which means that they are not so relevant for the European economy.
But, the European Union and its Member States are always determined and ready to protect European interest being them security interests, economic interests, worldwide.
Did you discuss what is going on in Saudi Arabia and its neighbours and what is your view on this and would the EU share the whole support from the US to Saudi Arabia a couple of hours ago?
We discussed this partially. But I have to say that the main focus of our discussions - when it comes to the region - was related to the nuclear issues which, I want to stress this, are separate from the regional issues that are going on. We definitely believe that working more and more to a different kind of regional set up would increase security, stability and peace and also economic possibilities for the countries in the region. So, we definitely share the view that there is some more work to be done in the region. We always believed that the regional approach is the right one.
As you know the nuclear agreement does not cover that part; that was a decision taken at the beginning of the negotiations back 12 years ago, not by us. And that is the framework we are dealing with.
When it comes to regional developments, I have to say one of the main concerns I have in this moment is the situation in Lebanon and I hope that things can be clarified soon and that the country can work on its unity and the possibility of having institutions that work properly for the benefits of the Lebanese people.
Do you support the last moves by Riyadh – what is your view on what is going on inside Saudi Arabia?
Well, any move that goes into diversification of the economy, modernisation of the system and anti-corruption is obviously to be welcomed. During my visits to Riyadh and Jeddah, I discussed several times the needs and the perspectives that the authorities of the country have put in place to diversify the economy - I think that is a smart move. And that obviously has an impact also in the way in which the country and the society work. So, full support to the agenda of economic reforms of the leadership.
On regional issues, I go back to what I said before. We see the increase of tensions in the region only as an additional proof of the fact that there needs to be a different kind of approach in the region, one that invests more in cooperation and less in confrontation. That is the European experience. Let's not forget European countries used to be as conflictual - if not more conflictual - than the Gulf countries were and are. And now we are a political union, an economic union, we have the same currency, we travel around with the same passports - actually without showing the passports. So, there is always hope that a more cooperative regional order can be worked on. We believe that would be beneficial for all in terms of security, in terms of economy and also in terms of stability of other regions that are connected.
Every time that the Gulf is in turmoil, repercussions are felt across the Gulf, in the Horn of Africa, even in the Sahel, in Southeast Asia, not to mention the wider Middle East, not to mention Europe – we are neighbours.
So, we have always believed in trying to offer to build and invest in dialogue, cooperation. Especially when it comes to tensions across the Gulf, we have always advocated – that is not a mystery - for a political resolution based on dialogue, especially between Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt on one side and Qatar on the other side. For us, terrorism is a very serious thing that strikes Europe as much as it strikes other places in the region and in the world. We believe this needs to be tackled in a unified and cooperative manner across the region without excluding any actor from the efforts that need to be put in place.
I will not comment on the American citizens. I can say that, as far as European citizens are concerned, and in particular European Union citizens, we have always raised this issue whenever we have contacts with our Iranian counterparts. And this happens quite often, at different levels. I have also to say, in general terms, that our work with Iran on human rights has progressed over the last years, notably through a human rights dialogue that we have started with them and we do protect and work on the protection of European citizens not only in Iran but also elsewhere in the world. This is mainly and primary a responsibility of the countries of nationality of the citizens - consular responsibility is still in the hands of European Union Member States - but the European Union is always there to support and convey a message of unity.
Q. On human rights in Saudi Arabia
I will not comment on that, also to keep the argument linked to my visit which is to D.C. and not to Riyadh.
You know very well, the European Union is probably one of the very few actors in the world that keeps human rights at the centre of their foreign policy.
Here I know the thinking has gone in a different direction. For us, work on human rights, and I will stress rule of law and democracy, keeps a central role in all our foreign policy work. This is true when it comes to the Gulf, this is true when it comes to Saudi Arabia, this is true when it comes to our internal work - we still have work to do also on European Union soil. We know very well that human rights issues are constantly work in process in the region and elsewhere.
So, obviously this is and continues to be part of our top priorities when we deal also with Saudi Arabia. That is not a mystery.
Q. On the JCPOA, sunset clause, renegotiation or extension of the JCPOA by US Congress. How confident are you that the US will come with legislations that do not violate the agreement?
First of all, thank you very much for the question because it allows me to clarify a couple of things, in general terms as you said, but general terms are the basis for then concrete and practical decisions to be taken.
First of all, the JCPOA has no sunset clause, as the Director of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] [Yukiya] Amano puts it: "The sun does not set", when it comes to nuclear commitments.
There are different provisions in the JCPOA that have different durations; some of them have a certain time scope; others have a different time scope; others are forever. Article 3 of the agreement says that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon for instance. And with the foreseen ratification of the additional protocol by Iran, certain nuclear related commitments that have to do, for instance with the work of the IAEA, will become permanent. This is part of the agreement.
So, we do not see - not only in the European Union but here I am talking also about the international community's perception of the agreement - the agreement as having a sunset clause. The agreement is composed of different provisions, some of them have different directions but the commitments not to develop nuclear weapons are forever.
Second, renegotiating is not an option. You could not imagine out of pragmatism, realism – it is not being naive, on the contrary, it is being very concrete and pragmatic - twelve years of complex nuclear-related negotiations - some of them extremely complicated also from a technical point of view, not to mention the political point of view - that produced 104 pages that most of us in this room would have difficulties in - let's say - decrypting in some parts, even if we have all developed a certain knowledge and skill when it comes to centrifuges and heavy water etc.
But twelve years of negotiations of an international multilateral process, resulting in 104 pages of extremely detailed provisions that were not based on confidence and trust, but on commitments - verifiable commitments - and on an intrusive monitoring system, cannot be opened in one line or one paragraph or one chapter.
If you reopen one part of it, the entire agreement is reopened and you will probably enter into another twelve years of negotiations, provided that you will find the political will and the trust to reopen negotiations.
I have to tell this very clearly - for the Europeans as well as for the others who are sitting in the Joint Commission that is monitoring the JCPOA implementation, meaning the E3 [France, Germany, UK] , Russia, China- : renegotiating part of the agreement is not an option. I think I was clear.
And yes, contacts will continue to go on - as I said - with a very clear distinction. We do not want to interfere in any possible way with the political debate in the United States. This is up to Congress, this is up to the White House, this is up to political forces here. We have enough of politics in Europe to deal with our owns. It is not for us to enter into this debate, this is for our American friends to deal with that. We stay out of these, but if there is a way in which we can accompany this internal debate, providing advice on what would be compliant or not when it comes to the implementation of the JCPOA, we are ready to do it and happy to do it, because our main interest is to guarantee the full implementation of the agreement by all.
Q. On Saudi Arabia and Iran: what do you make of Saudi's claim that Iran is committing acts of war against it by equipping Yemenis with missiles and how do you see the fragility of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran at the moment and assess that direction?
I was referring to the fact that in Europe we lived centuries - if not thousands of years - of wars and we still managed to come out of that with a political union and an economic union, I am serious. I mean that we see the need, especially when tensions go high, as it is the case in the Gulf and around the Gulf, to have rationality prevailing on all sides, and wonder what would be the best interests of our populations - in this case other populations, but also our own - on the way ahead.
We are not happy with some of the behaviours we see in the region, coming from all parts. We will always encourage – always – dialogue, openness, a regional cooperation and work to diminish tensions and contain tensions. Again, I know this can sound a rosy picture. If you look at European history – and the European history is closer to the Gulf or to the Middle East than you can imagine – we have historic links that relate to the Middle East that goes back to millenniums. It was exactly in the times of highest threats and dangers, including during the Cold War, that we managed to put in place some elements of a security architecture that was preventing the worst option to happen. So, it is not out of "naïveté". It is on the contrary out of realism that you say - and we say - there are many behaviours we do not like across the region. And we made it clear bilaterally and publicly every time we can, and we even take actions and sometimes sanctions on this.
But, for us, what is essential is that, at a certain moment, the actors involved take a deep breath, realise what the interest of the people are and see if it is not possible to find some minimum common grounds of understanding or of cooperation or of de-conflicting. You can have different shades that avoid escalations that can be very dangerous.
We would always be ready to support, encourage any of those steps that can take different forms. It is exactly when tensions go higher that we see the need for opening spaces for dialogue and cooperation. I know this is not the wind that is blowing as the majority voice in the world of today. But allow me to bring a little bit of wisdom, as the European voice, in a world that seems to go completely crazy here. It is dangerous. We need to calm down the situation. We need to bring the temperature down a bit, rather than increasing the level of confrontation.
The level of confrontation across the region can have extremely dangerous repercussions not only in the region but also elsewhere. We believe that lowering these tensions is possible, and is in the interest of all the actors, in different ways, at different levels, with different steps. We think it would be wise.