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We have had today an eight hour long Foreign Affairs Council – very intense. We started by expressing our solidarity with the UK after the Salisbury attack. You probably have seen this morning that we have released a statement that we discussed with the Ministers and that shows the full support and solidarity with the United Kingdom and our expectations for Russia to address the questions raised by the UK and the international community and to provide a disclosure of its programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). We will obviously continue to follow this issue very closely, including its implications.
We then had a point on Ukraine - a very important discussion, also in view of our strong non-recognition policy of the annexation of Crimea. And we discussed, in particular, the two tracks that I have also expressed to the President [of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko], the Prime Minister [of Ukraine, Volodymyr Groysman] and the Foreign Minister [of Ukraine, Pavlo Klimkin] in Kyiv last week: first of all, our support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and our full commitment to support and help on the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. Secondly, but not less importantly, our support to the reform process inside Ukraine. We have discussed this with the Ministers.
I have registered full unity on both elements of our policy and we will continue working in that direction, especially as we implement the Association Agreement with the Trade part we have with Ukraine. This agreement has already brought a significant increase - I think of 30% - of Ukraine’s exports towards the European Union, so concrete benefits for the people of Ukraine. This positive agenda is what remains at the center of our common work.
We then had a point on Syria. UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura joined us to debrief us on the rather not encouraging state of play of the political negotiations in Geneva. We are seeing clearly an escalation on the ground. We remain probably among the few voices of reason and common sense, calling for the full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution , inviting all, and in particular Russia, Iran and Turkey to work - as they started to do - for the de-escalation zones. We believe that the international community, and for sure the European Union is among these forces, should continue to work for a cessation of hostilities and full humanitarian access for all those in need. The trends we are seeing on the ground go in the opposite direction. We will never stop raising our voice to call for an end of the hostilities and the beginning of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. We see at the moment the regime not engaging in that process and we believe it is clearly necessary for that to happen.
We also used this discussion to prepare together with Staffan de Mistura the Brussels II Conference [on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region] on the 24 and 25 April, that the European Union will co-chair together with the United Nations, and that will first and foremost mobilise pledges to support Syrians both inside Syria and in the neighbouring countries, so with humanitarian work. The European Union is and continues to be the first donor for Syrians. We are the ones trying to save lives, together with United Nations, but we want the rest of the world to do its part as well on the humanitarian access. This does not only mean pledges; this also means access to places where the aid is urgently needed.
But secondly, we would like to use the Brussels II Conference to send a clear message from the international community that the fighting has to stop and the political process has to start. You can win the war; you can hardly win the peace if you do not set up a system of inclusiveness in the country, that is based on a comprehensive political agreement. We will continue to insist on that and we will use the leverage we have, in particular the economic leverage, to remind the Assad regime but also Russia, Iran and Turkey that without a political outcome in Geneva, the European Union - and I believe also the rest of the international community - will not contribute to any reconstruction of the country. We will limit ourselves to the very much needed humanitarian support; the economic reconstruction from our side will not start if a solid process of a political transition is not in place under UN auspices.
We then moved to a more positive point on the agenda, a glimpse of hope I defined it together with the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea [Kang Kyung-wha]. We discussed the perspectives of talks with the DPRK. I said a few words about that already just before our working lunch, so I can be brief on that and leave more space for your questions. I was particularly pleased to welcome her, to see that she accepted our invitation. And we discussed together with the 28 Foreign Ministers the ways in which the European Union can support the efforts of both President [of South Korea] Moon [Jae-in] and all the government to engage in a dialogue with the DPRK for a full, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
We finally addressed once again Iran: restating our full support to the full implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran. Just last Friday we chaired a positive Joint Commission [of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - JCPOA] in Vienna where all parties recommitted to the full implementation of the agreement. We assessed once again with the 28 Member States that we attach strategic importance to the full implementation of the agreement by all parties. It is for us a matter of security, for Europe and for the rest of the world. And obviously there are issues like Syria or Yemen, on which we have very critical positions on Iran moves, but we are determined to address them outside of the scope of the nuclear agreement.
We are united both on the need to preserve the JCPOA and on the need to address regional issues with Iran through dialogue. Also, as you know very well, those of you that follow this closely, we do have a sanctions regime in place with Iran – sanctions that are not nuclear-related and are related to other issues. The point today was not to discuss that. The point today was to re-state our unity in the expectations that all parties continue to fulfil their obligations and their commitments under the JCPOA.
I hope I did not miss any of the points. It was, as you see, a very intense day where I was glad to see again the unity of the European Union and our capacity to interact with the key players, be it the United Nations or partners like the Republic of Korea.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I152525
Q: We understood this morning that there is a difference between your statement and the ones of Mr [Yves] LeDrian [Foreign Affairs Minister of France] and Mr [Didier] Reynders [Foreign Affairs Minister of Belgium] on further sanctions against Iran. Do we understand that the conditions are not yet mature for this kind of step? And is it possible to expect that before the deadline of 12 May, because everybody has in mind Mr [Donald] Tump's [President of the United States] deadline?
FM: Here we are the European Union and we work on our deadlines, on our timeline and on our priorities, making clear which are our strategic priorities. And our clear strategic priority is to continue with the good implementation that was certified ten times by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). We all recognised that this is the case, including our American friends - last time was on Friday during an E3+3 or 5+1 meeting together with Iran [meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission]. I always say you might hear different tones, different accents - diversity is one of the richnesses of Europe and we value it.
The important thing is that we come out with common positions, common actions and unity of purpose. Having different declarations or different statements or different accents is not a problem, but it is a tool we have, because we can sing with different voices, but we sing the same song. And this is what is important. Today, as I said, we did not discuss further sanctions. Today we discussed the need to have a common work towards different players, different parties to the agreement and to keep the full implementation [of the agreement].
This means that we have a major interest in keeping Iran fully compliant with the JCPOA. This is the first objective we have: to continue to have Iran implementing all its nuclear-related obligations under the Nuclear Deal, but also to keep our American friends fully committed to the agreement.
This is the conversation we have had with the Ministers today, together with the fact that we are very much willing to address other issues that are not in the scope of the JCPOA separately, namely the situation in Syria that we discussed separately; the situation in Yemen that we discussed separately. On this, different points of view, divergences with Iran are not a mystery and are not new - there are consolidated differences we have and that we address in a different set-up, not in the context of the nuclear deal implementation mechanism.
I can tell you I registered unity around the table about this - about the need to keep and preserve the nuclear agreement and to do all we can to keep all parties committed to the full implementation of the agreement. Also starting to prepare, in case it will be needed, to protect European interests in case other decisions are taken elsewhere.
Q: On the Salisbury attack: Germany and France have made it clear they share the assessment of the British government on responsibility of Russia for the attack. Why was it not possible for the Foreign Ministers to be as clear on this matter as for example Germany and France have been?
FM: Different Member States released different statements, most of them actually at the level of Heads of State and Government, so I would expect that the European Council leaders this week will also address this issue. We were meeting two weeks after the attack and it is only normal that national language, national consolidated language, was different from country to country. It might also depend on the fact that maybe different intelligence services have different relations to the British intelligence service bilaterally.
But what constitutes a common European basis - and that I think is reflected well in the text we adopted today and that was welcomed by Boris Johnson - is that the assessment of the United Kingdom that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible is taken extremely seriously by the European Union. And I imagine that this is based on the fact that different Member States have different degrees of vicinity, or sharing, or exchanges of information with the UK.
But several political points are clear in this statement: First, the unity of the European Union. I think that many were betting that we would have faced divisions and difficulties. It took us less than one hour to have a full round of interventions, expressing solidarity and agreeing on a text among 28 Member States. Second, the full solidarity and the full condemnation of the attack, but also the full solidarity of the European Union and its Member States, the commitment to continue to focus on this issue and its implications.
I think this was a clear test of unity and solidarity with, by the way, a Member State that is in the process of leaving the Union. It is I think even more valuable and important to reaffirm our unity in this context. If somebody wanted to try and divide us, I think this is clearly not the case.
Q. On Ukraine, there were some reports that some Member States share the view that the EU should be more decisive in keeping Ukraine on track on its reform path, because there is some risk of backsliding. Could you tell me what was discussed by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and in what direction?
FM: Definitely so. We discussed our support for the reform process in Ukraine. We recognised that there were several reforms adopted, especially at the end of last year, that were extremely relevant. I can mention the energy reform, the pension reform, and several others, but there are some other fields where, yes, work has been done but we would like to see more determination.
We also know that encouraging reforms is one thing, doing reforms back home is a different thing; it is more difficult especially in a country that is facing a conflict on its own territory and that is entering an electoral year. We know that very well. But still, we expressed - and I personally expressed very openly both to the President [of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko] and the Prime Minister of Ukraine [Volodymyr Groysman] the need that especially the anti-corruption work continues with the establishment of a High Anti-Corruption Court, with the lifting of the necessity for NGOs and civil activists to do the e-declaration and several other steps that we see are necessary to consolidate reforms that are not needed for the European Union, but are needed and asked for by the Ukrainian citizens.
This is also a way to invest in the Ukrainian resilience, because the stronger results Ukrainian citizens will see in the fields of anti-corruption, rule of law, in the economic development of the country, the stronger the institutions will be in the face of the conflict in the east. So yes, we definitely discussed the state of play of the implementation of reforms in terms of encouraging, supporting and also working towards a conference dedicated exactly to the reform agenda in Ukraine that will be held in Copenhagen - if I am not wrong - on 27 June.
Q. You mentioned two non-nuclear issues. On ballistic missiles, Iran has made it perfectly clear on countless occasions that it will not discuss the matter outside of a regional framework that simply does not exist. On Iran's role in Syria, you have just described how depressing the situation is there. You wrote to Iran as one of the Astana sponsors last month. As of Friday - I do not know if this has changed - you did not have a response. So, is it not logical to conclude that the only actual way that the EU can address these two separate non-nuclear problems, must in some way run through non-nuclear sanctions? On Russia: the statement very clearly drew out the desire, the need for Russia to cooperate with the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] and with the broader probe. Would it be a decent hunch to suggest that whatever action the EU takes in the coming weeks - I think the UK did not ask for anything specific yet - but will be linked to Russia's reaction to that request?
FM: On the second question, it is not that I do not want to answer, I leave it to further reflection. This is the state of play of our discussion today with Boris Johnson and, as I said, this is a statement agreed by 28 [Member States], which means also by the United Kingdom, and that is a reflection of our work so far. I think it is important as the OPCW inspectors are today - if I am not wrong - in the United Kingdom. It is even more important to send the right message at the right time. Obviously, further messages could come; we state in the statement that we will remain focused on that issue, including its implications. As I said, the European Council will meet later this week and I guess Theresa May will take the opportunity to brief Heads of State or Government on that occasion. I can obviously share with the Heads of State or Government in that context the discussion we have had with the Foreign Ministers, but as I told you, it has been a discussion focused mainly on solidarity and the common approach.
On the first question, you mentioned the issue of ballistic missiles, which are for us a crucial element. You also mentioned the fact that apparently Iran will be willing to discuss in a regional framework that is not there. Many things were not there and now are there. Things and conditions could change with a bit of work, a lot of work. So never say never. But regardless of the regional framework, the issue of ballistic missiles is an issue that we constantly raise with Iran and, again, separately from the nuclear-related issues. It is a matter of disagreement.
You mentioned Syria and indeed I would say that most of the talks I have with [Mohammad Javad] Zarif [Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran] are actually about Syria. As Europeans we attach the outmost importance to finding a solution to the conflict. Sometimes I feel that we and the United Nations are the only ones left in the world insisting for a political solution to the conflict. But we will never give up on that. We will never give up to the idea that there is a military solution on the ground that dictates the setup of Syria that would not stand on its own feet the day after. So it is not out of naiveté, but out of realism, if we insist on the need for a political agreement, because we know how difficult it is to build the peace after the military victory. And it might prove to be a costly and dangerous exercise for whoever thinks of a military victory on the ground.
But you did not mention one issue on which maybe we could have some opening: Yemen. We have, as I think you know, a high level political dialogue with Iran where we address regional issues, as well as human rights issues - that seems not to be so much of a priority for others, but for us it stays a priority. And we have human rights related sanctions in place on Iran, as you know. We decided together with Iran to deepen our political dialogue between the European Union and Iran on regional issues. We started with Yemen, we had a first fruitful meeting in Munich that brought some positive movements, still to be consolidated and expanded. But I have seen and we have all seen a sense of direction there. So, as you can see, it is true there is never the guarantee that dialogue can produce results, but sometimes it happens. We are determined to follow that line.
Having said that, as I mentioned, the European Union has already in place quite a heavy sanction regime on Iran, non-nuclear related, for different reasons, for different chapters. And this is also the result of a common European Union decision taken in the previous years. But, again, this was not the focus of today's meeting. Today's meeting was focusing mainly on the need to preserve and protect a nuclear agreement that is working and that, if disrupted, would create an additional security threat and concern in the region. And we definitely do not need that.
Q: On the attack in Salisbury: would you envision that sanctions could be also a response that we could do in the case of Russia if we determine who the responsible people are? Has the UK asked the EU to do some similar diplomatic moves?
FM: What do you see is the result of the discussion we had initiated with a good briefing that Boris Johnson shared with us and I would like to thank him for the personal work he has put into this, for the excellent cooperation we have had in this last week. Since the very first day we were in contact on the phone. And, as the statement clearly says, we decided to stay focused on this issue and its implications, which obviously are to be followed up. There are no other elements that I can share with you at this stage.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I152526