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I just met with the Foreign Ministers of France (Jean-Yves Le Drian), Germany (Heiko Maas), the United Kingdom (Boris Johnson) and of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mohammad Javad Zarif) this afternoon and this evening, in two separate meetings, to discuss our common lines and the work ahead of us, following the announcement made by the United States of its withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal.
We recalled our commitment to the continued, full and effective implementation of the Iran nuclear deal that was unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, as a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and a significant diplomatic achievement.
We, together, regretted the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran nuclear deal and we recognised that the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions and the normalisation of trade and economic relations with Iran constitute essential parts of the agreement.
We stressed the commitment we all share to ensure that this will continue to be delivered and we agreed to this end to deepen our dialogue at all levels.
By the way, our experts were working together already today for many hours.
We undertook, in particular, to launch intensive expert discussions - that, as I said, have already started today - with Iran, addressing the following issues with a view to arriving at practical solutions in the next few weeks:
Maintaining and deepening economic relations with Iran;
The continued sale of Iran's oil and gas condensate petroleum products and petrochemicals and related transfers;
Effective banking transactions with Iran;
Continued sea, land, air and rail transportation relations with Iran;
The further provision of export credit and development of special purpose vehicles in financial banking, insurance and trade areas, with the aim of facilitating economic and financial cooperation, including by offering practical support for trade and investment;
The further development and implementation of Memoranda of Understanding and contracts between European companies and Iranian counterparts;
Further investments in Iran;
The protection of European Union economic operators and ensuring legal certainty:
And last but not least, the further development of a transparent, rules-based business environment in Iran.
We reaffirmed together our resolve to continue to implement the nuclear deal in all its parts, in good faith, and in a constructive atmosphere, and we agreed to continue to consult intensively at all levels and also with other remaining participants of the Joint Commission to the JCPOA.
We will also hold a Joint Commission meeting in Vienna next week at the level of Deputy Foreign Ministers or Political Directors - which is the usual level at which the Joint Commission meets - and obviously in the coming days we will continue to work along these lines following the good exchanges we had today, during the day and during the evening.
All in all it was a positive meeting. It allowed us to agree on a common set of lines of action and measures to put in place on which we will, as I said, start working as of tomorrow - some of the work has already started.
I will brief the [weekly meeting of the] College of the [European] Commission tomorrow morning on this. In particular, we will discuss some of the aspects of these measures that refer to work done at the level of the European Commission.
We also decided that EU Member States - starting with the E3 but also other Member States - will work on complementary mechanisms and measures, not only so as to go at the European Union level but also at national level to, in particular, protect the economic operators of the EU Member States. And I will have the opportunity to also brief the Heads of State or Government of the 28 EU Member States tomorrow evening at the leaders' dinner that we will have in Sofia. The E3 leaders will also be present and we will have, I believe, at that moment a first exchange also with the other 25 Member States.
Let me stress that the implementation of the JCPOA is also on the agenda of our next Foreign Affairs Council in some 10 days from now [on 28 May 2018]. So the Foreign Ministers of all the 28 Member States will have - at the latest at that stage - the possibility of working together on common work along these and similar lines.
Q: You listed a number of measures. What are they? Are they promises? Pledges? Things that we will do or things that both sides are aspiring or have set as objectives to do? And is there any guarantee that you can offer that you can even maintain the same level of trade as Europe currently has with Iran in the coming months and years?
That is the aim we have. The list of issues I have mentioned are the issues we have decided to address with the aim at arriving at practical solutions. So this is not a set of measures, this is a quite wide and broad set of issues that we see a need to address and on which we have decided to start working - actually the work has started today already - working together in a closely coordinated manner, including, I want to stress, with other Member States, to arrive at practical solutions within the next few weeks. So it is issues that we see the need to address and on which we will work together to find practical solutions in a short amount time.
The practical solutions we would be working on - and we are working on - are obviously of a different nature depending on the different issues we are talking about. I am sure that as the days go by you [press and media] will have technical debriefs on the substance of the different strands of work. But again, already now we have a quite clear list of issues to address.
The issue of what we can ensure or guarantee is something I want to address very clearly. We are operating in a very difficult context and this is something the European people know, the Iranian people know, the leaderships know. It is a difficult environment after exactly this time last week we heard President [of the United States, Donald] Trump's announcement.
Having said that, we are determined to ensure that the JCPOA stays in place. We know it is a difficult task, but we are determined to do that and we have started to work to put in place measures that help to ensure that this happens. This is true on the European side and we have seen the same willingness and determination on the Iranian side.
So I probably cannot talk about legal or economic guarantees, but I can talk about serious, determined, and committed work from the European side - also from the Iranian side - to keep our commitments. And normally when we work together - committed, determined, with good faith and good will, even in difficult circumstances - we get to some achievements.
Q: Do you think that you will be able to reach a conclusion within the remaining time? Do you think that it is possible to have an extension of this time? What will be the outcome of these negotiations - will it be a statement or a written text? Will there be provisions added as an attachment to the deal?
We are we working on finding practical solutions. The agreement is complex enough, long enough, detailed enough. It does not need to be changed, modified or have any addition. Everything is already written there.
We simply committed to fully comply with all the commitments taken there, which means for the Iranian side the nuclear-related commitments, and from our side and from the side of the rest of the international community, in particular the commitments related to the economic benefits the Iranian people need to see as an outcome of their own implementation of the Iran deal.
So, we are not talking about annexes or modifications of the agreement at all; we are talking about setting up concrete measures, concrete practical solutions to address these issues, which could take different forms depending on the different issues covered - but something very concrete, very practical and hopefully very operational and very quickly.
About the timing, as I said, we have already started the work, actually even before today. Today the experts exchanged for many hours in a very productive manner and we will continue this work both at the Commission level with the Member States, starting tomorrow evening to share the state of play with all the 28 Member States' Heads of State or Government. Capitals in the European Union will obviously look at how to complement European mechanisms or solutions we could find. The speed of the process is and has to be fast. I cannot tell you two days, two weeks or more, but we talked about the need to do this exercise in the next few weeks.
Q. Did the Iranian side give you a timeframe that it considers to be a minimum to find solutions and did it indicate what would happen if the solutions you talked about are not found in time? Is the blocking statute on the agenda from the EU's perspective?
On the blocking statute, I would expect to discuss this already tomorrow in the [weekly meeting of the] College [of the European Commission].
On the issue of the timing, there was no unpleasant negotiating style exercise among us. We all share the same objective related to the full implementation of the JCPOA.
We have many other disagreements on many other fields, but tonight the focus was on the JCPOA implementation. So, in this respect, it was a very constructive, positive meeting, indicating on all sides the awareness of the urgency of finding solutions, not for the sake of a calendar, but because if we want to save this deal - which is not an easy exercise - we know that the sooner we manage to do it, the better and the easier it will be.
Again, it will not be easy, but if I can use the metaphor that some raised around the table, we all have a relative in intensive care and we all want to get him or her out of intensive care as soon as possible.
Q. In case these steps that you’ve discussed are successful, would you imagine that this will open further negotiations with Iran on the conflict issues like ballistic missiles, the future of the nuclear deal and Iran's intervention in Middle East conflicts.
One thing that is very clear to all of us Europeans is that with the nuclear deal in place we have a better chance to address any other issue we have to address with Iran, be it missiles, be it regional issues.
We are very clear on the fact that there is no connection between the two; the nuclear deal was reached and is working exactly because it is nuclear-related - that was a decision taken fifteen or sixteen years ago, and we stay true to our commitments that are in this context, nuclear-related.
Obviously, this doesn't exclude all the other issues we discussed with Iran and that we need to address with Iran in a separate manner. We have always been clear on this: that there are more chances, more possibilities to open avenues for discussions with Iran on other issues, if the Iran nuclear deal stays in place rather than not.
We will see what will happen in the future. You know that for us Europeans it is very important to address also other issues. Tonight, the main goal is to save the Iran deal and to preserve all its provisions.
We believe that without that in place, it would be very difficult to have any basis for talking or negotiating anything else. On the contrary, that could be a good basis for the future, but the future is the future.