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Bucharest, 31 January 2019
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First of all, let me say that we will have a particularly intense agenda with the Ministers these two days. We will start with a discussion with the Ministers on the Eastern Partnership. It is a very important priority for the Romanian Presidency, it is also a very important priority for the European Union as a whole. We will celebrate this year ten years of Eastern Partnership, with positive developments we have seen - also with some difficulties that remain. So it would be a good opportunity for us to discuss how to not only celebrate, but also move forward our partnership with our Eastern friends.
Then we will have a point on Venezuela that I have introduced in the agenda following the developments in Caracas. First of all, let me reiterate here what I have just said in the press room with the Defence Minister [of Romania, Gabriel Leş]: our clear request for the release of your colleagues - journalists that have been arrested in Caracas these hours. We expect them to be released immediately. As you know, for the European Union it is extremely important that journalists are supported and most of all that they are free in the exercise of their work. The European Union will always stand on that side, and in this specific moment our request is for them to be immediately released.
We will discuss with the Ministers our position on Venezuela. Our position is actually already very clear and very much united. You have seen it on repeated occasions, most recently with the declaration we released last Saturday, where we clearly call for new elections that have to be fair, free and supervised in a different manner than before. So it is clear where we stand. We strongly support the role of the legitimate institution – that being the National Assembly – the role of its President [Juan Guaidó]. And we have seriously put in question from the beginning the results of the elections last year – so much so that, as you know, the European Ambassadors did not attend the inauguration of [Nicolás] Maduro in the beginning of January.
Our position is extremely clear, and I would say outspoken, we even have sanctions in place. Having said that, the European approach has always been this: clarity of positions, clarity of requests, pressure as well, but also the opening of political spaces and channels.
This is why we have kept channels open with all different stakeholders of the political crisis in Venezuela. And we will discuss today with the Ministers the initiative that the European Union has taken to establish an International Contact Group with countries of the European Union and of Latin America, and close contacts also with other partners, in particular, the UN Secretary-General [Antonio Guterres] and the five other countries that are interested in following these events.
I might talk to you more about this later during the day.
We will also have two other very important points on the agenda. Later today, a point on Syria: we have seen developments on the ground, we have seen developments in the position of some of the key stakeholders and their presence in the crisis.
We are preparing for the Third Brussels Conference in support of Syrians and the region. We will discuss with Ministers the preparation for that and further steps we might take, both on the support of the political process in the UN framework, and on the humanitarian support we are giving.
Then, we will be joined by the Foreign Ministers of the candidate countries - this is a tradition we have established since I began my mandate. To be joined by them in parts of our discussions, I think, is extremely valuable. And I would like to thank the Romanian Presidency for their strong support to this approach. So with the candidate countries we will discuss in particular our relations with China and that is for tomorrow morning. We will also discuss China among Member States only.
This is the menu for these two days - particularly full. So, if you do not mind I would come back in particular on the issue of Venezuela later during the day.
Q: Is it worthwhile bypassing US sanctions against Iran and does it not maybe put at risk on transatlantic relations?
A word on Iran, with pleasure as always. I think you know that a formal announcement is to be expected by my colleagues from France, Germany and the UK in a couple of hours. You will see my formal reaction to that, which would be one of strong welcome and support to the establishment of the Special Purpose Vehicle. This was decided back in the end of September at the margins of the UN General Assembly, when we had the last Ministerial meeting for the full implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran.
The European Union is fully behind the full implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran. For the simple reason that we see it is working. There are 13 reports now by the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] certifying that Iran is fully compliant with its nuclear commitment. And we believe this is a key element of our security in the region.
The nuclear deal with Iran has also an economic component that derives from the lifting of the sanctions related to nuclear activities. The European Union has other sanctions in place but that is a different story. And so this step that France, Germany and the UK are going to announce in a few hours, which is the establishment of the Special Purpose Vehicle, is, I believe, the mechanism that will allow for legitimate trade to Iran to continue, as foreseen in the nuclear agreement. So full support from our side.
And we are discussing also with our American friends about this and about other regional issues. I talked to [US Secretary of State, Mike] Pompeo just two days ago, including of our good transatlantic relations. So I do not see the danger for that.
Q: Is it more clear now for the European Union to recognise [Juan Gerardo] Guaidó?
The European Union has always had a very clear position on Venezuela. As I said, none of our Ambassadors went to the inauguration of [Nicolás] Maduro. And this is, I think, already a very clear signal. Having said that, we have kept our diplomatic presence in Caracas to have contacts with everybody. And, as I mentioned, I released a very clear and very carefully worked statement that represents all the 28 Member States. So the conversation will continue with Member States today. I will tell you more about the decisions and further steps to be taken in the course of the afternoon. Thank you.