Mr President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
First of all, let me thank the European Parliament for its ongoing concern about the situation in the two countries that are featured in this debate as well as in the wider region. It is not an understatement to say that the recent tensions in Iraq and in the surrounding region have the potential to erase the hard-won progress of recent years, thereby affecting the lives of millions of people.
Mr President, allow me to begin this debate by stating one thing very clearly: I am committed as High Representative, and as the EU, we are committed all of us to working to stop the current cycle of violence in Iraq, which must cease before it spirals out of control once again. This is also why I convened an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council on Friday, coming back from Croatia sooner than expected, from which I received a strong mandate to carry out all necessary diplomatic efforts to contribute to the de-escalation in the region, support political dialogue and promote a political regional solution, these are the precise words of the conclusion of the Council. The Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission have also been fully engaged in the de-escalation efforts. And this is how it should be.
Mr President, Honourable Members,
During the past six weeks, in fact already since last year we have seen an increasing escalation of tensions in Iraq. This culminated in the killing of Iranian General QassemSoleimani in a US drone attack, followed by attacks by Iran against bases in Iraq housing troops fighting Da’esh, which thankfully did not harm anyone.
While it may appear as if – for the moment - the current situation will not escalate further, we – and I personally - have since the very beginning of this crisis been active in urging calm, restraint and de-escalation to all of the relevant parties inside and outside the region: from Iran to Iraq, to the UAE, to the United States, Turkey, Russia, China and others. We want to ensure that everyone with influence uses that influence to good effect and that we reach a temporary calm.
Why are we so concerned about the current crisis, and how can it affect the region? Well, the current situation in Iraq, and the risk of further military escalation, could jeopardise the substantial achievements in stability and in particular the fight against Da’esh in recent years. The current situation could generate a number of dangerous consequences: the resumption of Da’esh would have a catastrophic humanitarian impact, possibly leading to a dramatic increase in the number of displaced persons. We must avoid this at all costs, and for this to occur, preserving the achievements the Global Coalition has won collectively in the fight against Da’esh is imperative. Such a situation would also risk diverting attention from the necessary political reforms that Iraq must undertake, starting with government formation, because they are still a caretaker government, and the need to tackle essential social challenges, including fighting corruption.
We have already invested significantly in Iraq's stability, reconstruction and development, with a financial support of more than €1.2 billion since 2014. This has focused on humanitarian aid; support for internally displaced persons, stabilisation in the liberated areas, civilian security sector reform through the CSDP EU Assistance Mission (EUAM), and supporting good governance and job creation.
We need to make sure - with our continued support - that the reforms legitimately demanded by the Iraqi citizens are delivered promptly also bearing in mind the global commitments taken in Kuwait on February 2018 at the Reconstruction Conference held there. On this the EU is fully delivering on the pledges we made with over €400 million mobilised in the last two years to support governance, reforms and promote sustainable job creation and inclusive growth.
Honourable Members, the situation in Iran is also something that we continue to follow closely. We have had a number of tragic incidents; the Ukraine International Airlines plane crash on 8 January which killed all 176 on board, including a high number of EU citizens. Iran has now taken responsibility for this crash. As I said in my statement on 11 January, this was a deplorable tragedy, and once again, I want to extend my condolences to the victims’ families and we expect that Iran will continue to cooperate fully and undertake a comprehensive and transparent investigation.
Within the same week, 59 people died in a stampede on 6 January during the funeral ceremonies for General Soleimani, and 20 individuals lost their lives on 9 January during a bus accident close to Tehran. I convey also in this case my deepest condolences to all of them.
Honourable Members of Parliament, in the current situation of tension it is more important than ever to keep hold of the instruments that are serving to promote security, and in this context, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the JCPOA) remains crucial for non-proliferation purposes. A failure to preserve the deal will only add tensions in the region. Imagine for a second what would be the situation today if Iran had nuclear weapons. And they would have been able to obtain those without the JCPOA.
On 5 January, Iran announced its fifth and – according to its own announcement - final step in the reduction of its nuclear commitments under the deal. This is a worrisome announcement, but it is important to see what the International Atomic Energy Agency reports on how Iran implements this step. As the Coordinator of the JCPOA, I have been in touch with all the participants on the diplomatic way forward, seeking to preserve unity in the group.
You will have heard that earlier today, the Foreign Ministers of France [Jean-Yves Le Drian], Germany [Heiko Maas] and the United Kingdom [Dominic Raab] have invoked paragraph 36, the so called Dispute Resolution Mechanism [under the JCPOA] and informed me in my capacity as Coordinator because I believe that Iran is not meeting its nuclear commitments, referring to the five steps that Iran has taken so far.
As Coordinator of the Joint Commission, I will guarantee that the Dispute Resolution Mechanism provides an opportunity to address the issues indicated by France, Germany and the UK. I will oversee this process, and I will be in touch with all the participants on the next steps.
I want to underline here that the Dispute Resolution Mechanism is first and foremost a process to resolve issues related to the deal implementation. The objective of the Dispute Resolution Mechanism will be therefore to find solutions and return to full compliance within the framework of this deal. It is not a matter of puttingsanctions – as I saw some newspapers had been claiming this morning. All remaining participants in the agreement have been clear of their determination to preserve the JCPOA. This unity is crucial and I intend to work hard to preserve it.
Our position, the European Union position, is clear. Without this deal we would lose a crucial element of the international non-proliferation architecture and an important contribution to regional security. A failure to preserve the deal can only add further tensions in the region.
Mr President, the recent escalation we have witnessed has a broader regional dimension. Tensions in Iraq reflect several of the region’s fractures, and have the potential to affect difficult situations elsewhere in the region, from Syria, to Lebanon, to Yemen and beyond. In short, the stakes are extremely high, for Iraq, for the region as a whole, for the world, and of course for us.
In this context, already for months, there have been calls for Europe, for the European Union, to play a bigger role, given we speak to all – all means all – and we are not, as a group, perceived as having a hidden agenda. Our partners see us as standing for dialogue and peaceful and negotiated resolutions of disputes.
As I mentioned at the beginning, last Friday I convened the extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. During the meeting, we once again reaffirmed our call for urgent de-escalation and maximum restraint. We also reaffirmed our steadfast support for Iraq’s unity, independence and territorial integrity, and underlined our commitment to our partnership with Iraq, and to our continued support for the stability and reconstruction of this country. We also underlined our joint determination to preserving the JCPOA, which we strongly believe to be in all our shared interests and in the interest of the region for peace and security. We also were very clear that a durable solution to the ongoing crisis can only be regional, and that we would continue to explore the role that the European Union can play on that.
With the strong backing of the Council and the Commission, I will personally continue to remain engaged on all of these issues, as I said, talking with everybody, travelling everywhere, and I am looking forward to work with you to promote safety, security and prosperity in the region which is strongly and dangerously jeopardised by the last events.
Thank you Mr President, thank you Members.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-182805
Cela a été un ensemble de points de vue tous très intéressants mais très différents. S’il fallait que j’explique la position du Parlement après vous avoir écouté, je ne saurais pas dire laquelle [est la bonne] parce que cela va du blanc au noir et les points de vue sont très différents à propos d’une crise qui est très dangereuse pour nous tous.
D’abord je voulais vous dire que personne n’a abandonné le JCPOA - nobody has abandoned it. It is not [just] me who believes that the JCPOA is essential for our security and that it has to be kept. It is the Foreign Affairs Council and the three [Foreign] Ministers of the E3 [France, Germany and the United Kingdom] who shared this point of view. I know that there is a certain contradiction between the letter that I received signed by the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom [Dominic Raab] and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom [Boris Johnson], saying something quite different from the letter I read. But for me what counts is the letter, which is an official document which has to guide my actions. The British Foreign Secretary said that the action they are proposing is not to abandon the deal and substitute the “Obama deal” with the “Trump deal”. It says that they want to keep the deal alive. What they want is to use this [Dispute Resolution] mechanism, this process, in order to have leverage with Iran.
Nobody has abandoned the nuclear deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency continues to monitor and inspect Iran’s nuclear activities. Let us not forget that the JCPOA is embodied in a United Nations Security Council Resolution [2231 (2015)]. It is not something we have been writing one night here as Europeans. It took 10 years to reach this deal and it was approved by a UN Security Council Resolution, that no one has cancelled. It is still alive. So do not blame me, saying “Mr Borrell you have to change your mind”. I am not coming here to explain my mind but mainly [to explain] what the Foreign Affairs Council has decided after a long debate, and what the letter of the E3 [Foreign] Ministers says.
For sure we are strongly engaged to defend Iraq’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity. And the importance of Iraq’s ownership on the country internal political reform process. And when my colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Council mandated me to do whatever I can, use all the tools of diplomacy and talk with everybody – everybody, I say it again, means everybody – to look for a regional political solution, I understand it is an invitation to keep in touch with the Iraqi government. Immediately after the [extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council] meeting on Friday I kept in touch with the Iraqi government – even if it is a caretaker government – and on Monday the Deputy Foreign Minister of Iraq [Abdel Karim Hashem Mostafa] was here having political consultations with the Secretary General of the European External Action Service [Helga-Maria Schmid] and we agreed that we have to do more.
Someone has asked me how we can do more. Just by developing the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that we signed [in 2012], ratified and that entered into force in 2018. Doing that is doing a lot, it is a lot of work, it has a lot of possibilities. We have a [EU Advisory] mission there, we can reinforce this mission. This Partnership and Cooperation Agreement opens the door to a lot of cooperation on trade, for the economy, Iraq security. And for sure we have to define what we are going to do from the point of view of the defence and security policy with our mission there. Something would be to reinforce it in order to help the Iraqi government to avoid the country falling apart. Because after listening to all of you I understand that you are completely aware of the very dramatic consequences for our security if in Iraq we have a similar crisis than the one we have been witnessing in Syria. That is why in the next weeks or days I will be engaged in diplomatic consultations with the Iraqis and offer our support and our help in order to continue the reform process in this country and avoid losing all the progress that were made in the last years.
We can discuss a lot about what will be the future. But for the time being one thing is clear; Iran is not a nuclear power today thanks to the JCPOA. I do not see how we can build an alternative agreement. I really do not see it. Everybody talks about this deal. Have some of you taken the curiosity of looking at it? It is a [thick] book, full of technicalities that took 10 years to be agreed on. I do not believe it will be easy to build another agreement with the same complexity, dealing with a much more complex and conflictual environment [as it is with] the current situation. That is why I have to insist that for us Europeans, and I am talking of behalf of the Council of Foreign Affairs, we have to do whatever we can in order to make sure this deal survives and for that we have to push and influence the Iranians in order [for them] to fulfil all their commitments.
Let me tell you one thing: the Americans withdrew unilaterally from this deal and the Iranians have been respecting their obligations for 14 months without any kind of counter parts. Now for sure they have said that they do not feel bounded by the constraints of this agreement. But one think is to not feel bounded and another thing is to go on the other side. And there only the International Atomic Energy Agency can tell us how much and when it has happened. That is why we have to rely on the reports of this agency that until now has been a wise testimony of what is happening there.
[We need] more engagement with Iraq and to try to deal with all parts of the nuclear deal in order to keep it alive.
I could talk about the Ukrainian airplane and I could talk and try to answer all the many interesting issues that you have been raising during your interventions, but unfortunately it would be too long. Let me just say thank you for your contributions. I am sure we will continue to deal with these issues in this Parliament.
Link to closing remarks: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-182807