Moderator: This is a kind of perfect Segway to the Middle East. In a context where we are not only seeing withdrawal of the US, we are seeing greater Russian assertiveness in place like Syria but beyond that we see greater polarisation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and we saw what happened in Lebanon over the past few weeks with the (forced) resignation, not (forced) resignation of the Prime Minister of Lebanon, at the same time we have a situation in Syria where the current President seems to be staying: so, what role do you see for the EU in a situation where the kind of political processes that are being put in place may actually set us on a path to greater instability rather than greater stability?
I think the role of the European Union in the Middle East is quite clear. We have a traditional role there, that is the one that is often given for granted, the humanitarian one. I start from that because if you look at the amount of money - sorry if I get to trivial things – that the European Union and its Member States are putting into for instance assisting Syrians, both inside Syria and in other countries, it is probably more than the double of what all the rest of the world together has put into that. And this is not charity, this is a way of guaranteeing that Syrians survive because there will be no Syria without Syrians. And now, after so many years of war – and still the war is continuing – we have to remember that the fighting in some areas of Syria is still going on, still awful, still targeting civilians, and things are not back to normal. They are improving in certain areas, and this is good news. But the war is not over. We are not there yet. There are areas under siege, there are civilians under attack, and the first concern of the European Union is always the people. Some call us naïve, but for us, the value of life, of people comes first, always.
So, I start from that. We are the biggest humanitarian donor, and our role including in the Middle East – this is also true for other areas of the world – is first of all to keep people alive, to guarantee that people have access to education –children-, health assistance, food and water, and that their life continues, first. Again, somebody said “you are just a humanitarian player”- well, that's people, that's people's life, first.
Second, we have a fundamental role on the economic side. I remember, I think last year I was sitting here with Staffan [de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria] discussing the situation in Syria. And a lot of things has changed since then. But what has not changed is this idea we have developed together with the United Nations and with many others, and many of them I see in the room, of starting to prepare for peace in Syria, and the future of Syria and the region. The strongest possible leverage the Europeans can put on the table of the political process in Syria is again – sorry if I go back to trivial things – the money. A country like Syria, and the region, and the neighbours that have been hosting so many refugees for so many years, the local communities, would need an enormous amount of economic resources to restart normal life when peace will be reached. And again, I stress, we are not there yet.
We have started last year with the Brussels Conference that has now turned into a Brussels process; we will have a second conference in April 2018. And we will continue, because the reconstruction and the rehabilitation of Syria will last probably for years, when it will start. We have started this work to prepare the international community – the region but also the Syrian players – to look at ways in which we can start to support local reconciliation processes, local rehabilitation, the delivery of services, the going back to normal life in some areas where this is possible. And where is it? First, where the fighting has stopped and the ceasefire has started to work, the de-escalation zones. There are not many of them. And I would like to see the three guarantors of the Astana process – Turkey, Russia and Iran – to deliver more on what they have already started to achieve, in terms of bringing down the violence, but we need to see more of that. So, in areas where the situation comes down from the military point of view, in areas where political reconciliation and sharing of power start and communities come together, and the plurality of the identity of the Syrian people is recognised and welcomed. We can start financing the going back to normal life. It's not humanitarian, it's not yet the reconstruction – the reconstruction money will come at least from the European Union and the international community at large - only when a peace agreement will be reached in Geneva under the UN auspices. And that will require an enormous amount of resources.
But in between, if the de-escalation zones manage to bring calm to areas, we can start helping Syrians to have normal lives again. This would require a political environment that makes it possible to happen. And here – I would like to say – the role of United Nations is key. I know you heard [Foreign] Minister [of Iran, Mohammad Javad] Zarif yesterday and I think you will hear [Foreign] Minister [of the Russian Federation, Sergey] Lavrov this afternoon; a lot of talks about Sochi. I think that anyone that can bring any of the political players in Syria to come to Syria's negotiations on the future and on the transition in Syria, the future constitution, the elections, is very much welcome to do so. But, it has to be clear – to use a sentence that in Rome is quite popular – all roads lead to Geneva. And, that the political process is a UN-led process, that needs to deliver there.
Otherwise the credibility, the legitimacy and the sustainability of any outcome would simply not be there. We need to show the Syrians that we are able, as international community, to unite forces, and ask them to find ways of living together. I think it is not impossible, and I am quite encouraged by the round of talks that Staffan [de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria] has had in these hours in Geneva. We need to make clear that this is not a game, this is not a chessboard, where what is important is who has more influence over the other. This is a war with victims on the ground, with hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed, and with the country destroyed, and with the region close to be destroyed. So, we have to be responsible in Syria and understand that anyone that can contribute to finding a political solution has to come together under the UN umbrella and help that process to deliver.
Moderator: Can you mention a few words on Lebanon?
I was meeting my Lebanese friends these days and they were saying – I don't know if this is an international saying but we found out that it's a Lebanese saying and an Italian saying, and Lebanon and Italy have many things in common, we understand each other well - Lebanon is like a cat, nine lives and probably many more. And like cats, you always land on feet, luckily. Because Lebanon could have been, and could be as always, the place where the EU sees and reads the entire dynamics of the region. If Lebanon finds its way it's because the region manages to live together. I would not go further than that, live together. Whenever there is a crisis in Lebanon, it's because the entire region is dragging into a major crisis.
And I was very worried over the last weeks, and I am very relieved and very happy that Prime Minister [of Lebanon, Saad] Hariri is back to Beirut. And that political parties, political forces, institutions, are joining in unity, which I know is a very difficult unity. But that's life, that's Lebanon, that's politics - we don't expect this to be easy. But, the fact that everybody is restarting to make institutions work – I understand that there would be normal work of institutions as of next weeks. I think that's an extremely important thing, also because – let me be very frank, I visited Lebanon many times in these three years now and in this position, and obviously before also many times as an Italian minister – we finally got to the point this year, earlier this year, that a government was in place, and the cabinet was regularly meeting, an electoral reform was passed, a budget law was passed, the Parliament was working, the President was elected. After many years of stalemate, which still was allowing Lebanon to continue to function, because this is the magic of Lebanon. But finally we managed to have institutions in place, and working institutions in place - it would have been a disaster to see this going back.
I think that Lebanon has the wisdom and Lebanese political forces and people have the wisdom to understand that their policy of distancing themselves from regional conflicts is a wise one, that needs to be supported by all - and I see all supporting this, I think this is extremely important - to preserve the unique mix of everything that Lebanon is. And I think it is going to be essential in the coming days and weeks and months, heading to elections in Spring  that the international community – starting from the European Union – will continue to support Lebanon on its way of wisdom, restraint and focus on the Lebanese people's priorities. I think it can be done. And I think that in the coming days we will have also further occasions to discuss about this together.
Moderator: When we look at the Iran deal, clearly it has been a top priority for the EU, what can you do to salvage it if the US imposes snap-back sanctions in January?
The nuclear deal we achieved with Iran is a key security priority for Europe, and for the region. President Trump mentioned in his speech on the US’ Iran Strategy that the Unites States will consult with allies on the way forward. And the message we have sent as the European Union and its Member States, all 28 extremely united, is this: preserving the nuclear deal with Iran and its full implementation, in all its parts, by all, is a key security priority for Europe. That is the starting point. Not because we are particularly friends; the deal has been negotiated and finalised in a way that actually contains so many provisions and so many elements of control with the most intrusive of system of verification from the IAEA [International Atomic Economic Agency] exactly because there was not trust when we had the agreement. And this is 104 pages of detailed elements on every single aspect of nuclear activities. So anyone that thinks about renegotiating one chapter or another paragraph or line simply does not know what kind of box it is opening; every single word is linked to the previous and the next one and is something that was negotiated with an excellent technical team – and I have to say a word of praise for the European Union team that physically drafted every single word of the agreement-; simply does not understand the complexity of that.
So no possibility of renegotiating parts of it, even partially; it is a key priority for us to keep its full implementation. This is the message that I delivered to President Rouhani several times, last time in August during my visit to Tehran for his inauguration ceremony, and this is the message I am bringing to Washington: Europeans expect everybody to stay compliant with the agreement and to fulfil their commitment in full. This deal does not belong to one or another, it is a UN Security Council Resolution – to be technically right, an annex to an UN Security Council Resolution -; so you cannot get out of the deal, you cannot dismantle the deal. You can decide not to implement a UN Security Council resolution, and this is sovereign choice, but the deal is part of the UN system and is an international agreement. I was mentioning we just had the European Union-African Union Summit in Abidjan: the African Union was one of the first ones to release a statement after the announcement by President Trump of his decision not to certify, saying that the African Union expects the nuclear deal with Iran to stay. And they are not part to the agreement; but it belongs to the international community, and because it is working.
The IAEA has confirmed 9 times that Iran is fully compliant with all the commitments. So the deal is there to stay, does not belong to one or another but it requires commitment for all to be implemented. First of all from Iran, and again my message has always been very clear: as Europeans we except Iranian authorities to continue to fulfil strictly to the full implementation of the deal. And there are other things that we can discuss that are not under the scope of the agreement. The agreement was decided to be purely on nuclear issues; what is right, was it wrong, that is an historical debate now because the decision back 14 years ago was to limit the negotiations to purely nuclear related issues. Personally I would have probably thought that it would have been a good entry point to discuss also regional issues, because at the end of the day the problem is that the Middle East at large and the Gulf require to develop their own security architecture that makes it possible for neighbours to live together even if they don’t like each other, as we Europeans have done for decades, including the Cold War. This was not the choice made back then, it was decided to limit negotiations to purely nuclear aspects and now this is what we have. But dismantling an agreement that is working on nuclear related issues would not put any of us in a better position to discuss all the rest; regional dynamics, conflicts, missile programmes development and things like that.
Preserve the deal, keep what is working and let work in the same cooperative manner, which does not mean trust but finding the common grounds, on the rest.