We just finished with the Ministers a very productive, very long day of Council, in which the EU Member States showed full unity on all the files we have been discussing and deciding upon.
I will try to be very short in my introductory remarks, so I can take most of your questions.
You will have seen on Syria we adopted this morning Council conclusions. They are very substantial, very long, very detailed, and they cover our common position and also our common indication for action for the coming weeks in relation to the crisis in Syria, extensively. So I would refer to these conclusions. I would just highlight that there was an unequivocal, strong wish from all Member States to use the Brussels Conference next week as the opportunity to relaunch together with the United Nations the political process to solve the Syrian crisis.
We had a very good discussion with the Ministers on the Iran Nuclear Deal [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA] where we reiterated our strong commitment to continuing the full implementation of the agreement in all its parts, by all. This entails support for the work that in particular France, Germany and the UK are developing with the United States' administration to address some of the concerns that President Trump has expressed, within the framework of the existing agreement. And at the same time working to reassure the rest of the international community, and obviously also the Iranian authorities, on the fact that the European Union not only is committed to the full implementation of the agreement but will also continue to implement fully the agreement in the future, because we see this as a strategic element of our security and also the security of the region.
Obviously this does not mean that other issues that fall beyond the field of competence of the agreement, meaning non-nuclear issues like the situation in Syria that we discuss separately, or the situation in Yemen that we discuss separately, or the human rights issues in Iran that we discuss separately, are not addressed. On the contrary, the European Union is probably the most active player when it comes to dialogue with Iran, but also we have a system of sanctions already in place addressing some of these elements. So we will continue to address these issues, but separately from the JCPOA that we will continue to preserve one hundred per cent.
Fourth and fifth are principles related to engagement. You know that we have started a policy of selective engagement with the Russian Federation in areas where we see a European Union interest to do so, and Member States agreed that this is still a very much valid principle. We need to continue to apply it, mainly in the areas of foreign and security policy: I mentioned the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] - the nuclear deal with Iran, I could mention the Middle East Peace Process, and the work we do in the Quartet [on the Middle East], I could mention Afghanistan, or the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea], or global issues like climate change, environment, migration, counter-terrorism, or cooperation in the Arctic, which is strategically important for Europeans.
Q: On Iran, two questions. First of all, is there a political consensus for new sanctions on Iran by May 12? Secondly, when you were speaking on the work of the E3 with Washington, you expressed support for it, but said you will have to resolve the concerns the Americans have within the framework of the existing agreement. Is that another way of saying that the work that has been done on the sunsets, which you know very well is at the heart of Sunday's discussions, is not welcomed?
FM: First of all, on the sanctions. As I said this morning entering the Council, this was not foreseen to be a decision taken today. Let me stress one thing: the European Union has, as you know very well, a set of sanctions already in place. We have a set of non-nuclear-related sanctions already in place on Iran and we have a set of sanctions related to the Syria conflict. Some of these are overlapping. The proposal that some Member States have put on the table for consideration - and consideration will happen in the coming days or weeks among Member States - is related to the Syria conflict, not to the JCPOA. I want to make it very clear, also because the link between this proposal and the date of 12 May does not stand, this proposal being related to the Syria conflict. One thing is 100 percent clear to all of us: we want to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran. We want to see the full compliance by all to all commitments included in the deal. And this has to stay separate from any other consideration related to regional dynamics, the conflict in Syria, the conflict in Yemen, ballistic missiles, human rights - this might be something less relevant for others, but it is extremely relevant for the European Union. It is absolutely clear for us: the JCPOA has to stay. We will stay committed to its full implementation. We are ready, we stay ready and we continue to stay ready to address other concerns we share with the United States, and others, on some other issues, mainly related to the regional dynamics, but this needs to be addressed outside of the JCPOA. There is no connection between proposals that are related to the war in Syria and the implementation of the JCPOA. When I said that we support the work the E3 [France, Germany, the United Kingdom] are doing with the US administration, this is the reality of fact. This is a work they are trying to do in difficult circumstances, but with all our support, because our aim, our objective is to keep all committed to the full implementation of the agreement. Any effort will need to be made to reach this objective - obviously in the framework of the full implementation of the agreement, otherwise we would be contradicting ourselves.
As you know very well, I never refer to a sunset clause, the agreement does not have a sunset clause. The agreement contains different provisions that have different durations. The duration of the different provisions was, as you know very well, part of the negotiations and are part of the agreement as being agreed and as being currently implemented. You know very well that I have a special role given to me by the United Nations Security Council to ensure the full implementation of the agreement as it stands.
Q: I would like to go back to your answer to the question on Iran. You said that one should not link the sanctions being proposed with the May 12 deadline. I was surprised by this since lots of people seem to think that this is part of a package to be presented to the US administration ahead of May 12 with precisely the aim of trying to persuade the administration that Europe is taking its concerns seriously. Can you just outline a bit more what you meant by saying that there is not such a link?Secondly, can you just also outline to us what are the obstacles to an agreement on these new sanctions that have been proposed by the E3?
FM: The agreement with Iran is a nuclear related agreement, when the sanctions that have been proposed are related to the Iranian activities in Syria which are not related to nuclear activities. So, it is quite clear to me that the nuclear agreement and the nuclear agreement implementation are not related to sanctions that are proposed for activities on the ground in Syria.
As you might know, the European Union has already a sanctions regime in place related to the war in Syria that covers also - by the way – some of the Iranian entities and persons. The two issues have always been clearly very separated in our discussions and in our decisions, then the perception might be different but this is the reality of our discussions.
By the way, our American friends know very well that we take the Iranian activities in the region extremely seriously and that is why we have already a sanctions regime in place, addressing some of these behaviours - otherwise we would not have them.
So, we are very serious on that - by the way not only through sanctions, but also through dialogue and engagement. We started a specific dialogue with Iran related to developments in Yemen, that is appreciated in Washington as far as I am told directly by our colleagues there, and that is leading to some movement. So our consistent policy of putting pressure on the basis of merit-based decisions - and as you know always on a very solid legal basis, because we have a legal basis system for our sanctions regime that is different from the American one and that has to be one hundred percent solid - is always going on in parallel with the engagement through dialogue and discussions. And we have a high-level political dialogue with Iran in place that covers also regional aspects, including the war in Syria, the situation in Yemen, the security framework in the region and so on. But we have also started other sectoral dialogues with Iran. I mentioned the human rights one, I can mention the dialogue we have with Iran on migration issues, on sectoral cooperation and many other things. So we have always had this double approach.
And to come to the second part of the question: there is no specific obstacle. It is simply that, as I said, always when the European Union decides or starts a discussion or some Member States propose to introduce sanctions in any framework, there is a discussion, there is an evaluation of different elements, be it political or legal. There are procedures, but also internal debates within the Member States that are currently taking place and that is it. So, I would not dramatise neither in one sense nor the other. There is no decision. There is no consensus at the moment on the fact that these measures would be useful in this moment or appropriate in this moment. I do not exclude that this would happen in the future but this is not the case today. And as I said this is not linked to the JCPOA. It is more linked to the discussion on the war in Syria, on which, by the way, we as the European Union keep a very open channel with the Iranian authorities. And I believe that also in this field our dialogue with Iran is valuable and important, us being among the few that are talking with Tehran on the war in Syria. So we need to keep that channel of communication definitely open.