We have had today an eight hour long Foreign Affairs Council – very intense. We started by expressing our solidarity with the UK after the Salisbury attack. You probably have seen this morning that we have released a statement that we discussed with the Ministers and that shows the full support and solidarity with the United Kingdom and our expectations for Russia to address the questions raised by the UK and the international community and to provide a disclosure of its programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). We will obviously continue to follow this issue very closely, including its implications.
We finally addressed once again Iran: restating our full support to the full implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran. Just last Friday we chaired a positive Joint Commission [of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - JCPOA] in Vienna where all parties recommitted to the full implementation of the agreement. We assessed once again with the 28 Member States that we attach strategic importance to the full implementation of the agreement by all parties. It is for us a matter of security, for Europe and for the rest of the world. And obviously there are issues like Syria or Yemen, on which we have very critical positions on Iran moves, but we are determined to address them outside of the scope of the nuclear agreement.
We are united both on the need to preserve the JCPOA and on the need to address regional issues with Iran through dialogue. Also, as you know very well, those of you that follow this closely, we do have a sanctions regime in place with Iran – sanctions that are not nuclear-related and are related to other issues. The point today was not to discuss that. The point today was to re-state our unity in the expectations that all parties continue to fulfil their obligations and their commitments under the JCPOA.
Q: We understood this morning that there is a difference between your statement and the ones of Mr [Yves] LeDrian [Foreign Affairs Minister of France] and Mr [Didier] Reynders [Foreign Affairs Minister of Belgium] on further sanctions against Iran. Do we understand that the conditions are not yet mature for this kind of step? And is it possible to expect that before the deadline of 12 May, because everybody has in mind Mr [Donald] Tump's [President of the United States] deadline?
FM: Here we are the European Union and we work on our deadlines, on our timeline and on our priorities, making clear which are our strategic priorities. And our clear strategic priority is to continue with the good implementation that was certified ten times by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). We all recognised that this is the case, including our American friends - last time was on Friday during an E3+3 or 5+1 meeting together with Iran [meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission]. I always say you might hear different tones, different accents - diversity is one of the richnesses of Europe and we value it.
The important thing is that we come out with common positions, common actions and unity of purpose. Having different declarations or different statements or different accents is not a problem, but it is a tool we have, because we can sing with different voices, but we sing the same song. And this is what is important. Today, as I said, we did not discuss further sanctions. Today we discussed the need to have a common work towards different players, different parties to the agreement and to keep the full implementation [of the agreement].
This means that we have a major interest in keeping Iran fully compliant with the JCPOA. This is the first objective we have: to continue to have Iran implementing all its nuclear-related obligations under the Nuclear Deal, but also to keep our American friends fully committed to the agreement.
This is the conversation we have had with the Ministers today, together with the fact that we are very much willing to address other issues that are not in the scope of the JCPOA separately, namely the situation in Syria that we discussed separately; the situation in Yemen that we discussed separately. On this, different points of view, divergences with Iran are not a mystery and are not new - there are consolidated differences we have and that we address in a different set-up, not in the context of the nuclear deal implementation mechanism.
I can tell you I registered unity around the table about this - about the need to keep and preserve the nuclear agreement and to do all we can to keep all parties committed to the full implementation of the agreement. Also starting to prepare, in case it will be needed, to protect European interests in case other decisions are taken elsewhere.
Q. You mentioned two non-nuclear issues. On ballistic missiles, Iran has made it perfectly clear on countless occasions that it will not discuss the matter outside of a regional framework that simply does not exist. On Iran's role in Syria, you have just described how depressing the situation is there. You wrote to Iran as one of the Astana sponsors last month. As of Friday - I do not know if this has changed - you did not have a response. So, is it not logical to conclude that the only actual way that the EU can address these two separate non-nuclear problems, must in some way run through non-nuclear sanctions? On Russia: the statement very clearly drew out the desire, the need for Russia to cooperate with the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] and with the broader probe. Would it be a decent hunch to suggest that whatever action the EU takes in the coming weeks - I think the UK did not ask for anything specific yet - but will be linked to Russia's reaction to that request?
FM: On the second question, it is not that I do not want to answer, I leave it to further reflection. This is the state of play of our discussion today with Boris Johnson and, as I said, this is a statement agreed by 28 [Member States], which means also by the United Kingdom, and that is a reflection of our work so far. I think it is important as the OPCW inspectors are today - if I am not wrong - in the United Kingdom. It is even more important to send the right message at the right time. Obviously, further messages could come; we state in the statement that we will remain focused on that issue, including its implications. As I said, the European Council will meet later this week and I guess Theresa May will take the opportunity to brief Heads of State or Government on that occasion. I can obviously share with the Heads of State or Government in that context the discussion we have had with the Foreign Ministers, but as I told you, it has been a discussion focused mainly on solidarity and the common approach.
On the first question, you mentioned the issue of ballistic missiles, which are for us a crucial element. You also mentioned the fact that apparently Iran will be willing to discuss in a regional framework that is not there. Many things were not there and now are there. Things and conditions could change with a bit of work, a lot of work. So never say never. But regardless of the regional framework, the issue of ballistic missiles is an issue that we constantly raise with Iran and, again, separately from the nuclear-related issues. It is a matter of disagreement.
You mentioned Syria and indeed I would say that most of the talks I have with [Mohammad Javad] Zarif [Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran] are actually about Syria. As Europeans we attach the outmost importance to finding a solution to the conflict. Sometimes I feel that we and the United Nations are the only ones left in the world insisting for a political solution to the conflict. But we will never give up on that. We will never give up to the idea that there is a military solution on the ground that dictates the setup of Syria that would not stand on its own feet the day after. So it is not out of naiveté, but out of realism, if we insist on the need for a political agreement, because we know how difficult it is to build the peace after the military victory. And it might prove to be a costly and dangerous exercise for whoever thinks of a military victory on the ground.
But you did not mention one issue on which maybe we could have some opening: Yemen. We have, as I think you know, a high level political dialogue with Iran where we address regional issues, as well as human rights issues - that seems not to be so much of a priority for others, but for us it stays a priority. And we have human rights related sanctions in place on Iran, as you know. We decided together with Iran to deepen our political dialogue between the European Union and Iran on regional issues. We started with Yemen, we had a first fruitful meeting in Munich that brought some positive movements, still to be consolidated and expanded. But I have seen and we have all seen a sense of direction there. So, as you can see, it is true there is never the guarantee that dialogue can produce results, but sometimes it happens. We are determined to follow that line.
Having said that, as I mentioned, the European Union has already in place quite a heavy sanction regime on Iran, non-nuclear related, for different reasons, for different chapters. And this is also the result of a common European Union decision taken in the previous years. But, again, this was not the focus of today's meeting. Today's meeting was focusing mainly on the need to preserve and protect a nuclear agreement that is working and that, if disrupted, would create an additional security threat and concern in the region. And we definitely do not need that.