Q. Do you have any reaction to the announcement today by the Iranians that they plan to reach the limit on their low enriched uranium stock by June 27? And where is the red line for the Europeans? We have heard some diplomats talk about Iran needing to systematically, significantly breach the terms of the accord for sanctions to snap back, is that your view? Essentially, what Iran is doing now is what the Europeans have warned that Iran would do for a year: it is escalating militarily and it is escalating on its nuclear program. So is Iran to blame for this situation or is Washington to blame for provoking it?
Let me start by saying very clearly that our assessment on the implementation of the nuclear deal has never been, is not and will never be based on statements but on the evaluation that the IAEA [the International Atomic Energy Agency] makes, the reports that the IAEA produces. They can be done at any time, because we base our assessments and our judgments on facts, on the verification mechanisms that are in place and that we trust.
Announcements are relevant elements of political dialectics, but our assessment on the implementation of the agreement is based on the factual, technically sound assessment and evaluation that the IAEA makes in its reports. And so far Iran has been compliant with its nuclear commitments as we had expected it to be, as we had encouraged it to be. And the majority of the international community together with us has cooperated with Iran in helping this implementation to continue.
If the IAEA assessments and reports will change, we will assess the situation further, but so far our assessment is based on the technical reports of the IAEA, which also means that I would not elaborate on what happens if and when. As I said, at the moment, today, Iran is still compliant and we strongly hope, encourage, and expect that Iran continues to comply with its commitments under the JCPOA in full.
I would not enter into a blame game at all. You know me. The interest we have is to keep the nuclear deal in place. It is not an easy exercise; we never made a mystery out of it. During the last year, it has become increasingly difficult for all to keep the nuclear deal fully implemented. This has been our constant focus as Europeans, as the European Union, myself personally, as I have a responsibility in coordinating the work of the Joint Commission [of the JCPOA]. So our focus is not to enter into a blame game or giving responsibility for the collapse of a deal that might come.
Our focus is to keep the agreement in place and keep the implementation of it. And this includes, as you know, a lot of work we have done with the Member States, in particular the E3 [France, Germany and the United Kingdom] but also others, to put in place mechanisms that can allow the Iranians to benefit from the economic transactions that can legitimately take place.
This is all part of our effort to keep an agreement in place that so far has prevented Iran from developing a nuclear weapon – and this is our goal. So we will keep our focus on this objective.
Q. After the discussion you had with the [Foreign] Ministers, do you have a European common assessment of the situation in the Gulf? And who is behind the tanker attack?
As you know very well, the European Union relies on the intelligence that Member States share with us. We do not have sources of intelligence of our own. By the way, this is one of the elements that you will find here[Third Progress Report on the implementation of the EU Global Strategy] on the ideas for the way forward - among others.
What I found among the [Foreign] Ministers - beyond the assessment and the intelligence-sharing - is a very strong element of concern for the risk of miscalculation or unintentional escalation that could occur in a region that is already at the limit of the stress test, I would say.
A common approach that all the Member States expressed is that of trying to focus all our action and all our diplomatic work to try to avoid an escalation and actually help de-escalating, because what we would not like to see is a military escalation in the region. We think that would be extremely dangerous and definitely not positive, neither for anyone in the region nor for Europe nor for the rest of the world. So beyond the assessment of the responsibilities, the call is for maximum restraint and de-escalation that we believe is in the interest of everybody.
Q. There are lot of talks about Iran's role in Iraq. Everybody knows that there are a lot of Iranian Shia militia in Iraq and Syria and other countries. Could you tell me what is the EU's position about the Iranian Shia militia in the Middle East?
You know well that we believe that many of the actions that Iran has undertook and is undertaking in the region are some of the elements that we discuss the most and not the easiest elements that we discuss with our Iranian counterparts, in particular their attitude on Syria, on Yemen, but also interference in other places. It is something that we definitely do not believe is positive, on the contrary. This is an issue for open discussion among us, it is no secret to anybody.
On the other side - you mentioned Iraq - we believe that countries in the region have only to benefit from good neighbourly relations with all. And Iraq is probably one of the clearest cases in point: a country that is coming out of a very difficult period, a country to which we are extending all our possible support and that for sure cannot afford - especially in this critical moment in its history, if you look at the security challenges in particular but also the economic ones - to enter into a direct confrontation with any of its important neighbours.
So as much as we do not want to see interference or hostile activities in the region, be they from Iran or others, we would like to see a cooperative, constructive attitude with all, when it comes to the region. The ideal solution to the tensions in the extended region of the Middle East but also farther away would be to build a cooperative security architecture where different players understand that even if they do not like each other, they respect a certain number of rules and behaviours that are respectful of security and sovereignty and that can allow even non-friendly neighbours to act properly and respectfully of each other's respective interests. But this seems to be far away.