Yesterday we discussed the situation in the wider Middle East, covering many different issues, from Yemen, to the Middle East peace process, or rather the lack of it. But I would like to mention and underline mainly two issues: one is Syria, where there was a clear support from our side for the work that the UN Special Envoy [for Syria, Geir] Pedersen is doing with a very strong concern about the situation in Idlib and strong support to the constitutional committee to be established soon. We will have a European Union event, as every year, at the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York, where we hope that we will be able to pass clear messages not only on the economic and humanitarian aid, but also on the need to finally find a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
The second point I would like to underline from these discussions on the wider Middle East is our clear and strong position on our full support to the preservation of the full implementation of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], the nuclear deal with Iran. The European Union and its Member States continue to be fully behind it and are doing all they can to try to have this fundamental element of nuclear non-proliferation in place.
When it comes to the situation in the Gulf and the tensions around the Gulf, the main message that comes from the European Union is the need to de-escalate, to avoid further escalation and to open channels of dialogue and cooperation across the region, having a clear and unequivocal respect for the international rules-based order, part of which for us is fundamental and that is the freedom of navigation that includes the Strait of Hormuz.
Q. On Iran, we have heard a lot in the past weeks of the Biarritz initiative but we heard much less about what is actually on the table. Do you think that this is potentially a game changer which could lead to the de-escalation that you and the Europeans have been talking about the last few months? If Iran takes steps away from the nuclear deal on 5 September which they threaten to do, would that imperil to diplomacy? Is it clear what Iran needs to do, can you enlighten us on that?
I will try to give you some additional elements on the work we have been doing in these days. First of all, as I also mentioned yesterday at the beginning of these two days of work, any development that goes in the direction of talks, contacts, channels that open up and diplomacy, is welcomed and supported by the European Union. Obviously, what happened in Biarritz a few days ago, goes in that direction and is extremely welcomed and supported by the European Union.
There is another element on which this new momentum, if real - and this is we will only find out with time and work -, can build on: the work that we have been doing all these years and that we continue to do in these days, weeks and months, to preserve the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. The two things are not alternative, the two things might be complementary.
You know well my specific role - not just for the European Union but also through the clear mandate that we received by the UN Security Council - is to preserve the full implementation of the existing agreement. If something else can be built on it, this will be welcomed and accompanied by the European Union. We have had this morning a brief coordination meeting with the E3 [France, Germany and the United Kingdom] to update each other and see what kind of follow up we can give to the Biarritz events and meetings.
In parallel to that - as we support that process, as we contribute to that process, on which obviously I would not give details - our work as European Union with Member States, but also with Russia, China and the Iranians continue to ensure that, first of all, there is full compliance from the Iranian side to its nuclear commitments under the JPCOA; second, that there is advancement on the instrument we have put in place, INSTEX, on which I told you already a few weeks ago, the first transactions are being processed. It takes time, a lot of time, but it is also complicated. That process continues.
In parallel our work to preserve the full compliance of the nuclear deal [JCPOA] with Iran also continues. If something else adds up to that, that would be very positive news, but this is the basis on which the European Union is committed to preserving what we have, that in itself can contribute to de-escalating the situation, also in other fields across the Gulf.
Q. On Iran, first a point of precision: you said that the first INSTEX transactions are still being processed and they are not yet completed?
Yes. I also said that what happened in Biarritz is not a substitute to the work we continue to do on the implementation of the JCPOA and that includes the work on INSTEX.
Q. About your meeting with the E3 Foreign Ministers this morning. Can you give us a sense of what you agreed in concrete terms what next steps will you go and do will, that they go and do, to pursue the diplomatic path?
We exchanged face to face - the four of us – an analysis of what happened in these last days. We agreed on, as I mentioned, continuing our common work to preserve the nuclear deal [JCPOA] and its full implementation.
I am not going to enter into the details of what we are going to do next. I can tell you that work is ongoing, not only with the E3, but also as I mentioned, with Iran, Russia and China about the follow-up of the Joint Committee we had during the summer. Work is ongoing at that level, and obviously, we also mentioned our common support to the follow-up of the Biarritz Summit.
We will continue to coordinate action in that respect. Our common wish - that reflects the common wish of the 28 [Member States] discussed yesterday at the informal Council [of EU Foreign Ministers] – is to contribute diplomatically to a more general approach to de-escalate tensions in the region.
I would like to stress this point because there are many initiatives that have been mentioned, with different perspectives, different scopes, different approaches or similar approaches, different levels of ownership from the region. I want to stress this point. If I have to summarise in one headline the main message that comes from our debate yesterday afternoon on the wider Middle East it is the strong commitment from the European Union and the Member States to support any initiative that is inclusive and that has a full ownership in the region, that can lead to de-escalation, and even if limited, to more cooperation in the Gulf.
Q. Iran and Russia are already building up military exercises in the Gulf. Could you elaborate how do you see Russia's role in this whole thing and is there now a risk that the European Union is opening a new front of problems especially with Russia?
I can be very direct. This angle is obviously of concern, because what the wider Middle East definitely does not need is to add to the number of theatres where the proxy chess game is exercised, and definitely does not need the number of players to increase in the region. This is definitely something we are watching very carefully. But it is probably not the first reason for concern when it comes to the wider Middle East.
I think that the main point - and I visited the region recently – is to try and support some elements of rationality inside the region that can work on the common interest that the countries across the Gulf share of - not becoming friends but at least - not putting into question respective interests. I think of all the economic interests, I think of the security interests, I think of the interests of the people that are living across the Gulf.
Our approach would be to try and help those forces in the Gulf that are trying to invest in a cooperative approach, even with the pragmatism of recognising that positions might differ very much and that it is more convenient for everybody across the Gulf to find a way of living together and guaranteeing basic but fundamental respect for international rules and norms, and to reciprocal respect in that area.
This is what we are going to focus on with a strong component of support for the local ownership of this process, exactly because we do not want the wider Middle East to become even more the chessboard of players that are not from the region.