Thank you very much Mr President.
I believe it is very timely that we discuss the nuclear deal with Iran just today.
You know that just a few hours ago the United States and the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] ended their Summit in Singapore. Today's summit between the two proves that diplomacy and dialogue are the only way forward, in this case towards lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, and beyond.
Let me say that in more general terms, this is a clear sign of the fact that the diplomatic track is often challenging, is often the most difficult one to be followed, but it is always the rewarding one and needs to be sustained over time.
It was the same track that the international community and the European Union followed for over a decade with Iran, resulting in the nuclear deal – almost exactly three years ago. We did it because it was our European security interest and the global security interest. Through this deal, we prevented nuclear proliferation, we avoided a regional escalation, and we made sure that Iran would never acquire a nuclear weapon. Never.
Three years on, the deal is delivering. Iran abides by its nuclear-related commitments, as it has been confirmed eleven times by the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], last time just a few weeks ago.
Our position as Europeans has not changed. On the contrary, we have seen the reasons why this agreement was a good agreement. We remain committed to the full and effective implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran.
What is different today is that on 8 May the United States have taken the unilateral decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] - the nuclear deal with Iran, which is a multilateral agreement unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council with the Resolution 2231.
The European Union reacted in an immediate and united manner, also at the top level by the Heads of State or Government of all European Union Member States in Sofia on 16 May and reconfirmed just a couple of weeks ago, by the Foreign Ministers of the 28 at our last Foreign Affairs Council.
Since a month ago, the bulk of the international community has confirmed and reiterated the strong support for the nuclear agreement with Iran, simply for a very pragmatic reason: there is no better alternative and the world cannot afford a nuclear arms race, in particular in the Middle East.
This support from the rest of the international community is something I experience every single day in my meetings, be them with the Chinese Foreign Minister [Zhang Jun], the Japanese Foreign Minister [Taro Kono], or the African Union Chairman [Paul Kagamé] or our colleagues from Latin America, or the rest of Europe that is not part of the European Union. This figures always very high on the agenda: how can we partner together, how can we make sure the agreement stays in place. And let me say, here the European Union has a responsibility also to share with partners around the world how to maintain one of the few functioning pillars of the nuclear non-proliferation architecture.
This support was also reiterated by the other co-signatories of the nuclear agreement – France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China. We convened and we chaired as European Union a first Joint Commission meeting without the United States, on 25 May in Vienna.
And the work on the implementation of nuclear-related commitments continues. This is essential for security. For instance, the Arak reactor modernisation project led by China continues, or the conversion of the Fordow facility into a nuclear, physics and technology centre - a project led by Russia - continues. A dedicated workshop on Fordow is foreseen to take place later this week.
It is essential, it is vital for our own security and for the security of the region that implementation work continues, and we are guaranteeing that it happens regardless of the US withdrawal. Implementation must continue both on the nuclear commitments and also on the economic track, because the other essential part of the nuclear deal is the lifting of sanctions and the opportunities it creates for normalised trade and economic relations.
From this perspective, the US decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and to re-impose all secondary sanctions is extremely problematic and needs to be addressed. First of all, by the European Union, by its Member States and by the rest of the international community at large.
Many European companies have chosen to do business with Iran after the agreement was reached and are doing so in good faith, based on commitments made by the international community, based on the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution , adopted unanimously. Some of them have already announced now that they would discontinue their engagement to avoid US penalties. Others have informed that they would withdraw from negotiations that had already started, leaving, by the way, the economic and investment space to other players in the world, which is also not in the European interest.
This has created, as you can imagine and as you know, an enormous pressure inside Iran, especially from those who have always opposed the agreement. And the credibility of the entire international community, of the multilateral system, of the UN system, is questioned.
The recent statements by Iran on uranium hexafluoride must be seen in this context. These announcements are clearly not a violation of the nuclear deal, but it is also clear that they do not contribute to build confidence and they are meant to put pressure on the international community. The letter sent by President [of Iran, Hassan] Rouhani to the Heads of State or Government of France, Germany and the UK is to be interpreted exactly in the same context.
Now it is clear that our strategic and security interest is to save, to preserve this nuclear deal. We have reacted in a firm, decisive and united manner to protect at the same time our security interest and - let me say it this way - our economic sovereignty. This is also an incentive, I would say the incentive, for Iran to continue complying with its nuclear restrictions. Any other alternative could have tragic consequences – and it would make us all less secure, with no exceptions.
As a first major step, last Wednesday [6 June], the European Commission has adopted two Delegated Acts. The first is an update of the Blocking Statute, which forbids EU companies to comply with US secondary sanctions. And the second one is an extension of the external lending mandate of the European Investment Bank to support economic activities in Iran. After a period of non-objection, both Acts should enter into force on 5 August, just before the first batch of re-imposed US sanctions takes effect on 6 August. The support of this Parliament to conclude both processes swiftly will be of essence, and extremely important, also as a political sign.
We are also working on concrete measures aimed at sustaining our cooperation in key economic sectors, particularly on banking and finance, trade and investment, oil, and transport. In this work, we keep a strong focus on small and medium enterprises, which are less engaged in the US market. The most important challenge now is to find solutions on banking and finance, because legitimate trade and investment need banking partners and financing models that work. These issues are being addressed through intensive expert consultations happening basically on a daily basis, including in Brussels and in Tehran last week, but also at the political level.
As I mentioned, we worked on this with EU Member States' Foreign Ministers at the last Foreign Affairs Council. We focused in particular on the need to combine our work at the EU level – the two measures I just mentioned and the work that is ongoing at experts' level - with actions from single Member States to protect national economic operators.
This is the only way to be effective in this endeavour, to combine EU-level measures and national measures in a coordinated manner.
This is why we decided - and we have started to do so - to set up a network of national focal points of all EU Member States to further coordinate and intensify our work. This is essential to keep Iran in the nuclear agreement.
But of course, Iran also needs to do its part and this is very clear, to improve its standards against money laundering and terrorist financing and step up banking reforms. These are essential steps to make Iran more attractive to European businesses and banks.
Last week, the Foreign and Finance Ministers of France, Germany, the UK, together with myself, we wrote a letter to the US Secretaries of State [Mike Pompeo] and of Treasury [Steven Terner Mnuchin]. We expressed our expectation that the extraterritorial effects of US secondary sanctions will not be enforced on EU entities and individuals and that the United States respect the good faith of economic operators within EU legal territory, and we asked for a number of specific exemptions.
Let me be very clear. First of all, this is not an economic issue for Europe, this is a security issue for Europe. This is the nuclear non-proliferation effort we are making.
Second, our determination to preserve the deal is also in the interest of the United States, because preserving the nuclear deal is essential to our common security – both for Europe and the United States – and for the entire Middle East, that might otherwise fall into a spiral of nuclear proliferation and of an even more dangerous level of conflictuality. Think for one moment of the scenario without the nuclear agreement in place tomorrow, and you all realise how dangerous this would be for all of us.
Preserving the nuclear deal is also essential to maintain our unique, precious – even if difficult – channels of communication with Iran. The nuclear deal was never meant to solve or to address all issues in our relation with Iran. On the contrary, at the very beginning – meaning some 15 years ago now - it was decided that the purpose of the agreement would have been limited to nuclear issues only. Like it or not, that was the mandate the High Representative at that time received from the UN Security Council and this is the mandate that was fulfilled.
But having a nuclear deal in place with Iran has opened up a window to address other issues that are not nuclear-related and that are there, that are our issues of concern as much as they are American issues of concern. They are outside of the scope of the nuclear deal, they have always been, they need to be addressed - we believe that they can be better addressed on the basis of maintaining the nuclear deal with Iran, rather than on the basis of destroying it.
I will give you a couple of examples of small windows that have opened up in our dialogue and political talks with Iran on issues that are not related to the nuclear ones.
We have had the opportunity to discuss ballistic missiles, regional issues and human rights in the EU-Iran High Level Political Dialogue and in other meetings - quite a unique formation, especially for the West.
I will be very clear: we have serious issues with Iran’s behaviour and stance in those fields. This is no mystery – neither for us nor for them. But they are not linked to the implementation of the nuclear agreement, and they would not be easier to deal with – at all – without the nuclear deal in place. On the contrary, let me say from experience that, during all the years of negotiations of the nuclear deal, anything else that was not nuclear related was basically off the table. Once you keep and you consolidate the nuclear deal with Iran, and you make its survival out of question, then the space opens up to deal with other issues.
We are addressing these issues in their own right, in direct contacts, such as on Yemen. On this, I would like to share with you that we have set up a regional dialogue with Iran, chaired by us, the European Union, with the participation of France, Germany, Italy and the UK. So far, this dialogue has focused on Yemen, and it has already delivered one step that was important, helping organise the visit of the UN [Secretary General's] Special Envoy [for Yemen, Martin] Griffiths to Sanaa at the beginning of June, to meet with the Houthi leadership. And we will discuss further steps of this work exactly with the Special Envoy of the United Nations at the next Foreign Affairs Council, to see how we can use our channels to try and make the work to solve the Yemen crisis more effective.
If the nuclear deal collapses, it would also be much more difficult to address the non-nuclear concerns that we have. The current tensions on the nuclear deal have already narrowed the space for discussing all the other issues. And we believe it is in nobody's interest to close these channels, currently the ones that remain open.
Again the only outcome would be to give more space to those in the region, including in Iran, that argue for more radical positions.
Our position on the Iran nuclear deal is based on our principles, and it is based on pragmatism. The nuclear deal makes Europe more secure, it prevents a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It brings economic benefits to the people of Iran and it should continue to do so. And it opens new, precious – even if as I said difficult - channels for diplomacy and dialogue.
This is why we are determined to preserve the nuclear deal, and prevent a new escalation of tensions in an already troubled region and world.
Because Europe and the world cannot afford wasting all of this.