Thank you very much. I am really pleased to welcome you to Brussels and to be here with you. I see many friends around the table. I am glad I finally managed [to join you] because with Sibylle [Bauer, Director of Studies of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Armament and Disarmament Programme] we were just saying that I have been trying to join you for several years
We are addressing today something that is extremely important for the European Union’s work and I think that throughout these years our work has moved forward in parallel, from an institutional and a non-institutional perspective.
I would like, first of all, to thank the EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Consortium and all the think tanks that are part of it because I think that your commitments and your ideas, your work have contributed to shaping our policies and our strategies to a large extent.
Today, the European Union is recognised as a global point of reference for non-proliferation and disarmament. I say this with some pride but also with some worries, because sometimes you become a point of reference when others are not anymore.
Still, we exercise our role. We have an unparalleled diplomatic and technical expertise in this field - and this is also thanks to your work to understand the challenges we face, how they evolve and to come up with solutions, and sometimes innovative solutions.
We have gathered here because I believe we share the assessment that non-proliferation and disarmament are a matter of national and international security. This is the starting point for our work and our European approach is this - to treat disarmament, arms control, and non-proliferation as tools of security policy, first and foremost, to look for negotiated diplomatic solutions, to even very serious security challenges.
Actually, I believe that the more serious the challenge is in terms of security, the more it is a diplomatic and political solution that is needed - like we have done in the case of the Iran nuclear programme and I come back to that later.
Bilateral agreements can represent an essential step in the right direction but the only way to guarantee non-proliferation in the long term, in a sustainable manner, is through multilateral agreements that are agreed and recognised by all and are endorsed and monitored by the relevant international organisations - just like our nuclear deal with Iran where its implementation has been verified 13 times by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and I would like to thank the Agency for an excellent work they have been doing over the years.
We all know that the agreement with Iran only deals with nuclear non-proliferation. That was clearly the mandate that the [UN] Security Council gave to the - at the time - High Representative [of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy]. It is for historians now to discuss if it was a wise choice or not but that was the mandate that was given at the time by the Security Council to the facilitator of the negotiations.
I believe that today, all of us, or maybe almost all of us, are equally worried by other aspects of Iran's policy. I think of the ballistic missiles programme, for instance. I believe this programme has a destabilising effect in the entire Middle East, which is a region that does definitely not need further destabilisation and I believe it has pushed other countries into a dangerous arms race.
As a European Union, we definitely want to address Iran's ballistic missiles and we want to address the arms proliferation in the region. To do so, we need the nuclear deal to be preserved. Thanks to the nuclear deal we now have new channels to engage, and engage even in a constructive manner, as some recent developments in Yemen have shown, with Iran to discuss regional issues, to discuss also security matters.
With no nuclear deal any negotiation with Iran would be much more difficult, not easier. We would risk, on top of everything, a nuclear arms race in the region and this is, I believe, a nightmare scenario that everyone, I hope, wants to avoid.
Dismantling the nuclear deal with Iran would not make us more secure, just like dismantling all multilateral frameworks for non-proliferation and disarmament can do no good. I know that this perspective of dismantling what seems not to be perfect may look attractive in the short term but I also know how difficult it is to reach an agreement, in this case to reach a solid and comprehensive non-proliferation agreement. It took us twelve years to negotiate the Iran deal, and in this twelve year countless sleepless nights.
It takes a lot of courage, I believe, to seek compromise. I believe it takes much more courage to seek compromise and agreement in the world of today than to seek confrontation and clashes. But there is no other way to reach agreements that can stand the test of time.
Again, I have to stress this: the nuclear deal with Iran - nobody believed it would have been possible - was possible; nobody would have believed it would have been implemented - it has been implemented; and now two years and a half after we signed it, it has been certified 13 times by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] as being fully implemented on the nuclear commitments Iran took. This was also a bet that not many were ready to take back at the time.
I think this is the result of a lot of courage of those involved in the negotiations and a lot of political capital invested in it and a lot of consistency. This is why, for security reasons, we have tried to do our best to preserve it over time.
This is what brings true security in our view. Security stems from multilateral solutions and mutual confidence that normally is not there when you start negotiating or addressing an issue but can be built over time, based on verifiable multilateral agreements.
Security does not need to dismantle the achievements of the past, especially when this is done over political reasons, but to build on them with patience and courage. Security needs, I believe, non-proliferation and disarmament more than ever today.
We are not naïve - I know that sometimes the Europeans are perceived to be naïve - on the contrary, we are pragmatic. We have experienced on our own skin the wounds of war and destruction. And this is why we know that the most pragmatic thing to do in difficult times is to keep working in a stubborn manner, towards the most ambitious of goals that is today a world free of nuclear weapons.
Now, I know that it certainly does not look likely today. It may seem even impossible but a deal with Iran also seemed impossible. Negotiations with North Korea seemed impossible. And let me add, peace in Europe after centuries, thousands of years of war seemed impossible just one hundred years ago.
So let me conclude by quoting Nelson Mandela that used to say: ‘It always seems impossible until it is done’. So maybe this is the way forward also for our work.