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Thank you Mr President, the Gulf is incredibly close to Europe. It is part of our region, and the security situation in the Gulf is closely connected to our own security.
We have always said that preserving the nuclear deal with Iran [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA] is first and foremost for us a European and a global security interest. This has become self-evident today. We do not want to see a military escalation in our region, nor do we want to see a nuclear arms race in a region that already knows so many tensions.
Throughout the years we have always said: without the nuclear deal, the situation in the Middle East – which is already complicated enough – would be much more difficult than it is now. We have always said that and now, there seems to be a growing consensus on this. Even those who were skeptical – even very skeptical – about the deal, today understand that the situation would be much worse without it. This is what I hear in all my conversations in particular with regional leaders in the Gulf.
The current tensions were very much in the mind of all the leaders, for instance of Iraq and Kuwait that I met during my trip to the region last Saturday and Sunday. Together we discussed how we can help avoid a further escalation, including by supporting initiatives from the region itself to rebuild a basic initial level of understanding and trust among the main actors.
No one says he wants a war, no one declares that a war is the intention, in the region and beyond, nobody says so. But the problem that in particular in a region like that, miscalculations can happen and can lead to extremely dangerous spirals of confrontations.
This is why we Europeans are inviting all relevant actors to exercise maximal restraint and think rationally. This is why we have been doing everything we can to save the deal, ever since the United States' unilateral withdrawal.
Yesterday we had a discussion with the Foreign Ministers of the 28 [Member States] at the Foreign Affairs Council,and let me tell you that all 28 Member States have confirmed our common intention to do all we can collectively to preserve the nuclear deal, even in these extremely difficult circumstances.
We have an interest to do so and we feel the responsibility to do so.
You all know the situation. It has probably never been as difficult as it is today. Fourteen months after the United States' withdrawal from the deal, Iran has announced that it would gradually reduce its compliance with the JCPOA. The International Atomic Energy Agency – which remains the point of reference to assess Iran's compliance with its nuclear commitments under the deal – has confirmed, after having confirmed for many years Iran's full compliance, that Iran has now increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and has enriched uranium beyond the limits set in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
These actions are inconsistent with the deal, and together with the Foreign Ministers from France [Jean-Yves Le Drian], Germany [Heiko Maas] and the United Kingdom [Jeremy Hunt] I issued two clear statements urging Iran to go back to full compliance. A full compliance – I want to underline that – that Iran has kept ever since the deal was done until a few days ago.
At this stage Iran's actions are still reversible and do not indicate a unequivocal decision or intention by Iran to revert to its nuclear programme. At the same time, I want to be very clear, the longer Iran proceeds down this road, the harder it will be, technically, to step back. Our request to Iran is very clear: go back to the full implementation of the deal as you have been doing so far.
This is our interest, this is Iran's interest, this is our collective interest. This is the same interest that was behind the decision of concluding the Iran nuclear deal. We did that because we knew that that kind of the deal was in the interest of all of us, collectively, and I would say in the interest of collective security in the world.
On our side, as European Union with the Member States, we have stepped up our work to try to mitigate the consequences of the United States' unilateral decision to re-impose sanctions on Iran.
At the end of June, we convened in Vienna another meeting of the Joint Commission that is the body overseeing the implementation of the deal that we chair. Together with the E3 [France, Germany and the United Kingdom], China, Russia and Iran, we had a difficult but constructive meeting where we managed to keep unity around the continuous need and commitment for full and effective implementation of the agreement by all sides.
In Vienna, at this Joint Commission's meeting, we also decided that our experts will convene soon to discuss implementation issues, including how to facilitate the export of low enriched uranium and heavy water out of Iran – something which has become increasingly difficult after the re-imposition of the US sanctions.
On that very same day when we met in Vienna, France, Germany and the UK announced that the Instrument for Trade Exchanges with Iran – INSTEX – was finally operational – something they have been working on for months and the European Union and my office in particular has been accompanying this process. Now the instrument is finally operational and is processing its first transactions.
On the same day, seven EU Member States declared that they are willing to join the mechanism. Yesterday, at the Foreign Affairs Council, more Member States have declared they are considering the possibility to join INSTEX. We are also having conversations with non-European Union countries that might join.
Because preserving the nuclear deal with Iran is not just a European interest. Many others around the world share our same preoccupation first of all about an arms race in the region, and in particular a nuclear arms race in the region.
Preserving the deal is not only our interest and our responsibility – it is – but it is also a joint responsibility for all around the world. I want to remind ourselves once again that the deal is not a bilateral or even a multilateral agreement only, it is a unanimously adopted UN Security Council resolution. There is a global responsibility to preserve it and to preserve its full implementation.
On our side, as European Union, as Europeans, we are doing everything we can. We never thought that this would be easy – and indeed, it is not easy at all. But what we are trying to achieve is so important and somehow an unprecedented exercise.
I am sure that if it were not for us, the deal first of all would not exist in the first place, and would probably not be alive as of today.
We have always said that any violation of the nuclear deal with Iran could only make our region more unstable, more violent, more exposed to the risk of escalation and tensions. Recent events – I am afraid – have proven us right. But our objective is not to be proven right, our objective is to make things work for the better and develop in the positive direction.
I believe no one should underestimate the risk that this poses to all of us collectively – in Europe, in the Middle East and all around the world. It is our collective interest to do everything we can to prevent this scenario.
So our choice, as Europeans, and I know we are united in this, is very clear. We will continue to do everything we can to save the deal. We will continue to be a voice of reason, we will continue to do that for our own security, for peace in our troubled region, and because we know that especially if there is a problem, the must is to keep the channels of communication and of cooperation open and to invest in the diplomatic way of solving problems.