Informal EU Foreign Ministers meeting: Remarks by the High Representative Josep Borrell at the press conference
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Today, we have had a meeting - not a Council -, because it was just an informal meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the Member States of the European Union. And we discussed about this busy week here in New York.
You know that the General Assembly of the United Nations is the peak of international diplomacy. And it is also a good moment to be in New York after last year's fully virtual UNGA. We are very happy that this year we could be in person.
Here we have the most important diplomatic platform, the most global platform, where we need to align our political priorities and put the European diplomacy into full action and to speak with one voice. That is what we have been trying to do tonight: to fix our position and coordinate our presence in the different meetings, events and bilaterals that all of us are going to have.
The main issue in our agenda was Afghanistan. We talked about Afghanistan after the Gymnich meeting in Slovenia and we stressed the importance of increasing our engagement with regional partners, the neighbours, the closest neighbours and the United Nations through this regional platform on Afghanistan. This regional, Well, more than regional it is also global, impact of the developments of events in Afghanistan is very serious and we need to see how we can support the neighbours of Afghanistan and our regional partners.
But it is not only about movement of people, it is not only about migration. There are several other issues which are also of the utmost importance for us: the terrorist threat and the criminal activities, mainly related to drug trafficking. You know that Afghanistan is the biggest producer of drugs in the world. And, certainly, the fact that the new government is composed the way it is composed, is something very far away from the benchmark that we decided in Slovenia to calibrate the way the Afghan government is going to behave.
We continue working on a European Union presence on the ground. I am not going to give any detail about that for security reasons, but we work on this in order to facilitate the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid and also to support, to coordinate, to organise the departure of European citizens and Afghans at risk. Certainly, it will only be possible if the security conditions allow for it. But, for that, it is good to have the ways and means to be in touch with the Afghan government. To be in touch. Let us be clear: to be in touch with, does not mean at all anything that could be bestowing a formal recognition or legitimacy on the caretaker government. On that, Council conclusions were adopted – not today, but by written procedure - and will be published soon.
We also had a look at two issues which are of the utmost importance those days. First, the reports coming from Mali, where it seems that the transitional authorities are discussing the possibility - as far as I know no decision has been taken - to invite the Wagner group to operate in the country. This, certainly, could seriously affect European Union's relations with Mali. We already know the Wagner group and the way they have been behaving in different parts of the world and, certainly, this would not help to our relation with the Mali government. So, both bilaterally at the European Union level, we will consider this possibility with the transitional government in Mali.
The third issue that has been discussed by the Ministers is the announced alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. The defence alliance between these three countries was announced last week, just on the same day - by accident -, in which we were presenting our Indo-Pacific Strategy. Certainly, we were caught by surprise by this announcement that came together with a sudden cancellation of the submarine contract with France by the Australian government that, as I said, coincide with this announcement. And the Ministers discussed about it, considering it very disappointing. During the discussion, the Ministers expressed a clear solidarity with France. This announcement run counter to call for greater cooperation with the European Union in the Indo-Pacific.
As you know, this morning, in order to prepare the informal meeting, I met with my Australian counterpart. The meeting was foreseen much before the announcement of this alliance and the breakdown of the contract. I met with my Australian counterpart, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, I enquired about the reasons behind the lack of prior consultation on AUKUS and regretted that this alliance excluded the European partners, who have a strong presence in the Pacific, like in the case of France. And I stressed the fact that the current challenges to stability in the region call for more cooperation and coordination amongst like-minded partners, and certainly Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States are like-minded partners with the European Union. More cooperation, more coordination, less fragmentation. This is what is needed to achieve a stable and peaceful environment in the Indo-Pacific region. We will continue implementing our Indo-Pacific Strategy.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-210886
Q. If I could just ask you a little bit more about the meeting and what this deal between the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States could mean for US-EU relations. How harmed have they been by this? What further action might you take in relation to the US? Could this impact the EU talks with Australia on a new trade deal?
Well, I am here to explain to you what has been the discussion in the informal meeting. Another different thing is - as I explained - my meeting with the Foreign Minister of Australia. In the informal meeting, there was a clear support and solidarity with France. And, certainly, there have been some considerations about how this decision can affect the transatlantic alliance and how it can affect the relationship with the United States, but nothing concrete or nothing that could be considered as a headline.
Q. You did not mention anything about women in Afghanistan, is there something specific that the Council has agreed on? On a position on protecting women's rights?
Well, nothing new. We have already said many times that we want to protect the people who were engaged in building a democratic and free Afghanistan and, among them, there are a lot of women who were working as judges, as human rights defenders. Members States will point out specifically to which of them they are going to offer protection, to grant visas and to try to take them out of the country. But, certainly, we cannot take out of the country all women and girls that will need protection.
And one of the benchmarks on which we were considering how to calibrate our relationship with the Afghan government was precisely this one: the way that the new government will treat the rights of women and girls. And the first news are not encouraging. The way that schools start working in Afghanistan is not encouraging. They go, certainly, in the opposite direction in which we have been engaged during these 20 years. I want to point out that during these 20 years, 3 million of Afghan girls were going to school and we are certainly very much concerned about how the developments will maintain or not this big improvement in the conditions of women in Afghanistan. But this will be part of our engagement with the Afghan government, certainly.
Q. You mentioned that the Council expressed solidarity with France. Can we say that this agreement between the US, Australia and the United Kingdom puts the security of EU citizens at risk in any way? What is the security concern for the EU citizens?
No, I think that the President of the Commission [Ursula von der Leyen] has been very clear on [this in] the statements. But here I can only explain what has happened in the Council. And in the Council there has been a clear expression of solidarity with France, considering that this was not a bilateral issue, but something that is affecting the European Union as a whole and, at the same time, [there have been] some considerations about how it affects, from different points of view, our relation with Australia, the United States. But if you want to have a concrete position, you have to go and look at the declaration of the President of the Council [Charles Michel] and the President of the Commission [Ursula von der Leyen].
Inside the Council, and my duty is to explain what has happened inside the Council, the position has been: this clear expression of solidarity with France and the consideration that this was not a bilateral issue, but a relationship with the European Union that affects all of us and also the fact that it does not go in the direction of a greater cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, which is our purpose.
Q. On Iran, [… inaudible …] the Joint Commission meeting on Wednesday, […inaudible..] might be willing to resume the talks in Vienna […inaudible].
This is an interesting question. Tomorrow I will meet the new Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran [Hussein Amir-Abdollahian], not as coordinator of the JCPOA [Iran nuclear deal], but as the High Representative of the European Union. I will have the first opportunity to know and to talk with the new Minister of Iran. And, certainly, during this meeting, as coordinator of the JCPOA, I will call on Iran to resume the talks in Vienna as soon as possible.You know that after the elections, the new Presidency asked for a delay in order to take full stock of the negotiations and understand better everything about this very sensitive file. And OK, we agreed and were waiting until after the summer, but we are at the end of September. The summer has already passed by and we expect that the talks can be resuming soon in Vienna. And this is what I am going to ask the new Foreign Affairs Minister. It is not going to be a Ministerial level meeting here, during this week. Some years it happens, some years it does not happen. It is not on the agenda, but the important thing is not this Ministerial meeting, but the will of all parties to resume negotiations in Vienna. And this is what I am going to ask the new Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran.
Follow-up question: So, the JCPOA Joint Commission meeting on Wednesday. Will it be a Ministerial?
No, I have said that there is not going to be this meeting.
Follow-up question: It is not happening?
Follow-up question: Oh, because the French Foreign Minister said today that he heard there will be one this week.
There is not going to be [such meeting].
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-210886