Libya/Iraq/Iran: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell after the extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council


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Good evening,

It was an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council, and as you know we have discussed the recent developments in Iraq, in Iran and Libya.

We had exchanges about the EU actions towards de-escalation – because this is right now the key priority: de-escalation. To avoid that things go worse.

We had a valuable input from the United Nations Special Representative for Libya Mr [Ghassan] Salamé and NATO Secretary General Mr [Jens] Stoltenberg.

On Libya: recent developments show that the crisis may spiral out of control. Today, we wanted to send a strong signal of unity and engagement. We are in agreement on the need to engage more strongly before it is becoming too late.

Mr Salamé has warned us again. He did so in the past, at previous Councils. He insisted on the fact that in Libya there are several risks, and these risks are increasing. First, the terrorism risk. The presence of fighters coming from Syria and also from Sudan is being detected more and more.

Second, the migration risk. There are almost 700 000 people, according to his figures, coming from sub-Saharan Africa and from other countries. Most of them are working in Libya, not all of them want to go to Europe but some, depending on the situation in Libya may still will want to go because they may lose their jobs depending on the situation.

The third risk is the risk of destabilising the whole region, from Libya spreading wider to the Sahel. And the fourth risk is a new geopolitical scheme. New actors are appearing in Libya: Russia and Turkey, and the whole geopolitical [situation] in the Central Mediterranean could be changed.

So we have a strong set of reasons to move from rhetoric to action. I have received the mandate to work in order to make our diplomatic outreach [more effective], to reach a political solution in the framework of the Berlin Process.

Hoping that the parties can reach a ceasefire – and we all will contribute to it – and hoping that the Berlin process can reach a political agreement, we will have to focus on monitoring the ceasefire, on controlling the arms embargo and other security measures, based on the experience of Operation Sophia.

There is a strong agreement among [Foreign Affairs] Ministers [of the EU] to ask me to present proposals on these three points to the next Foreign Affairs Council or after an agreement on the ceasefire can be reached.

We are not going to do just an agreement for a ceasefire: if it happens and if there is an agreement – in the framework of the Berlin process, I insist – we will have to take measures in order to contribute to monitor the ceasefire and control the arms embargo.

On Iraq: the region cannot afford another war. We call for an urgent de-escalation and maximum restraint by every party. The crisis risks jeopardizing years of efforts to stabilise Iraq, especially given its implications for the decisive work of the Global Coalition Against Da’esh. We condemn every attack on Coalition forces and we clearly state that continuing fighting Da’esh remains our priority.

We are also committed to preserving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Without the JCPOA, Iran would be a nuclear power today. Thanks to this deal, Iran is not a nuclear power. We strongly believe that it is in our interest to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as far as we can. We have been saying in the past and we continue saying that we regret the United States decision to withdraw from the deal. We continue believing that this deal is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and critical for the regional stability.

We call on Iran to go back to full compliance to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action without delay and we rely on the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] to continue monitoring and verifying Iran’s [nuclear] activities. We strongly believe in the capacity of the IAEA to be able to monitor all Iranian activities on the nuclear field.

But the current situation has a clear regional dimension that requires a regional political solution. The ministers have given me a strong mandate to carry out diplomatic efforts with all parties, including Iran, to contribute to de-escalation in the region, to support political dialogue and to promote a political regional solution. In this framework, we will continue helping Iraq from every point of view: with the military training, economics, for security.

We have to avoid that the spiral of violence creates a situation in Iraq that can be very dangerous for all of us and destroys years of work and efforts in the rebuilding of this country. That is what we have been agreeing today and it opened the door to more work, especially on the implementation of the mandate [I received from Foreign Ministers] of strong dialogue with all parties, including Iran, in order to look for a political regional solution.



Q: Did you discuss today the Dispute Resolution Mechanism within the JCPOA and do you believe it should be triggered and if so when?

We have not discussed if the Dispute Resolution Mechanism has to be triggered or not. What is clear, is that we stick to the survival of this deal.


Q: You are saying that you are still committed to save the JCPOA. While you were in the meeting, the US Treasury put more sanctions on Iran and threatened European firms that would work with INSTEX with sanctions. What would be your reaction to that? On the Ukrainian plane crash in Iran: did you receive any intelligence from the European countries about the fact that Iran might have accidentally taken down this plane? Are you going to commit to the ongoing investigation?

On the JCPOA I repeat: we are willing to maintain this deal and for that we need Iran to fulfil its commitments.

INSTEX is a mechanism that was conceived to allow economic operators to carry out [legitimate] economic transactions with Iran without being impacted by the US sanctions. Nothing has changed from this point of view. In order to keep the JCPOA alive, we need Iran to go back to the fulfilment of its commitments.

We have been talking about everything on the Iran situation. There is no news I can share with you on the crash of the Ukrainian plane. All hypothesis are open, there is an investigations taking place and we need the investigators to do their work. I cannot tell you what are the causes. I know that some leaders have been advancing the possibility of an accident, but I do not know and it would be irresponsible from my side to advance news about such a sensitive issue without having any concrete information.


Q: You said that you are going to continue to support rebuilding Iraq, but just three days ago the biggest Shia group in the Iraqi Parliament decided to ask the United States and other military forces to leave the country. Do you think it will be dangerous in the future for the other minorities, like the Kurds or the Sunnis?

When I say that we will continue working with Iraq, we are not only making reference to the presence of the militaries on the fight against Da’esh. We, the European Union, have a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Iraq and through this agreement, there are trade, economic and many other relationships that we offer to enhance and continue developing.

On Monday, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Iraq will be here, at the [European] External Action Service, and we, as the mandate from the EU ministers clearly states, are going to deploy a diplomatic activity and a strong presence in the region with all actors, Iraq for sure, because Iraq is our most important concern today. 

We have not been talking about the problems of minorities in Iraq today.


Q: Did you discuss any new ways to preserve the JCPOA, for example getting Iran back to the table? Or also a new type of deal that the United States could get behind?

On the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it is clear that we, Europeans, have a completely different position than the United States. The United States do not want this deal and it is very clear. They withdrew unilaterally form the JCPOA and we have not withdrawn. We are still there and we try to continue working in order for this deal not to go to the [UN] Security Council and be cancelled. So, on that, we have a different position.


Q: Vous appelez l’Iran à revenir à la table du JCPOA. Appelez-vous aussi les Etats Unis à revenir dans cet accord ? Quelles sont les mesures que vous comptez prendre pour contrer les sanctions extraterritoriales américaines qui font l’effet de la pression maximale ? Vous avez évoqué le fait de renforcer l’effort européen envers l’Irak, notamment en matière de soutien à l’effort de sécurité. Est-ce que vous allez proposer ou est-ce que les irakiens vous ont demandé de renforcer par exemple les missions de la Politique de Sécurité et de Défense Commune de l’Union européenne sur place ?

We will talk about it on Monday with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Iraq …sorry I will speak French… et il va y avoir des contacts avec le nouveau gouvernement de lIrak quand il sera formé. J’ai parlé [hier] avec le Premier Ministre [Adil Abdul-Mahdi] qui est en ce moment [le Premier Ministre] d’un gouvernement d’affaires courantes. Tout le monde au Conseil aujourd’hui était bien conscient de l’importance [de continuer] d’aider à la stabilité, à l’intégrité territoriale et au développement et aux réformes en Irak, de façon à ne pas perdre tout le travail effectué jusqu’à présent.

On the JCPOA, we want to save this deal if it is possible. Nobody assures you that it is possible. To negotiate a new agreement is a very complex, highly technical process which takes a long time.

The deal that was negotiated, from the technical point of view, is very solid, it contains clear conditions and guarantees with independent monitoring and serves as an example of what can be achieved by diplomatic engagement, if all parties remain committed to its implementation.

We regret that the United States decided to withdraw unilaterally from this agreement. And we do whatever we can [to preserve it]. INSTEX [the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges] is one of the tools that we are building in order to allow continuous [legitimate] economic transactions with Iran. It is true that until now it has not worked, not yet.

Maybe we cannot avoid that the JCPOA is finally cancelled, because the Dispute Resolution Mechanism can be triggered and I cannot exclude that this does happen. But in the Council today, the general understanding is that [there is] an engagement to avoid that this happens. 


Q: On the plane crash: hasn’t the EU a responsibility to all European citizens, worried about if it is safe to fly, to make some sense of the different intelligence reports that are coming out? In more general terms, we have seen different communications this week from different institutions and from some EU MS, on Iran, on Libya. We have seen announcements on a ceasefire. The EU is not speaking with one voice. Do you have a plan for better institutional coordination in term of the Foreign policy messaging?

You are mixing elements that should not be mixed. The crash of the Ukrainian plane has nothing to do with the crisis in Libya.

On the Ukrainian plane crash, this is a highly technical issue and there are experts working on that. Therefore, there is no concrete information that can be shared today.

On Libya, we have had many contacts with many different persons, at many different levels, in many different places. We will continue deploying all our energy, the one of the different EU Ministers, there is a lot of work to be done, for all of us. The Italians met [General] Haftar in Rome, we met [Prime Minister] al-Sarraj here [in Brussels]. We are sharing the same efforts. I do not see a lack of coordination.

Q: Vous avez parlé d’un mandat plus fort qui vous a été donné aujourd’hui par les ministres. Qu’est ce qui est différent, qu’est-ce que cela signifie ? 

Pour ceux qui comprennent bien le langage diplomatique, c’est doit être assez évident que le fait que le Conseil demande clairement au Haut-Représentant de développer toutes sortes d’efforts et toute sorte de dialogue politique avec toutes les parties, y compris l’Iran, de façon à promouvoir une solution régionale politique, à une certaine importance.

Car tout d’abord nous mettons clairement en évidence le fait qu’il faut dialoguer avec tout le monde, sans exclure personne, et nous envisageons une solution qui ne peut être que régionale, dans la recherche d’une solution politique.

Je pense que c’est un mandat qui doit être pris avec toute son importance. Cela veut dire qu’il faudra tenir des contacts diplomatiques. J’ai invité le Ministre des Affaires étrangères iranien [Mohammad Javad Zarif] à venir à Bruxelles, pour l’instant il n’a pas pu venir, nous trouverons d’autres occasions. Il faut inviter nos homologues du gouvernement irakien et rien n’est exclu : voyager, faire des contacts, promouvoir une solution politique au niveau régional en tenant compte de tous les acteurs. Il y a quand même une certaine différence, il y a d’autres acteurs qui ne veulent pas parler avec tous les autres acteurs, nous oui.


Link to the videos of the press conference

Link to the video of the opening statement:

Link to the video of the Q&A:  

Peter Stano
Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0)460 75 45 53