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17 October 2016, Luxembourg – Remarks by the High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the press conference following the Foreign Affairs Council

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Thank you.

Starting with Syria, I can say that after a very long  conversation we had with all the ministers but also – at least for parts of the discussions – with Staffan de Mistura [UN Special Envoy for Syria], we have a united, clear, strong, common EU position and message on Syria.

First of all, the priority is to stop the bombing of Aleppo and in this respect we call on the Syrian regime and Russia to stop the bombing and to avoid further humanitarian catastrophe. You will see the entire conclusions. The language is pretty clear and that constitutes our common, strong basis for not only stating our position but also action. When we say that the European Union firmly believes there is no military solution to this conflict, this means that the European Union supports and encourages all efforts in all formats to stop not only the bombing on Aleppo, but also supports all efforts to avoid any further military escalation, any further confrontation at a military level and also supports all efforts in all formats to agree, implement and monitor an effective ceasefire.

In this respect obviously we commended the meetings that were held during the weekend, hoping that this will bring results in the coming days. The EU agrees – and this is our common basis – to call for an end of all military flights over Aleppo, immediate cessation of hostilities to be monitored by a strong and transparent mechanism; sieges to be lifted and country’s wide humanitarian access to be guaranteed.

Because our priority in this moment is to save Aleppo and to save human lives. This is why the European Union will continue an intense, diplomatic humanitarian effort reaching out to all players on the ground and internationally on a humanitarian initiative that we launched a couple of weeks ago that, in coordination and cooperation with UN agencies, would deliver humanitarian relief to Eastern Aleppo and other besieged areas and allow the safe monitor evacuation of urgent medical cases. And we urge the Syrian regime to give authorisation for humanitarian convoys to be delivered, in particular and starting from Eastern Aleppo. This is an issue that I have discussed in these last days repeatedly with [Sergey] Lavrov [Russian Foreign Minister], [Mohammad Javad] Zarif [Foreign Minister of Islamic Republic of Iran] and with other players and we really have the one priority today which is saving Aleppo and saving human lives in Aleppo.

But the EU is also ready to play its part on the political track and as we say that there is no military solution to the conflict, we are ready to start working to help, in this context, in constant and full coordination with the UN and [the UN] Special Envoy [Staffan de Mistura]. This is why we decided to launch a dialogue with key regional partners, with key actors in the region, to start looking at where a political transition might end up; what the regional players and the European Union can do to start preparing for the post-conflict period in all its different strands, be it reconciliation, reconstruction, institutional structures of a post-conflict state, that we all agree, has to be united, not divided, secular, inclusive and with space for all minority groups.

We might also look at ways together with regional key players of working on local governance and devolution but also national and local reconciliation. And as I said, start looking at economic reconstruction that could begin obviously only once the political transition starts, but can be prepared or that we can start preparing already now.

We believe that this work can be useful first of all to provide, to explore some common ground among different actors, but second also to reinforce or strengthen other parallel tracks that are focusing more on the immediate urgency, especially the ceasefire and the military process. So no duplication at all; no substitute at all but a way to serve in a better, more pro-active way from the European Union side the current efforts, the current processes that are in place on one side, linked to the role of the UN Special Envoy who discussed these proposals with us today but also by the ISSG [International Syria Support Group] co-chairs that are restarting efforts in this direction, in this moment.

Let me conclude the point on Syria by saying that we also obviously discussed the need to continue fighting against Da’esh and other UN designated terrorist groups both in Syria and Iraq. Let me use this opportunity to say that the news of today is the offensive on Mosul that has started this morning, a crucial element for the in the campaign to defeat Da’esh. We will discuss this tomorrow also with the Iraqi Foreign Minister [Ibrahim Abdul-Kareem Al-Jaafari] who will be tomorrow with me in Brussels. The Iraqi authorities and the Iraqi people have our full support in this difficult time and we will need to work on prioritising protection of civilian population of Mosul and the full respect of international humanitarian law.

Syria was not the only issue we discussed. We also tackled the migration work we are doing. As you might know that this week – actually tomorrow – the European Commission will adopt the report on the Migration Partnership Frameworks – the Migration Compacts – that will be presented at the European Council later this week. I took the opportunity to share with the ministers elements of this report that show a positive trend with all five priority countries. All ministers welcomed not only the work done but also the progress already achieved in these first months. Obviously these are first steps. We will need to continue the work and let me share with you that I thanked all the ministers and all the Member States because if we have now a positive trend on the implementation of the Migration Compacts, it is thanks to the active teamwork that all Member States have played together with the European institutions with the five priority countries.

We also decided early this morning to proceed with the implementation of the Global Strategy in all its different strands, moving from a shared vision to common action. So the work will continue. In November I will present to the foreign and defence ministers in a joint session of the Council the implementation plan on defence and security. That will lay the ground of the Council of December to adopt steps to be taken to strengthen the European defence. But let me underline the work we are doing in the implementation of the Strategy is not limited to Security and Defence. We will carry on our work in other fields, in particular building resilience of our partners in our region and beyond. Africa is a key example of this.

And talking about resilience, we also decided to – in a busy day we take time to focus also on the positive stories – to increase our support to Tunisia, a country that looks to Europe and the European Union with a lot of hope and sympathy. We feel very clearly and very strongly the fact that it is for the European Union to provide the support, those accompanying measures that Tunisia needs to make the difference especially towards its youth. This is why we decided to allocate up to €300 million for next year – 2017 – for Tunisia, especially to create the soci- economic conditions for the Tunisian youth to find the own way in life, in their country, in security and to prevent all possible dangers that the country can face in a regional challenging time, especially given the risk of tensions spilling over from Libya. I will stop here and I will leave space for your questions.

Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I127589

Q and A:

Q. Russia has announced an 8 hour ceasefire on Thursday ahead of the European Council. Is that a serious step in the right direction? Will it allow the EU to have a single one of the convoys through to Eastern Aleppo? And on your initiative on the political track, could that include any discussions involving the Assad regime?

A: On this last point let me be very clear: no. We do not have and I do not have contacts with [Bashar] Assad [President of Syria] personally, or with the regime. So the aim is to talk in particular with the key regional parties like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, but this does not exclude others, and also to continue the work we have carried on in these last months with key Syrian players – the HNC [The High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian Opposition], the main opposition, but also civil society organisations starting from women, churches, Christian minorities.

The work we can do and the work we have started to do is trying to see if is possible locally to build bottom-up some space for confidence and reconciliation. I know this can sound extremely out of sync in the moment when the fights are so hard, and it is, but many different conflicts have showed us over history that you have to start somewhere. With the difficulties we are facing in guaranteeing, ensuring a sustained ceasefire, we think that there is space for starting reflections on what can be the future of Syria if there is common ground in the region and among different parties on what could this future look like. This future we believe could first of all, prepare the ground for the moment hopefully – Inshallah, they would say in the region – the time comes but also possibly to create some confidence among the actors to engage seriously in talks.

As I said, this is not and please do not entitle this as” a new European initiative”. We are launching talks to work on the post-conflict, so this does not substitute or duplicate existing tracks. On the contrary this is in support of existing efforts that we believe are key and essential. In the meantime, we can use our knowledge, our skills, our contacts, our experiences to start reflecting on the day after which is where the Europeans have most of their experience, being born as the European Union itself in a post-conflict situation. So it is aimed at facilitating if possible, preparing the ground and preparing some common ideas and some concrete work.

On the announcement made by Russia on the eight hours, you know, it can be a start. There are discussions ongoing if the eight hours are enough for the convoys to deliver the aid in East Aleppo or not. This is an assessment that is not for us to make, but for the humanitarian agencies on the ground to make. It is very serious and very complicated work that needs to be assessed in all different and small details. For sure it is a positive step, but again the last assessment we had from the UN agencies was that twelve hours were needed, so I believe that there will be a little bit of work needed to find the common ground also there. But as I said, anything that could alleviate the humanitarian suffering, the catastrophe that we are seeing in Aleppo would be urgent and needed. I reiterate the call first of all on the Russian authorities and on the Syrian regime to allow humanitarian aid in East Aleppo but also stop the bombing, because again the world cannot look at what is happening in Aleppo without taking action in this respect.

Q. [In Italian] Lei da questa mattina ci aveva annunciato che non ci sarebbe stata una discussione sulle sanzioni alla Russia, così è stato, quindi qual è la richiesta che in sede politica e diplomatica arriva da parte dell’Unione europea nei confronti della Russia sulla Siria?

A: Innanzitutto la richiesta dell’Unione europea alla Russia e al regime siriano è di fermare i bombardamenti su Aleppo, garantire un cessate il fuoco che possa essere realmente effettivo e oggetto di monitoraggio dal punto di vista internazionale e garantire in questo modo che gli aiuti umanitari abbiano accesso ad Aleppo, alla parte est di Aleppo. L’Unione europea ha presentato un piano di emergenza di sostegno umanitario insieme alle agenzie delle Nazioni Unite. Quindi siamo pronti a entrare con i convogli delle agenzie umanitarie ad Aleppo Est nel momento in cui ci sarà una pausa, nel momento in cui ci sarà uno stop ai bombardamenti e tutte le necessarie autorizzazioni, perché abbiamo visto quello che è successo ai convogli anche delle Nazioni Unite poche settimane fa. E crediamo che sia indispensabile che la Russia e il regime di Damasco garantiscano queste misure perché il mondo non può assistere al dramma di Aleppo senza porsi la priorità assoluta di questo momento che è salvare vite umane.

Q. On your initiative which is talking about the future [of Syria]: High Representative, you know more than us that everybody in this region is trying to shape the future of Syria, a future that everybody sees from a different point of view. Which mechanisms practically you are going to use? What are you going to ask them exactly? Second point: could you clarify please the EU position concerning Mr de Mistura initiative about on Eastern Aleppo because noting this initiative it traces some questions. Supporting him but noting his initiative to support Aleppo, why?

A: Well, first of all, on this second part of the question, we have discussed this quite in detail during our conversation. What the European Union clearly says is that whatever can work on the humanitarian side for Aleppo we would welcome and support; whatever would prove to work on the ground. Because we know that also the initiative that Staffan de Mistura has presented has some difficult parts to be implemented, but if it works we will be more than ready to support it. Obviously our proposal to have medical assistance in the city and medical evacuation from the city also has the element that it requires the stop of the bombing, at least for sufficient time, and I would say for continued time. Once it is not enough to be substantial. We both agreed – him and us altogether – whatever we can do together in Aleppo to save lives, to improve lives in Aleppo, to rescue the city we will support. So there are no divisions on that. The priority is to have a humanitarian initiative that can work and can be supported by both of us.

The other question: I will not elaborate now on mechanisms also because I don’t imagine particular mechanisms. I do not even call it an initiative, we launched talks with regional partners and key actors in the region but also we will talk with Syrians as I said because it is sometimes a bit of paradox that the future of Syria is discussed without the Syrians so this is what we are doing with the opposition groups, the civil society, with the Syrians who still live in Syria. To see if there is a common ground to start with; I believe that there are some elements on which we can explore far away from the media news if there is some common ground. For sure there is common ground on the need to preserve the unity of the country which is not something to be given for granted if we continue this way. There is common ground on the need to have a secular country, there is common ground on the need to guarantee that all minorities in Syria find their place in the future of Syria. How does this translate into mechanisms? How does this translate into governance? How does this translate into institutional partners? This is something that the European Union can maybe facilitate – a thinking to develop the common ground, to develop, in principle, concrete solutions. As I said, the process can start in Geneva hopefully once the UN Special Envoy decides to reconvene them, but in the meantime we can do some preparatory work to prepare some common work. And please don’t underestimate the work we can do on the reconstruction of the country because this will have to happen anyway and this is as we have seen in many conflicts, this is not something easy or irrelevant. So the work on reconstruction will be key and the work on reconstruction is linked to governance and institutions that will be put in place. This will be connected with the work that the US and Russia are starting to revive and the work of the UN Special Envoy de Mistura.

Q. Merci de nous dire quelques mots sur le travaux de ce matin sur la République Démocratique du Congo.

A: Nous avons adopté des conclusions du Conseil sur la République Démocratique du Congo. Il y a – on sait bien – un dialogue qui est facilité par l’Union africaine. Il est essentiel pour l’Union européenne d’encourager tout le monde à fixer une date pour la tenue des élections. Nous pensons qu’il est encore possible d’avoir les élections en 2017 et aussi à encourager tout le monde à être clair sur le fait que la Constitution soit respectée et notamment sur la limite du mandat du président [Joseph]Kabila. Nous avons aussi décidé de regarder tous les instruments que nous avons pour aider à l’arrêt de la violence et pour encourager  un climat politique qui soit plus constructif que celui-ci que nous avons maintenant. C’est la décision que nous avons prise, il y a des conclusions qui sont publiques déjà et c’était une décision consensuelle importante, je pense. Ce n’était pas seulement une décision que nous avons prise mais aussi un point que nous avons débattu pendant le Conseil. Merci.

Link to the video : http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I127590

  • Ref: EU16-1017
  • EU source: European Union
  • UN forum:
  • Date: 17/10/2016

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