Iran/Iraq : Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the European Parliament plenary debate on the situation in Iran and Iraq following recent escalations
Mr President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
First of all, let me thank the European Parliament for its ongoing concern about the situation in the two countries that are featured in this debate as well as in the wider region. It is not an understatement to say that the recent tensions in Iraq and in the surrounding region have the potential to erase the hard-won progress of recent years, thereby affecting the lives of millions of people.
Mr President, allow me to begin this debate by stating one thing very clearly: I am committed as High Representative, and as the EU, we are committed all of us to working to stop the current cycle of violence in Iraq, which must cease before it spirals out of control once again. This is also why I convened an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council on Friday, coming back from Croatia sooner than expected, from which I received a strong mandate to carry out all necessary diplomatic efforts to contribute to the de-escalation in the region, support political dialogue and promote a political regional solution, these are the precise words of the conclusion of the Council. The Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission have also been fully engaged in the de-escalation efforts. And this is how it should be.
Mr President, Honourable Members,
During the past six weeks, in fact already since last year we have seen an increasing escalation of tensions in Iraq. This culminated in the killing of Iranian General QassemSoleimani in a US drone attack, followed by attacks by Iran against bases in Iraq housing troops fighting Da’esh, which thankfully did not harm anyone.
While it may appear as if – for the moment – the current situation will not escalate further, we – and I personally – have since the very beginning of this crisis been active in urging calm, restraint and de-escalation to all of the relevant parties inside and outside the region: from Iran to Iraq, to the UAE, to the United States, Turkey, Russia, China and others. We want to ensure that everyone with influence uses that influence to good effect and that we reach a temporary calm.
Why are we so concerned about the current crisis, and how can it affect the region? Well, the current situation in Iraq, and the risk of further military escalation, could jeopardise the substantial achievements in stability and in particular the fight against Da’esh in recent years. The current situation could generate a number of dangerous consequences: the resumption of Da’esh would have a catastrophic humanitarian impact, possibly leading to a dramatic increase in the number of displaced persons. We must avoid this at all costs, and for this to occur, preserving the achievements the Global Coalition has won collectively in the fight against Da’esh is imperative. Such a situation would also risk diverting attention from the necessary political reforms that Iraq must undertake, starting with government formation, because they are still a caretaker government, and the need to tackle essential social challenges, including fighting corruption.
We have already invested significantly in Iraq’s stability, reconstruction and development, with a financial support of more than €1.2 billion since 2014. This has focused on humanitarian aid; support for internally displaced persons, stabilisation in the liberated areas, civilian security sector reform through the CSDP EU Assistance Mission (EUAM), and supporting good governance and job creation.
We need to make sure – with our continued support – that the reforms legitimately demanded by the Iraqi citizens are delivered promptly also bearing in mind the global commitments taken in Kuwait on February 2018 at the Reconstruction Conference held there. On this the EU is fully delivering on the pledges we made with over €400 million mobilised in the last two years to support governance, reforms and promote sustainable job creation and inclusive growth.
Honourable Members, the situation in Iran is also something that we continue to follow closely. We have had a number of tragic incidents; the Ukraine International Airlines plane crash on 8 January which killed all 176 on board, including a high number of EU citizens. Iran has now taken responsibility for this crash. As I said in my statement on 11 January, this was a deplorable tragedy, and once again, I want to extend my condolences to the victims’ families and we expect that Iran will continue to cooperate fully and undertake a comprehensive and transparent investigation.
Within the same week, 59 people died in a stampede on 6 January during the funeral ceremonies for General Soleimani, and 20 individuals lost their lives on 9 January during a bus accident close to Tehran. I convey also in this case my deepest condolences to all of them.
Honourable Members of Parliament, in the current situation of tension it is more important than ever to keep hold of the instruments that are serving to promote security, and in this context, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the JCPOA) remains crucial for non-proliferation purposes. A failure to preserve the deal will only add tensions in the region. Imagine for a second what would be the situation today if Iran had nuclear weapons. And they would have been able to obtain those without the JCPOA.
On 5 January, Iran announced its fifth and – according to its own announcement – final step in the reduction of its nuclear commitments under the deal. This is a worrisome announcement, but it is important to see what the International Atomic Energy Agency reports on how Iran implements this step. As the Coordinator of the JCPOA, I have been in touch with all the participants on the diplomatic way forward, seeking to preserve unity in the group.
You will have heard that earlier today, the Foreign Ministers of France [Jean-Yves Le Drian], Germany [Heiko Maas] and the United Kingdom [Dominic Raab] have invoked paragraph 36, the so called Dispute Resolution Mechanism [under the JCPOA] and informed me in my capacity as Coordinator because I believe that Iran is not meeting its nuclear commitments, referring to the five steps that Iran has taken so far.
As Coordinator of the Joint Commission, I will guarantee that the Dispute Resolution Mechanism provides an opportunity to address the issues indicated by France, Germany and the UK. I will oversee this process, and I will be in touch with all the participants on the next steps.
I want to underline here that the Dispute Resolution Mechanism is first and foremost a process to resolve issues related to the deal implementation. The objective of the Dispute Resolution Mechanism will be therefore to find solutions and return to full compliance within the framework of this deal. It is not a matter of puttingsanctions – as I saw some newspapers had been claiming this morning. All remaining participants in the agreement have been clear of their determination to preserve the JCPOA. This unity is crucial and I intend to work hard to preserve it.
Our position, the European Union position, is clear. Without this deal we would lose a crucial element of the international non-proliferation architecture and an important contribution to regional security. A failure to preserve the deal can only add further tensions in the region.
Mr President, the recent escalation we have witnessed has a broader regional dimension. Tensions in Iraq reflect several of the region’s fractures, and have the potential to affect difficult situations elsewhere in the region, from Syria, to Lebanon, to Yemen and beyond. In short, the stakes are extremely high, for Iraq, for the region as a whole, for the world, and of course for us.
In this context, already for months, there have been calls for Europe, for the European Union, to play a bigger role, given we speak to all – all means all – and we are not, as a group, perceived as having a hidden agenda. Our partners see us as standing for dialogue and peaceful and negotiated resolutions of disputes.
As I mentioned at the beginning, last Friday I convened the extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. During the meeting, we once again reaffirmed our call for urgent de-escalation and maximum restraint. We also reaffirmed our steadfast support for Iraq’s unity, independence and territorial integrity, and underlined our commitment to our partnership with Iraq, and to our continued support for the stability and reconstruction of this country. We also underlined our joint determination to preserving the JCPOA, which we strongly believe to be in all our shared interests and in the interest of the region for peace and security. We also were very clear that a durable solution to the ongoing crisis can only be regional, and that we would continue to explore the role that the European Union can play on that.
With the strong backing of the Council and the Commission, I will personally continue to remain engaged on all of these issues, as I said, talking with everybody, travelling everywhere, and I am looking forward to work with you to promote safety, security and prosperity in the region which is strongly and dangerously jeopardised by the last events.
Thank you Mr President, thank you Members