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Press Briefing by Reijo Kemppinen, Spokesman, European Commission, and Stefano Sannino, Diplomatic Advisor of European Commission
Sea Island, June 8, 2004, 18h05

MR. KEMPPINEN: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, shall we start? First of all, I would like to introduce ourselves. My name is Reijo Kemppinen and I am the spokesman of the European Commission and the spokesman of the President of the Commission. And with me I have Stefano Sannino, who is the Diplomatic Advisor of the Commission, President, and also the sherpa of the Commission to the G8.

Before I give the floor to Stefano to go through the agenda and the major items insofar as the European Union is concerned, I would simply like to say a few things concerning the U.N. Security Council resolution that has now been adopted unanimously in New York.

We in the Commission see this as a very good thing and the start of a process that will strengthen the role of the United Nations and will lead to a full transfer of power to the hands of a democratic Iraqi government within a sovereign Iraq.

The European Union has been arguing consistently and for a long time already for this to happen. What we need is long-term engagement, the United States working hand in hand with the Iraqi people, with the international community, and together with the countries of the region.

We are very satisfied to note that the council resolution has now passed, that the United States is ready to work with the international community in building for the future of Iraq.

The President of the Commission, Mr. Prodi, thinks that this will now allow the European Union also to strengthen its engagement with Iraq. Tomorrow – that is, Wednesday – the Commission will approve a communication, a set of proposals, which will set out a three-phase program to progressively build relations between European Union and Iraq.

The medium term aim of these proposals is to open negotiations for a bilateral agreement after the establishment of a constitutional democratically elected government. We want to help build a European Community approach to relations with Iraq and we want to send a clear message of support to the newly established Iraqi interim government and the people of Iraq.

Insofar as the more materialistic parts of that communication are concerned, we are already contributing quite a lot beyond the 323 million Euro of assistance that we are already providing, the European Union has also pledged in Madrid recently 1.27 billion Euro in Iraq.

We suggest in our communication to focus next on helping the United Nations in organizing the elections, engaging in dialogue with the Iraqi authorities and civil society and building on ongoing EU efforts to increase security, which remains to be one of the key conditions to get the operation going.

But I would simply at the end like to emphasize that the key issue for us at this stage is not about money; the issue is about the adoption of the U.N. Security Council resolution is a good thing and one of the key conditions that will now allow us to also build closer and better relationship in the region and to emphasize and to strengthen the cooperation of the international community in the region and in Iraq.

Stefano.

MR. SANNINO: Iraq will be part of our discussion on a broader Middle East and Northern Africa, which is one of the main topics of discussion for the G8.

I suppose that you are well aware that there are essentially four main areas that will be discussed during the Summit. One is economy and trade; the second one is development; the third is the role of Mid East and Northern Africa; and the fourth one is security nonproliferation aspects.

I would like to go very briefly on these four points and then maybe concentrate a little bit more on Middle East and take your questions if you have any.

The discussion on economy and trade would be essentially concentrated on the agenda for growth and how the G8 can support, broadly speaking, the growth. This is like prices of the oil or the main themes on the economic agenda would certainly be brought up, but there is no idea of having any written statement on this.

We are also working on trade in order to give a very clear and robust message for the finalization of the Doha development agenda, and we do hope that we can indicate that we want a ambitious and balanced outcome for July. You know that to get to the point where we should have been in that –

On development, we will have, as you know, lunch with a certain number of African leaders. We will try to discuss with them how to support the development in these countries; how to complement the flow of official assistance with other elements – like the intervention of the private sector, the role of remittances, how to make them more effective and less expensive. This is like HIV or famine would also be discussed.

On security and nonproliferation, we discussed essentially the idea on how to promote the security for travelers, keeping at the same time in mind the need for allowing travelers to move freely across the borders. The idea of reconciling security with the openness of our societies very much will be half of what we will try to do during the summit.

As far as nonproliferation is concerned, there are a certain number of ideas set – how to avoid the unlawful use of nuclear facilities and utilities; how to strengthen the rules of the IAEA; and the idea of broadening the scope of global security in shipping.

But as I said at the beginning, the Middle East will be very much at the center of the discussion of this G8. We are finalizing now essentially two texts which will be read by leaders, with a certain number of ideas in order to respond very much to the needs of the region. SO we will start from there – we will start from what the region has asked in terms of support for daily foreign process. And we are trying to give them some replies.

I just want to stress that as far as the European Union is concerned, we are not starting this process today. We have a longstanding tradition of cooperation with these countries. Just remember that the so-called Barcelona Process, which is a process linking the countries of the European Union and all the countries of Northern Africa and Middle East dates back to 10 years by now. Also, you have to keep in mind that the financial commitment that we have toward these countries is substantial, since we are delivering assistance in terms of grants or loans to these countries for more than 3 billion Euro per year. So it's a quite substantial amount of money that is on the table. And we are working with them in different areas like governments, education, women's empowerment, reform of the judiciary. We have a longstanding dialogue with them on human rights. So it's a broad spectrum of action.

But what is important is that in this endeavor there is also a pure commitment of the other members and the protagonists around the table. What we wish to do is to have an even stronger cooperation in order to support the process that is taking place in these countries, taking into account the specificity of the countries themselves and the need for having the process, which is not enforced from outside but is very much coming from the region itself. The term "ownership" is very much in our mind and also in our documents when we speak about the Middle East.

One final point is that a commission that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is a very important point in this context, and that it needs to be addressed in a substantial manner. At the same time, there is also the recognition that the lack of progress or the slow progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not become an obstacle for reforms in the region itself. So I think in a way it's a quite balanced way of looking at things in the region.

I can stop there and if you have any questions, I'd be glad to –

Q Regarding the declaration of the broader Middle East, is there any financial commitment at all involved in the declaration – an overall commitment, firstly? And secondly, is there a commitment by the European Union? And if there is not a financial commitment officially, is there something behind the scenes or do you have some thoughts on that?

MR. SANNINO: The declaration itself does not provide for any specific financial commitment. There is also recognition that the region as such is not a region without economic needs. Maybe we are not fairly distributed among all the countries of the region, but we do not think that that was the key element in this perspective.

And even more than that, I have to say – and I'm going back to what I said before – at least as far as the European Union is concerned, we have already a substantial financial commitment towards these countries. I was speaking of something around 3 billion Euro per year, in terms of loans and grants – EABA – European investment bank loans and grants under the –

So we did not think that it was necessary at this stage to put this money on the table. We have our way of using this money and having it agreed in the way we spend it in the countries in the region.

But certainly one of the things that is recognized is the need for a degree of greater transparency of information of who is doing what with money and which are the kinds of programs that we are supporting in the different countries and different parts of this region. Essentially, that is the idea. We do not want to put everything into a single pot. We want to keep our own programs and coordinate better the way we spend the money.

Q Did the Americans want a concrete financial commitment in the declaration?

MR. SANNINO: We have also spoken about that. There will be some money, I mean, in the sense that one of the initiatives that we have agreed is how to improve one specific facility of international finance corporation, which is already active in the region. So we want to rationalize and strengthen this facility. So there will be some money, but I mean it's a very limited amount of money.

Nobody has really tried to push too much this issue. I think that we have our program, as I said; the Americans have their own program – they have the Middle East partnership initiatives; the Japanese have their own. We will keep these initiatives distinct. But this does not mean that we are not willing to work together in order to address specific areas of interest.

Q So what's the value of this declaration? And is there anything like a follow-up? After one year there is a checkup, what happened with democracy and development?

MR. SANNINO: Well, the value of declaration is the fact that all the countries of the G8 commit themselves to provide support, if requested, to the countries of the region in different ways.

I want to stress once again – sorry to become repetitive, but as European Union, we are not starting from scratch. We have longstanding experience, which dates back to more than 10 years. So it's clear that to us, if you want, there is nothing new into this. What is new is the fact that we are working all together and in a way that a recognition that we need to work all together in this region because all the problems are linked in a certain way. So this is the new element, if you want, of the plan.

Then one of the ideas in the plan is to create a forum where G8 countries and other interested countries and countries of the region may meet in order to discuss at different levels – at government levels, at business levels – how to work together. But there are no benchmarks, there are no targets set. This is more a menu of options that are on the table for those countries who are interested and willing to draw from this menu.

Q Some of the skeptics of the U.S. broader Middle East and Africa initiative have argued that it's simply a smokescreen to disguise the lack of high-level or concerted U.S. action in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And they argue that the best way to promote reform is to remove the kind of radicalism that's bred by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is your position on that? I mean, would you like to see a more overt U.S. role in the region?

MR. SANNINO: The reply is that in the declaration there is a clear recognition of the importance of the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need to look at it in a very committing way. The fact that all the members of the G8 have agreed to work on this together, I think, is a positive element. It's positive that the conflict itself is recognized as one of the key elements to be solved in order to stabilize the region. It is also important that there is a recognition of the fact that reforms which have already been undertaken by many countries in the region should be stepped up and speeded up.

I think these two elements together represent the plus, if you want, of this action plan.

Q But does the EU really think that the U.S. administration is taking serious steps as a moderator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Because the administration so far has backed the Sharon plan. And is this in accordance with the EU position?

MR. SANNINO: The EU position is very much linked to what has been agreed by the Quartet. And even the Sharon plan – at least what's been agreed now in terms of withdrawal from the Gaza Strip – it's an important step.

We do consider that this is the initial step and that others need to be taken in order to reach to the – full participation in the region. But we do believe that in a way we have to look at this as an important step in the right direction – the first one, not the last one.

Q Do you think that other steps will follow on the part of the U.S. administration?

MR. SANNINO: You should ask the U.S. administration, not me. It's what we hope.

MR. KEMPPINEN: If I may – especially here in the United States, it seems to be the case that many of the people, including those in the media, do not seem to realize, as Stefano said on a couple of occasions, that when it comes to the Middle East, Europe has been present consistently and continuously historically, politically and financially; and we continue to be present.

Our presence and our policies have not changed. When it comes to the United States, we really warmly welcome the greater involvement, and we are sure that this will, in time – providing that it is consistent and continuing, which we hope it is – will provide the necessary link for the international community to bring about also consistent changes in the Middle East. We can't actually be those who tell beforehand how long and how committed the United States will be in the region. We can only hope and we can emphasize the fact that any lasting results will definitely require the full cooperation of the international community, that including the United States.

Q What happened to the Quartet –

MR. SANNINO: No, no, the Quartet is there. That's why I'm saying – even the withdrawal from Gaza is part of the roadmap, and it's one of the steps which is considered in the roadmap. It is not something that is outside the roadmap. Then the roadmap is other steps. That's why I'm saying that for us, we consider this the first step. But this does also mean that we welcome the first step. This does not mean that for us it's the last step.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. SANNINO: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Well, they are continuing to work at various levels. The last meeting of the quartet was at the level of minister of foreign affairs in New York.

MR. KEMPPINEN: Listen, for the benefit of people in Savannah who might be listening in, it might be good if you ask the questions into the microphone.

Q Sorry. Is it still a realistic goal, then, according to the roadmap for a Palestinian state already next year?

MR. SANNINO: I don't now if it's a realistic objective. But once again, I think I reply with the way the President used to reply to questions like this. If you give me a better option, I'll bite. At the moment, we have to work with this. And again, I don't know if it's feasible next year, but certainly things seem to be moving a little bit more today than a few days ago. I think that in any case, this is a positive development.

Q May I ask the question differently? The U.S. administration says that the Palestinians have to recognize new realities, which means that the Israelis will not withdraw behind the borders before the Six Day War. Is this in accordance with the EU position?

MR. SANNINO: No, it's not.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

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