Foreign Affairs Council – Iran/Syria/Burma
THE MINISTER – We’ve done a good job today; there was great consensus at the Council. Firstly on Iran – you know our position; our objective is to ensure that Iran abandons her military nuclear programme and complies with the resolutions of the Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors. The path of dialogue is still open, but Iran refuses to commit to it transparently and with intellectual honesty, if I may put it like that.
So to avoid any military solution, which could have irreparable consequences, we decided to go further down the path of sanctions.
We therefore adopted, by consensus, very strong sanctions on the Central Bank [of Iran]’s assets and Iranian oil exports, with a transition period for those member states most dependent on Iran for their supply. So I think it’s a good decision which sends a strong signal and which, I hope, will convince Iran that she’s got to change her position, she’s got to change her policy and agree to the dialogue we’re offering her.
SYRIA/ARAB LEAGUE ACTION
Then we talked about Syria. Here again, we’ve stepped up sanctions. Everyone broadly agrees on the analysis of the situation. We carefully studied the Arab League’s latest proposals; we support the initiative.
For my part, I noticed that this report denounced, in particular, the Syrian regime’s responsibility as regards the violence, including the need for the regime to comply with the commitments it made on the four basic points, which you know: an end to the crackdown, the army’s return to barracks, release of the prisoners and free access for the international media to Syria. So we must go on supporting this process, the strengthening of the team of observers, and also the proposal to seek a solution involving national transition and national reconciliation. And we’d also like the Arab League to move closer to the United Nations Secretary-General so that it can draw on United Nations support.
Finally, a small patch of blue sky on a somewhat cloudy horizon: Burma. I gave an account of my recent visit to Myanmar, noting that something really is happening, something important, a real desire on the part of the Burmese authorities to liberalize and democratize the regime, with concrete decisions. The day I arrived over there, 651 prisoners were released, most of whom were political prisoners. New legislation has also been introduced on the right to strike, the right of association and the right to demonstrate. And a by-election is going to take place on 1 April. In short, all this is an encouraging process.
My meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi convinced me that she was in talks herself with the authorities. I also met the representatives of other opposition groups who are in the same frame of mind.
And so it seemed to me necessary to send a signal of support to the democratization movement, by beginning to lift some sanctions – as a start, because we’re going to keep a number of measures in reserve.
Firstly we’re going to observe what happens on the complete release of the prisoners – there are still cases to be clarified; secondly on the progress of the elections, which we want to be free and transparent, of course; and finally, on the ceasefire and political dialogue with the ethnic minorities, which is one of the most important challenges for the regime.
And if this democratization process continues, we’ll go further on the lifting of sanctions. We’ve started by lifting visa bans for a number of figures, and we’ll progress as and when the regime also progresses.
Q. – On the embargo, what’s the risk of oil prices rising following the EU’s decision?
THE MINISTER – In my opinion virtually zero, because other producer countries have said they’re ready to make up the difference.
Q. – What practical repercussions will these sanctions have on the Iranian economy?
THE MINISTER – It means some very specific things: it means we’re going to gradually paralyse Iran’s economic activity and gradually deprive the regime of its resources. I’m well aware people can be very sceptical about sanctions and say they’re of no use, but they’re better than waging war. And I’d simply like to remind you, in relation to Burma, that it’s clearly a matter of time; one of the reasons I was given for this sudden change of direction by the regime was precisely that it realized its isolation because of the sanctions and needed to put an end to it. So you see that sanctions can lead to positive changes.
Q. – Will the sanctions against Iran be applied by other countries, such as China?
THE MINISTER – Of course: we’d like them to be applied by as many countries as possible. I was in Japan 10 days ago; there are questions being asked in Japan. At the time when I was there, the Japanese government wasn’t exactly unanimous, and I hope the thinking has managed to move forward in that direction. Let me remind you that the American Congress has already imposed the same sanctions, subsequently signed and transposed into American law by President Obama.
Q. – Can any extra sanctions be envisaged if this pressure isn’t enough?
THE MINISTER – I think we’ve gone as far as possible on the sanctions; we can still consider other steps, but these are very significant steps; they really are unprecedented sanctions.
Q. – What solution is there for countries like Greece which have special agreements with Iran?
THE MINISTER – Well, I’ve told you we’re going to leave Greece a little time to adapt; we’re going to help her find replacement resources.
Those resources exist because, as I’ve reminded you, a number of oil producing countries have said they’re willing to increase their production; the number of barrels to find isn’t gigantic – it’s in the order of 1.5 to 2 million barrels a day. (…)./.