Fariba Mavaddat, euronews: Over the past year, Middle East and North Africa have seen monumental change sin their histories. As citizens across the region call for their voices to be heard and demand democracy, euronews spoke to Baroness Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Fariba Mavaddat, euronews:Colonel Gaddafi’s death brought to an end and started a new era in Libya, but with heavily armed rebels roaming the streets and a feuding Transitional Council, the country cannot even organise itself let alone moves towards democracy. How do you want to address the problem and to what extend would you propose to get involved in it?
Catherine Ashton: “Now, you are right. There are big security challenges at the moment: a lot of weapons in the country that need to be got rid of safely and securely, issues on borders, the need to have a proper police force working for the people. That is why we have teams on the ground now both in Benghazi and Tripoli, helping to work on what is needed and how we can help under the UN umbrella but closely working with those who are leading at the moment. They will start building I think towards elections and the future and we’ll be there to help them as well.”
euronews: How do you address the problem of power-sharing by Islamic groups, by secular groups?
Catherine Ashton: “What we have heard from Mr. Jibril and Mr. Jalil all the way through this is the need to be inclusive. It is the word that I have heard again a lot in talking to all sorts of people. They said: we want to build a future that includes everybody. It is very very important that everybody feels this is their country and that they move towards that democratic process, the elections and beyond that they really do get involved and engaged”.
euronews: Let’s move further up to the Middle East. You tried your utmost to get Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiations table, and you also helped Mahmoud Abbas in his bid for an independent state, but very little if any thing has come out of it all. Now where do we go from here?
Catherine Ashton: “Well, you know, for President Abbas, the critical issue is the settlements. They are illegal to international law. We are very clear about that. I was interested to see, and I talked to prime minister Netanyahu about it a lot. I hope that he will feel the need to show the gesture that could be so important to get the talks moving. And equally with President Abbas, the need for him to be able to come to the negotiating table with a sense of clear desire to get to the end of this road.
euronews: do you have teeth sharp enough to persuade them to come to some sort of agreement?
Catherine Ashton: “Oh, yes!! I think what I would say about that is that really it is not so much about how sharp we are but how clear we are about what and why. What we are saying to both is we believe in the future of the state of Israel, and we believe in the future of a Palestinian state. People need it to live in peace and security.
euronews: Let’s stay in the region and talk about Syria. You came very loud and clear at the beginning of the Syrian Spring asking for president Assad’s resignation, but it seems to me over the past few weeks, somewhat that will has diminished.
Catherine Ashton: “Not at all, but I think what we have to do is now try and work systematically to try and put pressure on Syria. We will not accept that the kind of chaos, destruction and death going on in Syria would ever be acceptable to us. We are beginning to see the possibilities of groupings coming together. Really what we want to see is the regime taking its responsibilities seriously.”
euronews: That is, you are happy with president Assad in charge but making some modifications and bringing democracy and include various groups into the government?
Catherine Ashton: “I think the time for that is gone. People have been killed. Large numbers are in prison. He has lost that authority.
euronews: Do you see in Syria a scenario similar to Libya?
Catherine Ashton: “Every situation is different in terms of how we work together internationally and what is happening on the ground and it is always a mistake in my view to try and equate one with the other.”
euronews: Now, it is common knowledge that the Islamic Republic has been supporting President Assad’s regime in various ways and as a result, you put sanctions on for example on the Revolutionary Guard Army and the Quds corps, but we all know that sanctions are largely symbolic.
Catherine Ashton: “I don’t think that is true. In fact there is quite a lot of evidence that sanctions are working and not a symbolic gesture.
euronews: How do you check that?
Catherine Ashton: “Well, we do that by looking at what is happening in the economy and you will see reports for example in some of the economic journals that show the sanctions do have an effect. But if Iran is serious as it says it is, either demonstrating that it does not wish to have nuclear weapons or being able to fulfil its own obligations – they signed up these obligations – then they need to be willing to build the confidence of the international community and get to serious talks”.
euronews: Yes, but you see, even the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has not been able to absolutely prove that Iran is up to making nuclear weapons. You cannot be sure that that is the case.
Catherine Ashton: “Well, there seems to be quite a lot of evidence built in to what the IAEA said, of deep concern that this may well be what they are doing. They say they are not, so prove it.”
euronews: My last question is about Ukraine. Are you prepared to sacrifice your future relationships with Ukraine, which is an important country for the EU, over the case of an individual, Yulia Timoshenko?
Catherine Ashton: “I turn the question round. Is Ukraine willing to see what is clearly an unfair trial, jeopardise its relationships with the international community? I want to have strong relationships with Ukraine. We have done a lot of technical work on free trade agreement which is good for them and good for us. I would like to see that move forward, but we know that is not going to move anywhere; it is not going to get the political support that is necessary unless they show in the processes that follow they really do have an independent fair trial process.”