Interview with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom
following the EU Council of Ministers forum
(Broadcast on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet – July 21, 2003)
Q: Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is now participating in the Council of Ministers forum of the 15 member states of the European Union. The EU will soon be enlarged to include 25 states. The foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority, Nabil Shaath, will also be participating in the forum. Aside from the economic issues on the forum agenda, the ministers will also be discussing a number of security and international matters, foremost among them the issues of Iraq and the threat from Iran.
FM Shalom: About an hour ago, I concluded my address to the expanded forum of the European Union Council of Ministers. We are referring to 25 ministers representing close to 450 million people. This is a phenomenon that is not sufficiently understood in Israel. We are talking about a population that is one and a half times the size of the US population.
Many issues were raised at the forum, including the Iranian issue. I explained to them that, from our perspective, Iran poses a very grave threat to the stability of the entire world, and not just to the State of Israel. Therefore, we cannot allow this extreme regime to continue developing weapons of mass destruction. I explained to the ministers that we must do everything to ensure that the Iranians sign the Additional Protocol – in other words, Iran must allow a more comprehensive inspection of their activities. An additional issue is the need to prevent the enrichment of uranium, which is now taking place in Iran. We must act on this matter as soon as possible.
Q: In view of the Iranian announcement regarding the new Shihab-3 missile, which is capable of reaching Europe, is this no longer Israel’s problem alone?
FM Shalom: You are correct. Therefore, Europe’s perception of this matter has now changed. The Europeans understand today that this threat is liable to be directed at Europe and Russia. Consequently, they are showing far more understanding, and they have taken a stronger stand, and this even applies to Iran’s aspirations. An Iranian refusal to sign the Additional Protocol could result in the matter being referred to the Security Council in September, with the possibility of emergency measures being imposed on Teheran.
Q: Is there any significance to the sanctions that the EU could impose on Iran? Could the EU impose trade sanctions, for instance, on Iran?
FM Shalom: You have just touched on the right point. Only a few days ago, the British foreign minister, Jack Straw, visited Iran, where he told them that the trade agreements between the two countries would be suspended, in the event that the Iranians do not sign the Additional Protocol.
Of course, I praised the British foreign minister, who was present, and I emphasized that this had to be done in order to make it clear to the Iranians that they have to allow these inspections – without inspections, they could possess nuclear weapons within a very short time.
It is important to recognize that the Iranians are refusing to do this, in view of the fact that they are developing nuclear weapons. Today, everyone knows this. The International Atomic Energy Agency will convene in Vienna in September, in order to discuss the report of Director-General El-Baradei (who was dispatched to Iran by the IAEA). In the event that they make the correct decisions at the forum, the matter will be referred to the UN Security Council for its decision, at the forthcoming session in September.
Q: What about the Syrian moves? How is Syria perceived among EU leaders?
FM Shalom: Indeed, I was asked about developments in Syria, even though most of the discussion focused on the Palestinian issue. I told them that, from our perspective, the negotiations can be renewed not tomorrow but today – in the event that the Syrians are ready to do so without preconditions, and once they have taken action to close the terrorist headquarters and the training camps, as well as halt the transfer of arms to Hizbullah from Iran, via the Syrian airports and sea routes. I also asked the EU Council of Ministers to include Hamas and the Hizbullah on their list of terrorist organizations.
In addition, I told the EU forum that it is possible that this act [the Syrian move] has been carried out as a result of American pressure. In any event, I can tell you that I have asked the Foreign Ministry staff to carry out a reassessment (and this is also being carried out in the Ministry of Defense). Has there really been a change of heart on the part of Assad? Do his approach and his recent statements indicate a new path and a desire for peace? Or is it possible that nothing has changed? We would be happy if we knew that there is a new [Syrian] approach, which seeks negotiations and the pursuit of peace.
Q: Are there any discussions between Israel and the EU on the expansion of the Association Agreement?
FM Shalom: Yes. There is no doubt that a great deal of the discussion focused on the wish of the Europeans to become more involved in the peace process. I told them that, from our perspective, Europe could take a more active role in the peace process, although we would like a more balanced approach on their part.
We sense a positive change. We are seeing the first signs of change, as well as the willingness of a number of European countries to include us as full members in the EU. We are now discussing the possibility of Israel being granted special status within an enlarged Europe, and this appears to be a more appropriate option.
This European approach is encouraging. In the forum, I noted the fact that the Europeans have never been involved in any peace process between Israel and the Arab countries. They did not play a role in the peace process between Israel and Egypt, and nor were they involved in the peace processes with Jordan and the Palestinians – there was no European participation in the Oslo process, the Hebron Agreement, or the Wye River Memorandum. This is the first time that they can be part of the process, and be involved in all the economic components of the joint projects, in all the matters relating to the campaign against incitement, the implementation of reforms in the Palestinian Authority, and other issues.
I also stated that we have a request of them: a more balanced approach must be expressed both in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process, as well as in UN voting forums and other international organizations. This more balanced approach should find its expression in forums where there is an automatic tendency to support anti-Israeli resolutions – these anti-Israeli votes are generally conducted without a real examination of the issues.
We are now working on this matter with the Americans, and they are raising the issue with their European counterparts, in order to create a new system where knee-jerk voting no longer occurs, in which a more positive and balanced approach toward Israel is adopted. I am now working on this with the Europeans, and will do so with the United States on my forthcoming trip. These issues are very important. They will indicate that Israel’s standing has improved not only in the European Union Council of Ministers, but also in UN institutions and agencies. This issue was also raised in the context of football.
Q: Will Israeli football teams be able to host matches in Israel?
FM Shalom: We very much hope so. Last week, I was in Geneva to hold discussions with UEFA, in order to obtain their approval for the return of international football to Israel. The decision will be taken next week, but I want to say that I was greatly encouraged. One foreign minister after another spoke about the need for the return of international football to Israel, including German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, and the foreign minister of Spain, Ana Palacio. Indeed, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went further, and stated that it is safer to play football in Israel now than it used to be in England a few years ago. It is a fact that matches were played in England, and there was no problem with this. Therefore, he said that influence should be exerted upon UEFA, so that the right decision is made, and everyone agreed with him. I very much hope that this will be carried out.
I thanked them for their support, and I was grateful for the letters that they wrote in favor of the return of international football matches to Israel. I passed on those letters from the foreign ministers to UEFA, and I hope that we will receive a positive response next week. Of course, this also depends on the situation remaining calm. If a decision is not made next week, we will have to wait another month. I hope, however, that with the considerable support that we received today at the European Council of Ministers on this issue, we may be cautiously optimistic ahead of the vote next week.