Today there is a bloc of European states that supports us in the most complex and difficult situations both for us and for them.
[Translated from Hebrew]
The foreign minister’s visit to the OSCE conference
Eran Sikorel: Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman landed in Moscow a few hours ago, after attending the summit of foreign ministers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that took place this year in Athens
Let us begin with the visit you just completed in Greece. Israel is not a member of the OSCE, so how did you as Israeli foreign minister take part in this meeting?
FM Liberman: First of all, the organization was founded in the mid-90s and Israel has been participating from the very first in conferences held by this very important forum. Many other countries outside Europe also play an active part in it, and the last country that they decided to accept both as an observer and a participant was Australia, just for this conference. But other countries such as Canada and the United States and of course the Mediterranean states, Egypt and Jordan all participate in this forum. It was very interesting to sit there around the table. I would like to note that as one of the Mediterranean countries we were placed between Egypt and Jordan. We sat side by side and exchanged views and it was very interesting.
The Swedish draft on Jerusalem
Eran Sikorel: Surely you also discussed the Swedish draft proposal on Jerusalem. What impression did you get of the talks you held with the European leaders?
FM Liberman: Look, what the Swedes are more or less trying to do here is to pass – so as not to say sneak in – a quick resolution that not everyone will notice. I must say that most of the foreign ministers I spoke with were not really aware of it, and there are signs of a large bloc of countries who oppose the Swedish draft. Everyone understands that the Swedish presidency is nearing its end – Sweden is currently the rotating president of the European Union – and such an attempt to pass such a crude and one-sided resolution towards the end of their presidency just before Spain steps in to head the European Union, doesn’t seem reasonable, and I hope that the draft will be significantly corrected.
Eran Sikorel: Did you perhaps receive assurances from the leaders of Italy and other countries?
FM Liberman: Beyond assurances, today there is a bloc of European states that supports us in the most complex and difficult situations both for us and for them. I received the impression from those states that they will give us their support this time as well. There will even be additional countries that intend to support the Israeli position, and I must say I was impressed that our position – again this is not simple and nothing is unequivocal – but our position is much better than one might think based on the reports in the Israeli media.
Shmuel Tal: How can you really explain it? Have you ever tried to think, and you probably know firsthand, what is behind Sweden’s actions? Why is it that they keep making up something new, and this time are pushing it through? True, they’re finishing their term at the end of the month, but they’re doing an awful lot of damage as it would seem, and it also goes against the positions of the Quartet, of which the European Union is a part.
FM Liberman: Unfortunately Sweden has taken a very consistent anti-Israel stance in recent years, which is largely unaccepted in many European countries. This isn’t the first time; their attitude is certainly different. We remember the Swedish government’s reaction to the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, which they worked very hard to stop, and actually apologized. They issued an apology in writing on the subject… How do they suddenly remember freedom of speech when it comes to Israel and all sorts of distortions and lies connected with Israel? So this Swedish position is not new. Yet, again, what we see for sure, also within the European Union, is that there is no one uniform EU position. In the last three votes, there were always three different groups…
Shmuel Tal: Is this a feeble attempt to pull the rug out from under the American approach to U.S. foreign policy, trying to undermine President Obama’s hegemony in every area of foreign policy?
FM Liberman: No. We see that at least three European states from the first tier are consistently standing up for us – Germany, Holland and Italy. The new member countries in the EU from Eastern Europe – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – also support Israel fairly consistently. I think in this case we also have here a difficult struggle within the European Union. There is a lot of curiosity surrounding the new high commissioner for foreign policy, the new foreign minister. What position will she take on the Middle East? So far we haven’t actually heard anything from her on our issues.
Shmuel Tal: Minister Liberman, please allow me to change the subject. Being in Russia now, do you feel that the Russians have already grasped the facts about Iran or will soon grasp them? Because there are some deals in the making, the supply of sophisticated antiaircraft missiles and many more joint ploys, economic ones as well, between Russia and Iran. At what point will the breaking point come? Will you manage to move Russia to the side of the parties trying to stop Iran, to halt them while it’s still possible?
FM Liberman: I think that today there is a clear understanding in Russia about Iranian policy, as Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov told me at our meeting yesterday. But besides that, what we see in Russia is that they are once again disappointed by the Iranian position, and they are not hiding their pessimism about the possibility of reaching some kind of arrangement with Iran.
Eran Sikorel: Perhaps no less important than that is Moscow. Is Moscow withstanding the pressure? Does it intend to continue delaying shipment of the antiaircraft missiles to Tehran?
FM Liberman: We see that the Russians are aligning themselves with the position of the United States and the European countries regarding sanctions. The format of 5+1 represents a uniform stance and we also saw President Obama and President Medvedev at their joint appearance, having the exact same position regarding engagement with the Iranians.
Eran Sikorel: You see the Russians as supporting…
FM Liberman: Also on the subject of the Russian missiles, they are delaying them and not supplying the missiles, as we understand from the Iranian announcements. They did not supply the missiles to the Iranians and today the Russian position is much closer to that of the United States than ever before, at least since I have been dealing with the issue of Iran.
Eran Sikorel: Does closer mean support in the form of real sanctions against Iran? Is that what you heard from Minister Lavrov?
FM Liberman: I did not hear anything concrete, but we heard disappointment and a fair amount of pessimism. It is clear that the decision will be made in the next two weeks at the meeting of the 5+1 – the five permanent Security Council countries plus Germany. This is disturbing to everyone; I wish to reemphasize that everyone was talking about Iran at all the meetings with leaders of all the countries.
Shmuel Tal: Tomorrow you are supposed to meet with Prime Minister Putin. Is there a possibility that afterwards you and Prime Minister Putin will issue a joint statement?
FM Liberman: I don’t think we will be issuing a statement, and the meeting is scheduled for Friday, not tomorrow. Tomorrow is the mixed commission on trade and economic cooperation, together with my counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Zubkov, and the meeting with the prime minister is scheduled for Friday. At any rate, I think there is awareness not just in the European countries, but among all who attended the conference, and there were also many Asian countries there, and the United States and Canada; not just the European continent was represented at this convention. Absolutely everyone is concerned and aware of the dangers of the Iranian issue; everyone is waiting for the international community’s response, for it to adopt an uncompromising position.
Shmuel Tal: In the meantime, Ahmadinejad seems to be showing contempt for everyone.
FM Liberman: I think that is in fact how everyone took Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday. It was considered a kind of slap in the face to the entire international community, and it will be very interesting to see what the reaction will be.
Eran Sikorel: To conclude, Mr. Minister, you will be visiting the Ukraine later on in your trip. Ukraine is one of the countries that did support Israel on the Goldstone report. How do you explain that support, and the closer relations that are developing with this fairly important country?
FM Liberman: It certainly is an important country, with 55 million people, a country that lies between east and west, and one that has twice supported us, both in Geneva in the Human Rights Council, and at the UN General Assembly in New York. It supported the State of Israel in these United Nations deliberations, and it is important to encourage and further strengthen the ties with this country.
Suspension of construction in Judea and Samaria
Shmuel Tal: Minister Liberman, if we may close with a subject that cannot be overlooked – are you in favor of the plan that was proposed and passed in the cabinet – ten months of no new construction in Judea and Samaria? Benny Begin voted in favor, there was across-the-board support, and the result in the cabinet was unequivocal. Why don’t the heads of the local authorities in Judea and Samaria believe the government that this is going to be a one-time move that is limited in time? Is it a reflection of the government’s record or their bad experience?
FM Liberman: First of all, the heads of the local authorities in Judea and Samaria must take the position that they are taking. They have to protect the interests of their constituencies and their residents, and their position is understandable in this context. What I can promise is that the state intends – and yesterday the prime minister emphasized this once again – after ten months, to resume normal activity in Judea and Samaria, including construction activity. We have made another gesture of goodwill, but this will also end. I supported it, I believe it was a good decision, and I felt so also at the meeting in Athens. We did not hide the fact that after ten months we will go back to building in Judea and Samaria.
Eran Sikorel: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, thank you very much.