The main accent of my meetings in Brussels was on bilateral relations, on upgrading the relationship with the European Union and on the Iranian problem.

 Interview with FM Liberman on Radio Reka

 

         FM Liberman in Brussels (Photo: Reuters)

[translated from Russian]

Interviewer: Good afternoon, Mr. Minister. You have met Baroness Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. What kind of impression did she make on you? Was it in the spirit of Miguel Moratinos or Javier Solana? Or will there be any changes?

FM Liberman: It’s difficult to say. She has a fresh perspective, a lot of energy and a very friendly approach to Israel. In general, she spoke a lot about her friends in Haifa. She visited Israel several times in 1980s. Our one-on-one meeting lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes, then we had dinner in the "one plus three" format. In general, our conversation was very open and quiet; it was about all the nuances and aspects of Middle East politics, the situation in Iran and the bilateral relations of Israel and the European Union. We agreed to meet in Jerusalem on March 17, and a short meeting to exchange information in Kiev, this Thursday, during the inauguration of the Ukrainian President.

Interviewer: Mr. Minister, I remember that a couple of days ago, when you were about to leave for Brussels, all the Israeli media were celebrating – they were sure that once Liberman came to Brussels all the European foreign ministers would attack and filibuster him. Have you felt something of that kind?

FM Liberman: It was just the opposite. First, Catherine Ashton herself told me: "Listen. I’m impressed with your efficiency. All the ministers I’ve met today told me either that they’d just finished a meeting with Liberman or were going to a meeting with Liberman." I’ve met most of the foreign ministers who came here, and it’s hard to envision more friendly and positive meetings. The main accent was on bilateral relations, on upgrading the relationship with the European Union and on the Iranian problem. Dubai events were mentioned only during two meetings – with the British Foreign Minister David Miliband and the Irish Foreign Minister.

The most positive development for us is that Spain, with its Prime Minister Miguel Moratinos, is now the EU president. Moratinos promised to support us in the matter of upgrading our status in the Israel-EU relationship. I’ve felt a similar attitude on the part of the EU Enlargement Commissioner. Besides, the meeting with Catherine Ashton was very good. We have been working on the issue of upgrading the level of our relationship with the EU and promoting our status. I think we can see a certain breakthrough today. In March we will see the first signs of it.  An informal meeting with the Spanish Foreign Minister will take place early in March in Cordoba. I think this will be included in the agenda there, and we will see the first signs.

Besides, I’ve met with dozens of MPs in the European Parliament. I hope that these meetings, like all other meetings, will help to clarify our stand in the European Parliament. A number of European parliament officials are planning to visit Israel. I hope that the Parliament’s President, the Enlargement Commissioner and the head of the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, whom I met today, will visit our country. It was a very good and positive meeting.

Interviewer: Mr. Minister. I would like to ask you about Dubai. Why is everyone so sure that Israel is involved? As a matter of fact, there is no evidence, except for the words of the Dubai police chief officer. There are foreign passports, there are other circumstances and, maybe, somebody was identified. But the facts do not match. Where does this conviction come from, that the Mossad did it? How can you explain it?

FM Liberman: Do you remember this old song, "If there is no water coming out of the tap [it means that the Jews have drunk it]?" No matter what happens Israel is always accused. There was a sex scandal in Abu Mazen’s office, and, of course, the Mossad was accused of it. This case is the same – I think that all the baseless accusations directed against us belong to another genre which has little to do with politics. Rather they have to do with Hollywood.  I would advise our critics to see fewer James Bond movies and see more serious pictures instead.

Interviewer: It is easy to understood why the Arabs say that. They always accuse Israel of all possible transgressions – whether it be the sex scandal or the assassination of  al-Mabhouh… But why the European counties whose representatives you’ve just met?

FM Liberman: I have to say that nobody accused us directly. The European Parliament’s resolution put the blame on the use of nation-states’ passports, but Israel is not mentioned there, and that’s the difference. It means: if you have evidence – produce it. If not, you have no right to accuse Israel. We were successful in convincing them. I think that the main reason for this resolution was the United Arab Emirates’ pressure. The government there is very much afraid of public opinion in their country, of the pressure by Islamists inside the Emirates and everywhere in the Arab world. Under the pressure of the Emirates the EU adopted the resolution, which, again, contains no mention of Israel.

Interviewer: Mr. Minister, there is one more issue that I must mention, and I’m sure that you’ve discussed it. I’m referring to the Iranian nuclear program. What did you talk about, what did your European partners say?

FM Liberman: You know, I’ve felt their determination to adopt strict measures for the first time now in Europe. It was the first time that the EU admitted that Iran evidently was trying to procrastinate, to mislead all the countries, and that it had no intention of solve the problem in a positive way. That’s why the Europeans have a completely new attitude, and I think that after the Security Council resolution is accepted, the Europeans will decide whether they will adopt their resolution within the framework of the Security Council or – in the absence of the Security Council resolution – they will pass their resolution separately. I was very happy to hear that they were trying to convince other countries to support the Security Council resolution, first of all African and South American countries. I hope that the Security Council will adopt this decision. Anyway, a new inclination and a new approach can be clearly felt.

Interviewer: Although you are in Brussels now, you surely know what’ has been going on here in our region in the last two or three days. Threats are coming alternatively from Hizbullah, Hamas, Syria and Lebanon. What is the European opinion about these threats?
 
FM Liberman: They have no opinion about this – they have their own agenda. This issue, however important it may be, is far from being the top priority for them. Unfortunately, I have to note that the Europeans think their main problem is the economic crunch, the situation in Greece, the troublesome economic situation in Spain and Portugal. That’s why Iran and the Arab world’s brinkmanship is seen by them as something ordinary. They have been ignoring it for a long time already. This issue simply does not exist for them.

Interviewer: My last question. You’ve mentioned that at the end of this week you are going to Kiev, Ukraine, for the inauguration of PresidentYankovic. Except for the inauguration itself, you will surely have high-level meetings there. What can Israel offer Ukraine nowadays?

FM Liberman: First, we have an issue that we have to finish. It’s the cancellation of the visa requirements. Although it’s hardly possible that it will be discussed during the inauguration, a top-echelon delegation headed by the Deputy Foreign Minister will come to Israel early in March. They will meet with our expert and our Consular Department officials. The work is beginning now.

During these high-level meetings it is customary to conduct a great number of non-formal meetings, because many officials from many countries around the world are assembled in one place. I think that now, as all the visitors will be taking part in the same events – there will be at least two official events there, the inauguration itself and reception in the Ukrainian Parliament – such informal consultations will take place. I think that unofficial consultations have a special value compared with formal negotiations, and I hope to utilize my time to the maximum. Ukraine and Israel are discussing a wide range of projects in the fields of power generation, water facilities, sewage water treatment, and the construction of water facilities, including water-desalination plants. We began an agricultural project in the Charkov district. So we have a full agenda, and I hope we will progress speedily.