FM Frattini: "Italy is, I would say, rightly seen as the best friend of the State of Israel. We talked about the importance of explaining to all the European member states that Europe has a chance to be a balanced player in the Middle East."
FM Liberman: "I completely agree with my colleague that we can start the direct talks with the Palestinians immediately, without any preconditions, without accusations."
– Joint communique: Creation of Italy-Israel Foundation for Culture and the Arts
Joint Press Conference with Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini
Moderator: Good afternoon. Welcome to the press conference with the foreign ministers of Italy and Israel. We will start with statements from the foreign ministers, and then we will take questions from the press. We will take two questions from the Israeli press, and two questions from the Italian press. Minister Frattini, the floor is yours.
FM Frattini: Thank you very much. We just met with Minister Liberman and we talked about many, many issues. First of all, of course we talked about the state of play of the peace process in the region, where I confirmed my support for all the efforts undertaken, particularly from the American administration, from the Israeli authorities and the Palestinians as well, to come back as soon as possible to direct talks and to start talking and negotiating seriously in view of a peace agreement.
Secondly, we talked about the relations between Israel and the Arab states. And you know that Italy can, and is, supporting very strongly all the efforts to get Israel closer to important Arab states in a context and a framework of a broader perspective of peace and security in the region.
We talked about some important concerns that have emerged recently in the Arab states on Iranian nuclear proliferation, concerns that of course are shared by the Israeli authorities as well as European member states. We talked about how important it is to keep unity in the international community in order to finally get the result of Iran sitting around the table and negotiating seriously on the nuclear program.
We talked about European relations with the State of Israel. Italy is, I would say, rightly seen as the best friend of the State of Israel among the European member states, and we have been working very hard to persuade and to remove some reluctances that still exist in Europe to practically implement the upgrading of relations between Israel and Europe. We’ve already reached a decision in that sense, but now some are a bit a reluctant to go ahead with the implementation. I think, as soon as possible, I hope at the very beginning of next year, there should be a Council of Association between Israel and Europe where this upgrade will be concretely implemented or we concretely start implementing the upgrade.
We talked about the importance of explaining to all the European member states that Europe has a chance to be a balanced player in the Middle East by considering the good reasons of the ones and the good reasons of the others. This is something Italy considers extremely important.
As for the bilateral relations, these are excellent. We are improving our cooperation in the economic field: many investment opportunities, many important business-to-business decisions to transfer technology, to cooperate on our research, technology, science. Earlier this morning we have inaugurated the Italian-Israeli Forum on Science, Technology and Industry in the presence of the Minister who is responsible for that area. We said very clearly that, with Israel, since there is mutual trust, there are no boundaries, no limits, to improved cooperation in all the industrial sectors, including the most sensitive ones, including the defense industry, hi-technology, research, science.
We have is a bilateral agreement for cooperation on science, technology, which is being implemented with very good results. And we also are going ahead with very interesting projects that I can define as triangular projects. Italy and Israel are working for cooperating with Senegal. It’s the first example of an African state which is, I would say, part of a triangular agreement for cooperation. This is a good example. Many, many agreements will be signed between this afternoon and tomorrow morning, in many different sectors, including biomedicine.
We decided to launch the Italian-Israeli Institute and Foundation for Cultural Cooperation, which is in itself a very good sign of what we want to do together in the field of culture, in the field of promoting mutual understanding. And I think both Israel and Italy can play a role.
A last point: We have been discussing the NATO summit in Lisbon and NATO partnerships. One of the most important partnerships is the NATO-Mediterranean partnership. In any Mediterranean partnership, Israel is included. Next year, Italy will be the contact-point country for the NATO-Mediterranean partnership in Israel. And we will be the same for Qatar. We will have two partnerships: one NATO-Mediterranean partnership, and the second one, a NATO-Gulf States partnership. And Italy will play this role in Israel and in Qatar for the Gulf States.
So I see some promising prospects also from the cooperation in the field of security under the NATO umbrella which has been guaranteeing security and stability for a very long time. Thank you very much.
FM Liberman: Thank you, Franco. And as my colleague mentioned, we had a very fruitful, very friendly meeting. We discussed a long agenda, many items, and before I get to those items I would like to express my appreciation for your personal contribution, to your stance regarding the State of Israel. We appreciate our cooperation. You mentioned our triangle cooperation in Senegal. Of course I think that maybe the best example is our cooperation in Haiti –
FM Frattini: Yes.
FM Liberman: – our small contingent and your big contingent, and our relations regarding this problem. And of course the Italy-Israel Foundation for Culture, and your contribution in regard to the security cabinet’s decision last week on the village of Ghajar. I would like to note that this has been a process which commenced and advanced already during the command of former UNIFIL Commander General Claudio Graziano, and with the ongoing support of my colleague Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
I feel bound to take this opportunity to extend sincere thanks to Foreign Minister Frattini for his significant contribution to this issue. And we hope that we will resolve this long story in one month. And of course I’d like to thank you regarding your soldiers in South Lebanon, as the biggest contingent in South Lebanon, in the framework of the UN Forces. The 2,000 soldiers that you have in South Lebanon are a very important contribution to stability in this region, and thank you again.
Regarding the Middle East, we discussed the situation. I expressed my concern regarding the situation in Lebanon. And also we worry what we see in Yemen, and the al-Qaeda activity in Yemen, the situation in Sudan before the referendum, and of course the future of Iraq. We think that these are really the biggest issues of the Middle East. And of course the biggest threat not only for the Middle East but also for you is Iran, the Iranian issue, the penetration of radical elements to this region. And we see the security situation and the threats today in Germany, in Europe, in every part of the world.
Regarding the process between us and the Palestinians, I think that we have very good cooperation, at least on two levels: economy and security, and it’s better to focus all our efforts on these two issues. Of course we have our dispute on the political level. And my opinion is that it’s a much better and much more pragmatic approach to speak about long-term intermediate agreements and not the final status agreement. But I completely agree with my colleague that we can start the direct talks immediately, without any preconditions, without accusations, and it’s much better to discuss around the table rather than incite the crowds and the mass media against each other.
Maybe the last point: I think that our bilateral relations with Europe are very important for both sides – for Europe and for us. We will try to develop our bilateral relations regardless of the talks and negotiations with the Palestinians. I think that we have truly common interests, we have many, many areas of cooperation between EU countries and Israel, and it’s the right timing to confirm a new action plan. We hope to develop, as I mentioned, our bilateral relations regardless and without any linkage to the Palestinian issue. Thank you.
Q: I would like to address Foreign Minister Liberman. I would like to ask for your response regarding the aggression shown by North Korea earlier this morning towards the South. Do you find it –
FM Liberman: We have enough problems with the Middle East.
Q: So I’ll make it related to the Middle East. Do you think that it has implications on the Middle East and Israel? Do you find it alarming? And do you think that this act comes because of the changes in the leadership of the regime?
FM Liberman: Of course we really think that North Korea is part of the axis of evil that includes North Korea, Iran and Syria. Because of the close cooperation between these three countries, the proliferation of nuclear technology, the proliferation of missile technology, I think that North Korea is really, as we see, a threat not only to their part of the world but also for the Middle East and the entire world. Also, if the international community cannot stop and cannot suppress this crazy regime and resolve the nuclear problem of North Korea, how can the international community try to deal with the Iranian threat if it cannot stop and restrict even North Korea? I think it’s a bad message, and it’s necessary today more than in the past to stop and topple this crazy regime and to halt their proliferation and their provocations.
FM Frattini: We all should condemn this North Korean attack. You know, perhaps there is an ongoing G8 consultation which very likely will lead to a common document and, I’m sure, a common message of condemnation against that attack.
Q: I would like to address the same question to both Mr. Frattini and Mr. Liberman. Lebanon is a country which gives growing concern because of the internal struggle between Hizbullah and the government of Mr. Hariri. Which steps would you like to see in order to strengthen the moderates and to stabilize the country?
FM Liberman: Our first step was, as you see, our efforts to resolve this problem of Ghajar village. And of course we think that our position and our cooperation with the international community regarding the Hariri investigation was really very open and with all sincerity. We think the message from the international community is very important for strengthening the Lebanese government and to fight this blackmail we see from the Hizbullah side. It’s really clear blackmail of the whole international community, and we must fight this message of blackmail that you can stop an international investigation through threats.
FM Frattini: I agree. The first point is how to strengthen the government of Mr. Hariri. I will visit him very soon in a few weeks’ time.
FM Liberman: I’m sorry that I cannot visit him soon, but –
FM Frattini: This will be the international news in the headlines. But, anyway, since we have 2,000 soldiers in the south of Lebanon, we are particularly interested in having in Beirut a strong government, well-motivated, completely committed to guaranteeing a stable situation, since we don’t want to put the security of our people and our soldiers at risk at all. That’s why the message is very clear. Let’s strengthen the government. Let’s guarantee to the international tribunal which is investigating to continue to work peacefully. All these elements will be combined with some gestures, like the one made by the Israeli authorities about withdrawal from the village of Ghajar. Minister Liberman said that General Graziano had made a great contribution in preparing the first phase with some proposals. Now we are at the final phase. We are about to translate into action a very important political decision. That said, we have to get closer to the governmental level, to reassure the governmental level.
I had many talks in many Arab states, and in all of them (not only here in the State of Israel) there are growing concerns about the feeling of instability in some regions of Lebanon, including, I would say, the growing porosity of borders throughout which, unfortunately, arms are being infiltrated. This is the element that we should take into full consideration if you want to guarantee stability to Lebanon.
[Translated from Hebrew]
Q: Sir, what do you think the chances are of successfully securing the American guarantees document for which the prime minister said he has actually already managed to obtain cabinet approval? How important do you think those American incentives for Israel are, in the political, diplomatic and security arenas?
FM Liberman: I think that if the Palestinians truly want peace, then the guarantees and the document are much less important than beginning direct negotiations. I don’t think we need to agree to any preconditions whatsoever in order to start direct negotiations. I don’t know what the story is with the document and whether or not it materialized in the end. We’ve said it many times before: we are willing to engage in dialogue with the Palestinians, and I am not willing to pay any additional price for the pleasure of entering negotiations. It is in their best interest as much as ours. I also think that in order to keep both feet on the ground, we have to move from the path we are currently on, of trying to settle the conflict and reach a permanent arrangement, to a path of finding a long-term interim arrangement. We have a deep-seated political controversy that is highly emotional, and it is better right now to focus on the two subjects in which we share a common interest and cooperation that has thus far proven itself – in the realms of security and economics.
I think, apart from the Palestinian subject, that we must demand that the European countries conduct reciprocal relations with us, without any connection to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Q: What is their importance to Israel?
FM Liberman: I think they are always important, but I don’t think this needs to be the deciding factor in determining Israel’s position.
Q: The question is for both ministers. Today Mr. Erekat, the chief negotiator of the Palestinian Authority, again asked the international community to recognize the future state of Palestine according to the borders of the ’67 line. So what are your comments on this?
FM Frattini: I will meet Mr. Erekat later in the afternoon. I will repeat to him what I’m saying now to you. There is so far the common understanding among the European member states that we should support negotiations and negotiators, not to replace negotiations and negotiators. That’s why it is very important to let the negotiators sit around the table and get to an agreement including on the borders – not to decide from Brussels or from everywhere what should be the Palestinian state. We do want a Palestinian state as soon as possible, but there is no consensus and there are no proposals in Europe to make a decision on behalf of the two negotiators.
FM Liberman: I completely agree with my colleague. I think that any unilateral decision will bring very bad and very negative consequences. I think that it’s possible to resolve this problem only as a result of direct talks between both sides. Any declarations can only damage and postpone the positive results that we can achieve in the normal process during negotiations between both sides.