Every country must find its own way and the EU respects national sovereignty, but Iraq has problems that must not be underestimated, said the European Union’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Asked about Kurdish independence aspirations, João Vale de Almeida said the EU advocates for Iraqi unity and encourages reconciliation between the many groups that make up Iraq.
“We believe that there is a larger interest of Iraq to stay together within a process of reform largely based on the constitution.”
He is hopeful that both Iraq and Syria can learn from the European example that, while it was at war 70 years ago, is now the best place to live.
“…Civil wars in Europe devastated our continent. We stopped it on the basis of tolerance, recognition of diversity, and the common effort to find consensus. This is the European experience. If others want to share it, they are most welcome, but we are not in the business of teaching lessons to anyone but we are very proud of what we have achieved.”
Rudaw: I will start with the war against ISIS. We’ve seen explosions and attacks in Europe in the past week at a high rate. Do you think that is now a norm in Europe? Are you concerned about that?
João Vale de Almeida
: I don’t think we should accept it as anything close to normal. It should not be normal and we should fight terrorism with all our strength. But one of the ways of fighting terrorism is not to allow them to disrupt our way of life, to question our values. So we stick to our values. We keep standing for the values that are the foundation of our societies. But at the same time we have to reinvigorate our efforts to fight terrorism and also the root causes of terrorism. We know this is a complex phenomenon that requires international cooperation of all countries, all governments that find it absolutely crucial to reject this threat to our societies.
More than three years of fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and in Iraq at least, it seems to be coming to a close. Are we close to the end of ISIS?
I hope so. At least that is the efforts we are all trying to pursue here at the United Nations. In Europe all of the European Union countries are united in these efforts, but we are also united in supporting the large coalition that is fighting Daesh in the region. This is a collective effort. We will not succeed if we do not join efforts, all of us.
What is your assessment of the role of Kurdish Peshmerga in this fight?
I think there is a great effort that has been deployed in Iraq to fight Daesh and I’d like to pay tribute to all of those that are part of this big effort. I’d like to praise the Iraqi authorities for their efforts in fighting Daesh and all of those that have contributed to it. I
We believe that there is a larger interest of Iraq to stay together within a process of reform largely based on the constitution
think that this is a fight that has no borders. Unfortunately, the terrorists choose any means to threaten our security so they require a very solid, very strong, very coherent, consistent response. So we are encouraged by what we have seen in Iraq in the fight against Daesh and we encourage all that participate in these efforts to continue these efforts. We hope to be close to eliminating Daesh, but this is a daily fight, a daily effort.
So while they are losing ground in Iraq in Syria, the attacks in Europe, and recently Tehran, in other capitals of the world are increasing.
This basically shows that no one is immune. No one is protected. No one is preserved from this threat, which in consequence means that we all need to participate. We all need to contribute to fighting Daesh, regardless of our religion, regardless of our geographic location, regardless of our political ideas, if we don’t want to have terrorism, we need to act together, join forces in fighting terrorism.
Do you think there should be a new international strategy to fight ISIS other than the one we have right now?
I think we need to continue the effort that we started. I’m also encouraged by what the new Secretary of the United Nations, António Guterres, has done and is doing inside the United Nations to make the UN even more effective in fighting terrorism. He’s creating a new structure. We support that. We believe that there is a new focus so there also is much a role for the United Nations and we are very much looking forward to that.
ISIS is losing ground, it’s at least becoming history in terms of controlling a territory and having a caliphate, and there’s a lot of talk on how to prevent that from happening again. The Kurds have their own opinion. They say we will go our own way. We will declare independence. What would you say the European Union’s position is about this?
First of all I’d like to praise the efforts of the Iraqi people in all its diversity in the fight against Daesh, and the Iraqi authorities, we are fully behind that and we are encouraged by the progress that has been pursued within the framework of the large coalition against terrorism in the region. As far as Iraq is concerned we pursue our support to the unity, the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of Iraq. We encourage all the efforts in view of reconciliation among different components of the Iraqi society. We appeal to refrain on unilateral action. We believe that there is a larger interest of Iraq to stay together within a process of reform largely based on the constitution. I think there are elements there that are very important for the future of Iraq.
You have decades of experience in the European Union. You’ve seen what happened in Eastern Europe with separation and division of those states, especially in Yugoslavia and the EU’s role in that as a solution in a way. Why not that in Iraq? Why is it good for Eastern Europe but is it bad for Iraq?
I think each country needs to find its way and we respect national sovereignty, but we see in Iraq a number of problems of course, difficulties that we don’t underestimate. We believe that the pursuit of reforms on the basis of the constitution, the efforts for
Syria was a bridge between the Middle East and Europe, a great country. This bridge is collapsing
reconciliation, bringing together the different elements of Iraqi diversity, I think this is the way forward. We believe it is the way forward, but again it’s for the Iraqi people to take the decision. But we think the efforts towards unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty, respect in the sovereignty of Iraq along the process of reform based on the constitution, this is maybe the most promising future for Iraq. We continue to support the Iraqi authorities in their fight against Daesh. As I said earlier, they’ve been quite effective and they should continue in that way.
The EU is one of the most transparent international actors out there, so sometimes the mediation by the European Union is preferred by conflicting parties, such is in Iraq or even in Syria. So there is the argument, why doesn’t the EU have a more direct and effective diplomatic role, for example to resolve issues in Iraq which is right on your border?
Well, we are a diverse reality, right. We are composed of 28 member states and sometimes when we have one or the other of the member states acting, they are also acting with the support of the rest of the EU. But let me say about Iraq, we are present in Baghdad of course but we also have a presence in Erbil. The head of the UN mission, UNAMI, is a European, Ján Kubiš. So you will see Europeans in many places in different expressions of the European diversity. What I can tell you and what I can guarantee is that we are very committed to helping the Iraqi people in this difficult phase as much as we are particularly involved in the Syrian process. We are absolutely behind the efforts of the United Nations. We believe that we need to stop this tragedy in Syria.
Syria was one of the big sources of our civilization. Syria was a bridge between the Middle East and Europe, a great country. This bridge is collapsing, as we are seeing. We are saddened by what we have seen in the last few years. That’s why we urge and we are extremely active, and sometimes not visibly active, but still I can guarantee you, very active in supporting a political solution. There is no a military solution for the situation in Syria, we need to be aware of that. So, supports to the Geneva process to the UN, to Staffan de Mistura, to António Guterres in their efforts to find a solution.
There is right now a report by the UN that the Iraqi government is preparing a proposal, a budget for reconstruction of the area that has been impacted by ISIS, which are seven provinces devastated by the war against ISIS and of course Iraq is asking for international support for that.
Well, what I can tell you on that is that we are great friends of Iraqi people, great friends of Iraq. By the way our foreign ministers will discuss Iraq and certainly agree on important conclusions in their next meeting during the month of June. So just to illustrate how attached we are to the Iraqi people, the Iraqi authorities in their efforts, not only against Daesh, but in building a country, a reconciled country, a strong country will be once again a big player in the region.
Do you think Europe and European Union members are willing to spend millions in an oil rich country like Iraq to help reconstruct in the future?
Well European tax payers, European people are ready to help where help is needed and where help is justified, but also when local
Finding a political solution is a condition for us supporting reconstruction of Syria
conditions are met, when there is a unified attitude towards reconstruction, when there is consensus towards reconstruction, when there is reconciliation among different factions and different elements of society. All that is important. You will always find European solidarity if the good conditions are met locally in each country for that to happen.
I want to start talking about Syria, the Staffan de Mistura led process in Geneva, which is it still a process. Even members of the Security Council, despite their support for Staffan de Mistura, they indicate that it is not working, it hasn’t worked so far. There’s not much political will to agree. What should we do next? Shouldn’t we have a Plan B to the Geneva process?
Let me start by saying that what is happening in Syria is a tragedy. First and foremost for the Syrian people. There is huge human suffering in the region. We need to stop this. But this is having impact in the region and even beyond the region as you know with the directing pact in our own countries in the EU. So we, the European Union, are absolutely determined, the institutions in Brussels, Mrs. Mogherini our High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security, all the 28 member states of the Union contribute to finding a solution for this problem. We believe that there is no military solution for this problem, there are only political solutions. We believe that in a search for a political solution, the United Nations is crucial. That’s why we support António Guterres, the Secretary General, Staffan de Mistura, the special envoy, the one who’s hands on driving this process. They have our full support. We believe that the Geneva process can deliver. It’s an intra-Syrian UN-mediated dialogue. We believe this is the only way to find the right solutions for this tragedy in Syria. We continue to be committed to it. We continue to support the Syrian opposition, but we continue to support the process as such and we will not give up.
The parties of the war, and we’re talking about the Assad side, the opposition, ISIS, I could count a dozen others, they don’t seem to believe that there is no military solution. There is the belief in Syria and in the region, among superpowers like the United States and Russia, they seem to believe that there is a military solution in Syria.
Well if they do so, they are wrong. We believe there is no military solution, that is why we have been so committed, not only supporting the political process. If you see, we have been the main source of humanitarian aid. Up to now more than 9 billion Euros have been committed to Syria and the region in support of the Syrian refugees, in support in all of the dire humanitarian needs that this conflict has created. But we are looking beyond the humanitarian one and we believe so much in the political process that we are already talking about what we can do after a political solution is found. Finding a political solution is a condition for us supporting reconstruction of Syria but we are already working on that next phase because we believe that there is no alternative to a political solution. We had the conference in Brussels a few months ago that raised another 6 billion Euros and more to come in the coming years, provided a political solution is found. Because we want to send a strong incentive, a message of incentive to the parties but also to the regional players that there is a future for Syria, there has to be a future for Syria, and this future for Syria, we are ready to contribute to. But for that to happen, all need to come together and find the political solution.
Has the EU pressured Moscow through the members?
As I said earlier, it requires a solution for the crisis in Syria, the devastating crisis in Syria relies heavily on the parties, on the Syrian people and their representatives, but also on regional partners. That’s why we think the Astana process is a useful complement to the
we have achieved a lot in Europe and we are very proud of what we have achieved
Geneva process. We believe it could create conditions for cease-fire certainly, provided that the guarantors are fully implemented and fully committed to it. We call on all parties, Russia, Turkey, and Iran, those involved in Astana are certainly a part of this group of partners that need to come together to help the Syrian people find the solution that we need. We call on all partners inside and outside Syria, through the process of the UN but also in complementary processes like the Astana one, contribute to finding the solution.
From Astana to Geneva or any other political talks because of political reasons, the Kurds are not represented at the table.
We believe that all different elements of the Syrian society as much as for when we discussed Iran for the Iraqi society need to be part of the solutions for these problems. If there is a future for these countries on the basis of reconciliation and understanding among the different components of our society. That’s what we’ve done in Europe. Europe is diverse and we were for centuries at war among ourselves and we came to the conclusion that we can overcome these differences, try to have and achieve elements of reconciliation and common action and this is what we call on countries that are devastated by conflicts like Syria, or for that matter, Iraq facing terrorism these days, that we all come together, we all overcome the differences and we all try to build a future together.
What is one lesson you would say from European post-war experience after WWII that we can learn from in the Middle East after these wars throughout the region? What can we do to ensure when it’s done, if it’s done, we will have a stable region?
Well, we don’t like to teach lessons to other people. We are very modest to what we have achieved, but we have achieved a lot in Europe and we are very proud of what we have achieved. For the last 70 years we have been living in peace in Europe, largely thanks to the process European integration. We are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. What is it about? It’s about peace and reconciliation first of all. But also, joining efforts around common goals, common objectives and common values, this is very important. And this is what created in Europe what we have today. Europe is the best place to live in the world. It’s a great achievement, but 70 years ago we were at war and we had been at war for centuries, civil wars in Europe, devastated our continent. We stopped it on the basis of tolerance, recognition of diversity, and the common effort to find consensus. This is the European experience. If others want to share it, they are most welcome, but we are not in the business of teaching lessons to anyone but we are very proud of what we have achieved.
How concerned are you about hundreds of foreign fighters, European fighters coming back to Europe as a result of this operation in Raqqa that’s happening now?
We are obviously very concerned about that. This is one of the many aspects of our fight against terrorism, is to not only go to the root causes of the conflicts that may have created bad conditions for terrorism to spread, but also for some domestic dimensions of this phenomenon. And again I come back to my point about Europe. We can only do that through international cooperation, certainly among European countries but also in the context of the United Nations and the context of dialogue between different regions. Terrorism is a global phenomenon that requires global solutions and certainly global cooperation on different areas and throughout this interview we’ve touched upon some of those elements.
Former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in a recent interview said that ‘Europe and the United Kingdom specifically, have failed in integrating Muslim communities into their society. We did a better job here in the US. That is why you are seeing all of these attacks.’ What do you think about that?
Again, you will never see Europeans claiming that we have better solutions than anyone else. We are not perfect and I think we are learning with our own mistakes in a number of areas, including the way we are able or unable to rightly integrate immigrants into our societies. This is a learning process and it has to do with not only the communities that welcome new people but also about people that integrate new communities. An effort is required from all sides. There’s a big debate in Europe going on right now about all that. Some countries have found different solutions. I don’t think we should claim my solution is better than yours. I think we should share experiences and try to work together to find common solutions for a very complex situation that we have today.