EU Representative: Qur’an-burning is disgraceful, “No Normalization” with Syria, the situation in Iran is worse than any Arab country


In an exclusive interview with Radio Al-Balad editor-in-chief Mohammad Ersan, the European Union’s spokesperson for the Middle East and North Africa tackled several controversial regional issues.


Luis Miguel Bueno described the burning of the Qur’an in Sweden as “disgraceful,” claimed that there is “no normalization” with Syria, and affirmed that the European Union is trying to revive a Israeli-Palestinian peace process that “currently does not exist.”


Bueno also implied that the violence in Iran is worse than in any Arab country. In response to a question about European double standards on the Palestinian issue, he brought up European efforts to help Syrian refugees.


Below is a translation of selected parts of Bueno’s interview with Ersan:


Amidst empty talk of “calm” [at the Aqaba Conference], we see Israeli military attacks in the West Bank, in addition to continued settlement construction.


We have been witnessing cycles of violence in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel for years. The European Union has had a clear position for years, which is linked to the international goalposts that were set up years ago through negotiations by the United States, Norway, and the United Nations. We see a need for direct negotiations between the two sides to achieve an appropriate, sustainable solution to this old conflict.


We have been saying for years that settlement construction is absolutely illegal, and we have continuously repeated this idea for years.


We have a special envoy to this region for the peace process, which does not currently exist. Now the idea is to revive this process through European mediation. There was a meeting between EU representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell, Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, and Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit in New York about three weeks ago.


Working groups were established to revive the peace process through logistical support, and whatever the EU and neighboring countries like Jordan, Egypt, and the Arabian Gulf states can provide. We hope that we will be able to revive the process through continuous diplomatic efforts by not only the European Union, but also the United States.


Don’t you think there is a double standard in the European Union between the Palestinian issue and what is happening in Ukraine, even with regards to refugees?


I understand very well that this region has known many crises, but unfortunately this Russian-Ukrainian war is something new for Europeans. There was a great shock in Europe because of this war. We were used to peace and stability within the European Union, and then overnight there was a war on our borders.


I understand this feeling of double standards, but I assure you that there is no difference between a Syrian refugee and a Ukrainian refugee under international law. Nor is there a difference on the [domestic] legal level. For example, there are more than a million Syrian refugees in Germany, and others in other European countries. Since the outbreak of the war in Syria, we have provided more than 27 billion euros to the Syrian people.


But as for the Russian-Ukrainian war, this is the first time that we in Europe are seeing this [level of] tragedy. There are four European states bordering Ukraine that have witnessed a major influx of refugees, more than 8 million Ukrainian refugees. I understand that the point of view that there is a double standard, but we must look at it from the European side as well.


There are also feelings among Europeans that this war threatens the existence of the European Union, and there are feelings that we could witness World War III. These fears are legitimate, and from these fears came a feeling of solidarity [with Ukraine].


We saw the European Union sending aid to earthquake victims in Syria. Has Bashar al-Assad become an EU partner?


For twelve years, we have been present through our partners in all affected parts of Syria, whether regime-controlled or not. We provide humanitarian assistance to Syrians in all these areas. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism, which is responsible for providing aid from 15 European countries to Syrian people in all areas, was mobilized after the earthquake. We have a logistical center in Gaziantep and another in Beirut. We provide aid through these two centers in coordination with our international partners and NGOs on the ground.


The European position towards Bashar al-Assad’s regime has not changed. The Syrian regime is exploiting these circumstances to return to the international political arena, unfortunately. This is unacceptable. We are talking about a major tragedy, with many victims and many people suffering from the repercussions. The European position has not changed. There has been no normalization.


We do not recognize the Syrian regime. We say no to returning refugees to these insecure, unsafe, and undignified conditions. I believe the European position is to support the United Nations’ current efforts, especially through the special envoy, and the implementation of relevant UN resolutions.


So what is your vision for a peaceful solution in Syria?


Our vision for a solution in Syria should come through serious negotiations with the Syrian regime, led by the United Nations in accordance with Resolution 2254, which is the international goalpost. Unfortunately, we have not seen serious engagement by the Syrian regime. We will continue to support the accepted and well-known UN mediation efforts. There is an EU consensus on this matter.


What is the EU position on negotiations with Iran on the nuclear program?


The European Union has a special role in this issue. The European Union, in accordance with international resolutions, is negotiating with the relevant parties to revive talks on the Iranian nuclear issue, and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs was coordinator of the talks that took place in Vienna several months ago.


Unfortunately, these negotiations are frozen now due to the lack of progress on the Iranian side. We have not seen any progress, but we must discuss what is happening internally in Iran, the repression of peaceful protests, and Iran’s role in supporting Russian aggression against Ukraine. These are unacceptable. We are talking about flagrant violations. Iran has human rights obligations under international law. Therefore, there was a clear European response, which was to impose sanctions on Iranian personalities and entities.


However, human rights violations are not limited to Iran alone. There are violations in Arab countries as well, for example Yemen.


What is happening now in Iran, in my opinion, does not exist in any Arab country. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is killing, raping, and using brutal violence against protesters. We are talking about many deaths during demonstrations due to violent repression. No other country has the same level of brutal violence.


As for Yemen, we in the European Union have put figures in the Houthi movement on European sanctions lists. There is also an ongoing dialogue between us and the Yemeni authorities about these issues.


Yemen has been suffering from a state of war for more than seven years. The internal situation is very bad on the humanitarian level. We are talking about 24 million citizens dependent on humanitarian aid. But the European Union has limited capabilities. We support European mediation through the special envoy, and have established some local peace-building initiatives.


Yes, the situation in Yemen is very bad, but there is clear EU diplomatic involvement to extend the ceasefire truce. There are consultations between us and the Gulf states in this regard.


Let’s talk about internal EU issues. Every year, hundreds of migrant workers are lost at sea due to human trafficking. What are the EU measures in this case?


The European Convention for Migration and Asylum has been in place for around two and a half years. Yes, many victims die at sea, but there are also rescue operations led by the European Union. More than 300,000 people have been rescued during the past decade. Of course, this is not enough. We need to open more legal, legitimate immigration channels to the European Union.


As for combatting human trafficking, there are legal proposals within the European Union to confront human traffickers. It is not legally acceptable. There are penalties and fines, including imprisonment, for perpetrators. We cooperate with local authorities in these countries on border control to reduce this problem.


Finally, what happened recently with the burning of the Holy Qur’an in some European countries…what is your stance?


The burning of the Holy Qur’an is unfortunate, unacceptable, and very disgraceful. There is no tolerance within the European Union on this matter. At the same time, the authorities in Sweden, the country in which the incident took place, said this was a matter of free expression. In fact, there has been tension within the European Union for years between protecting freedom of expression and ensuring religious freedoms.


We take this matter seriously within the European Commission. A coordinator was appointed to combat anti-Muslim hatred a month ago, Marion Lalisse, a European official who speaks Arabic. Anti-Muslim hatred really exists in the European Union and I do not deny this. At the same time, there are ongoing efforts by European institutions to reduce this problem in every possible way, through trainings for European police and journalists who cover issues related to Islam.

أضف تعليقك