Address by Minister Roche to Joint Committee on European Affairs re GAERC Agenda, 21-22 July 2003: Part I
Mr. Chairman and members of the Joint Committee, may I begin by saying that I am very pleased to once again have the opportunity to appear before this Committee. As you are aware, this Committee meets to review the agenda items due for discussion at the forthcoming General Affairs and External Relations Council, which is scheduled to meet in Brussels on 21 July next. I will be attending the Council on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who will be travelling to an EU-Asia meeting on the day.
The main item on the General Affairs agenda will be a public debate on the Presidency programme. Given that Ireland will assume the Presidency on 1 January 2004, we are anxious that the incoming Presidency is successful across the entire range of areas identified in the programme. We will wish to be as supportive as possible to the Presidency in implementing its objectives. This includes, of course, the work of the Inter-Governmental Conference, which the Presidency intends to convene formally in Rome on 4 October 2003.
Middle East Peace Process
If I may now turn to the external relations items, beginning with the Middle East Peace Process. While violence in the Occupied Territories and Israel continues there have been a number of positive developments in the Peace Process in recent weeks. Ministers will meet the Israeli and Palestinian Foreign Ministers in the course of the Council and will be briefed on the perspectives of both sides. The new European Special Representative for the Middle East, the distinguished Belgian Ambassador Marc Otte, will also attend these meetings.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs on 30 June welcomed the ceasefire announcement by Hamas and the Israeli decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem.
It is important that there should be clear and firm international support for the efforts of the parties.
Undoubtedly there will be those on both sides who will work to undermine the ceasefire and the roadmap. As we know from our own experience of a peace process, there will be incidents of terrorism and provocation. But even in the face of these, it must be remembered that the only alternative to pursing the Roadmap is an unending cycle of violence. We must encourage both the Israeli and the Palestinian Governments not to be deflected by the violence and from the task of building peace.
The role of the Quartet in supporting peace efforts will be vital. We look forward to assisting in that work over the next year in the Troika and as European Union Presidency and quartet Member.
The initiative of the Arab League Foreign Ministers at their Beirut Meeting in March 2002 remains important and must be an element of a comprehensive peace settlement.
During his recent visit to the region Minister Cowen met with President Arafat. This is in line with our own analysis and the European Union view that to try to boost Prime Minister Abbas by undermining Arafat would be counterproductive. This view is shared by all Arab leaders including Mahmoud Abbas.
Ireland has long taken a deep and sympathetic interest in the affairs of the region, as evidenced by our participation in UN Peacekeeping operations there over the past quarter -century. We shall continue our efforts in this spirit and look forward to working constructively with our European and international partners.
If I may now comment on the concerns in the international community regarding developments in Iran. In recent weeks considerable concern has been expressed over the potential of Iran's nuclear programmes. The Government shares the widely held concern to strengthen non-proliferation in a very sensitive region. For this reason, we would support continued dialogue on this issue between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran. In that context, we welcome the fact that Dr. El Baradei was invited to return to Iran, and that his meetings there appear to have been useful and constructive. We hope that this week's visit to Iran by experts from the IAEA will be equally productive.
The EU will continue to press for action by Iran on human rights, non proliferation, support to terrorism and the Middle East Peace Process. We continue to believe that engagement and dialogue with Iran represent the best way forward.
At the forthcoming Council, Ministers are due to consider the question of a UN resolution on the death penalty. If a decision is taken at the Council to table a resolution at the forthcoming UN General Assembly on the abolition of the death penalty Ireland will strongly support the resolution and will work with other like minded countries to seek its adoption by the General Assembly.
Ireland, in common with our EU partners, considers that the abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights. We are committed to working towards universal abolition of the death penalty and to taking systematic action in this regard in its relations with third countries and at appropriate international fora.
The Council is also due to consider the most recent developments in Iraq. The Government continues to be concerned at the deterioration of the situation on the ground. We welcome the inauguration of the new Governing Council. This is a much needed first step towards the handing over of power to the Iraqi people. The Government have made clear from the outset their conviction that the Iraqi people have the inalienable right to a representative government of their own choosing. The sooner this can be achieved the better for everyone. It is to be hoped that now this first step has been taken, we will see steady and rapid progress towards this end.
In common with the wider international community, the Government have always taken the view that the UN should play a central role in the reconstruction of Iraq. We welcome the greater definition of the UN role which emerged from the discussions in the Security Council, particularly in assisting the emergence of representative political institutions. It is important that Special Representative Vieira Di Mello has been given a clear mandate which we hope will prove to be an effective one. The effective discharge of that mandate will be important in winning international acceptance of the legitimacy of Iraq's future political structures. We believe Mr Di Mello's experience will be invaluable in this challenging role.