During the period 2002 to 2003, the conflict, the war, and the slow path to peace and stability of the post-war situation in Iraq, have had an enormous impact on the international strategies in the Middle East and the Mediterranean region. Without a doubt, the challenge of developing the area into one of peace and shared prosperity, forging a common perception of security and North-South cooperation, or making progress in the Middle East peace process has been made more difficult, given that Iraq and the entire Persian Gulf region are in search of peace and stability.
The Iraqi conflict has put clearly in evidence several key aspects regarding the whole Middle Eastern region. There are some simple equations involved in the Middle East conflict. Without a comprehensive peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the potential for instability in the region and in the wider world will remain, and without an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict, and mutual recognition between the two nations, any peace agreement between Israel and Palestine will continue to face constant obstacles.
And last, but by no means least, there will be no peace without the United States. These three elements are necessary to underpin a proactive EU policy. The Iraq war has changed some parameters, but has not removed the need for continued efforts to construct comprehensive peace in the region. Nor has it changed the vision that we Europeans wish our neighbours in the Middle East to adopt and promote. The Iraq war has not completely transformed the Arab world, nor the Middle East in general, but there have been important consequences. The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, for example, has had some strategic impact, as Iraq was a major actor in the Israeli-Arab conflict and wars.
In 1991, it fired Scud missiles on Israel, which fortunately were rather ineffective. During that conflict, the Palestinian leadership made a strategic error of not opposing the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and were then forced to pay a heavy price both economically and in human lives for their position. Until a few months ago, Baghdad continued to support some of the rejectionist Palestinian groups. The military balance and the profile of threat in the region have also changed, as has been acknowledged by Tsahal. For Israel, the traditional risk from the East has all but disappeared. The few remaining Palestinians who view Iraq as the stronghold of Arab nationalism are no more than the orphans of an out-of-date ideology.
The Arab world and Israel are now presented with an opportunity to move forward to a situation of comprehensive Peace between them. Success in seizing that opportunity is not assured, but the chance of peace will be improved if certain conditions can be met. We must work towards a mature Iraq, run by Iraqis, and with good relations with its neighbours and the means to guarantee its territorial integrity and unity. These objectives are clear, and endorsed by the whole international community in UN Security Council Resolution 1483. But at this stage there still exists no clear roadmap for Iraq. Beyond the Arab world, the disappearance of the Baath regime has changed the strategic environment for Iran, and for the situation in Tehran we have both concerns and hopes: The nuclear programme has raised questions; we expect Iran to establish an enhanced and full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); and we think that Tehran could and should be more cooperative on the Middle-East peace process. As a high-level Iranian official commented to me, there is no reason for the Iranians to be more Palestinian than the Palestinians.
The window of opportunity for the restoration of a peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians should not be lost. The latest Iraqi crisis cast a temporary shadow on the main crisis in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but while the ministries and the media were taken up in dealing with Iraq, the EU once again continued its support of the need for a peace initiative. From summer until December 2002, the Quartet discussed what is now known as the Road Map. It was officially endorsed by Washington, and presented to the parties before the end of the military operations in Iraq. Since then, we have seen an unprecedented effort by the current US Administration, with the full support of the other members of the Quartet. Nobody underestimates the difficulties involved in such a process, but this is a real attempt to change the patterns of confrontation and return to genuine cooperation and negotiation. No effort should be spared for work in that direction.
The European Union, which has kept the Palestinian Authority up and running with its financial and political support, stands ready to help the Palestinians reassert their position as the partners of Israel, in order to finalise the creation of a viable State of Palestine. The EU is also prepared to engage with Israel in a deeper and broader dialogue. During the last European Council in Thessaloniki, I presented to European leaders an analysis of the challenges we Europeans face, including those of terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction.
These are issues that we still need to discuss more effectively with Israel and the Arab world. Peace in the Middle East will not be comprehensive and stable if the Syrian and the Lebanese issues, as mentioned in the Road Map, are not addressed. In Damascus, there are signs that an overall strategic reassessment is taking place following the fall of Saddam Hussein. Lebanon will be a key partner in any Israeli-Palestinian deal, as it hosts a large Palestinian refugee community. During the coming months and years, we should try to think ahead and to see how the paths to peace clearly mentioned in the Road Map can be transformed into action.
As Europeans, we should also engage the whole region in a revitalised and comprehensive partner ship. Unlocking the full potential of the Barcelona process requires a situation of peace in the Middle East, but it is still an instrument that can actively support the principle of regional cooperation. We need to see mutual recognition in the whole region, and for this reason we continue to view the results of the Arab League Summit in Beyrouth as an offer that should be explored.
The European Union is determined to remain engaged on all fronts: the Iraqi, the Iranian, the Palestinian- Israeli and the Arab-Israeli fronts, and cooperation with Washington has been established on all these issues. Building coalitions for peace is presently top of the agenda, as something to be achieved at all levels: for states, international organisations, and the civil societies whose involvement will be one of the keys to maintaining the hopes that we are trying to create.