Sigmar Gabriel attended an informal meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Estonia on Thursday (7 September). The talks focused on the tense situation in North Korea and a joint European response to it. The continuation of the Middle East peace process was also discussed.
Finding a considered and clear European response to North Korea
Following the latest nuclear weapon test in North Korea, the Foreign Ministers’ talks focused on the tense situation on the Korean peninsula. The aim was to draw up a joint European position and to agree on a considered and clear response to the regime in Pyongyang.
After the meeting, Foreign Minister Gabriel said the world would become a very dangerous place should North Korea start a trend and other countries follow in its footsteps as regards trying to acquire nuclear weapons. “The Cold War era would seem relatively safe compared with what we would experience in such a situation,” he said.
Increasing the pressure and continuing diplomatic efforts
As a result, Gabriel said, it was important to react firmly as a European community. As a first step, the United Nations Security Council’s current sanctions must be implemented consistently. Gabriel advocated tighter sanctions in other areas, calling for European ports to be closed to North Korean ships and North Korean workers in Europe to be sent home. He also said that economic sanctions should be made more stringent. All of the measures are aimed at cutting off flows of finance to North Korea that can be used for its nuclear programme.
At the same time, Gabriel underlined the need to continue using diplomatic channels. China, which can exert great influence on the regime in Pyongyang, played an important role here. He also expressed his explicit support for the approach taken by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – in exchange for North Korea not pursuing a nuclear programme, the United States will not call for a change of regime, intervene in any way or conduct military operations.
It was also important to find out who was supplying North Korea with the technical means to develop nuclear weapons. Should the regime be receiving support from other countries, the international community should also exert economic pressure on these countries to persuade them to change course.
The Middle East peace process
The situation in the Middle East was also on the agenda alongside North Korea. Negotiations between Israel and Palestine are currently at a standstill. The continuation of the Middle East peace process was therefore also a topic of discussion at the Gymnich meeting.
The European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy and fighting radicalisation and extremism were also on the agenda of the Foreign Ministers’ talks.
Informal EU Foreign Ministers Meeting
The Foreign Ministers of the EU member states meet in the informal Gymnich format on two occasions each year. The meeting takes its name from the German Government’s former guest house in the Rhineland, where the first meeting of this kind took place, back in 1974, under the chairmanship of then Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.