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Political Dialogue and Institutional Reform Needed to Resolve the Crisis in Ukraine

A Conversation with Federica Mogherini

Speaker: Federica Mogherini, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Italian Republic
Presider: Lally Weymouth, Senior Associate Editor, Washington Post
May 16, 2014
Council on Foreign Relations

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WEYMOUTH: OK, so we have the great honor this morning -- I'm Lally Weymouth, the senior associate editor of the Washington Post, and we have the great honor at the Council to have with us this morning the Italian minister of foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini -- am I saying it right -- who's just been, if you can believe it, to London last night for the core group meeting on Syria and flown all the way back, because this is her first U.S. visit. And so I'm going to chat with her a bit, and then you're going to ask questions, of course, as usual.

So, Minister, how is your trip going? And what is the highlights of your talk with Secretary Kerry and Susan Rice and other U.S. officials?

MOGHERINI: It was -- first of all, it was very important for us to have the first official bilateral visit here in the U.S. to show how deep and special our relationship is. And it was also a way of following up the visit that Secretary Kerry paid in March. We had him in Rome in the occasion of an international meeting on Libya. And then President Obama that was visiting Rome last month. That was very important for Italy. I think that was also important for our relations, and it's very important for me to be here as my first visit. Even if now I'm quite confused on what stage of the visit I am, because I was in Washington and then flying to London and then coming back to New York yesterday night.

We discussed main international challenges we have in front of us in these weeks and months. Ukraine is the big topic on the agenda, as for all of you, I think it's quite evident. We have worked together very well from the very beginning -- thank you very much -- on speaking with one voice and coordinating actions and reactions on both sides of the Atlantic and within the European Union and within the G-7. And I think that was extremely implement to send a strong sign to Russia and also to Ukraine that break of international principles cannot be ignored and there is a strong and united international reaction to that. And then we also discussed...

WEYMOUTH: But people say that the United States would like to impose sectoral sanctions on Russia, stronger sanctions than the Europeans would like to impose. Would you say this is correct? Are the Europeans dragging their feet, especially the Germans?

MOGHERINI: No, I wouldn't say that. I think that from the very beginning we said clearly that sanctions are an instrument, are a tool for making political pressure on Russia to have Russia going back to play a responsible international role. Sanctions are not the objective themselves. They are an instrument. They are a tool.

As we say, the only way we have to solve the crisis is the political way, the political dialogue within Ukraine and between Ukraine and Russia. We need to have instruments to force the parts to do that. And sanctions are probably one of the most relevant tools we have.

So the matter is how we balance the tools we have. National dialogue yesterday -- I think it was yesterday or the day before yesterday -- the national roundtable started, organized by the OSCE, that is playing a very important role in this place. And going on at the same time with preparing the third phase of the sanctions, this is something that European Union is also doing in parallel with the U.S.

WEYMOUTH: But isn't the European Union dragging its feet on imposing sectoral sanctions, harder sanctions than are already been followed?

MOGHERINI: So far -- so far, European Union and U.S. have imposed the same kind of sanctions, to a similar list of people. So we are actually coordinating the speed and the level of our action in order to have that going on at the same time.

Obviously, it's quite more complicated for 28 countries to decide together what kind of sanctions -- sectoral sanctions to have, because we say and we have decided that in any case the third stage of sanctions, if we get there, said that our objective is not to get there, because there might not be the need for going there.

In any case, the third phase of sanctions has to be balanced in terms of burden-sharing among the different European countries. And as you know, some of us have stronger relations with Russia in the field of energy, others in the field of defense, others in the financial field, so we have to prepare technically our set of sanctions in a much more complicated way.

But the real point is that now we are -- while preparing that on the technical level, and we're ready to adopt them if needed, we have now the big chance of concentrating ourselves on facilitating the dialogue so that the elections can take place and be a success, because our aim is making elections a success and...

(CROSSTALK)

WEYMOUTH: When I was in Kiev about a week ago, the general view was that -- that Mr. Putin's strategy, the Russian strategy was to be sure that the elections did not take place. Do you agree with that?

MOGHERINI: No. I...

WEYMOUTH: How do you see his strategy?

MOGHERINI: When was that, three weeks ago?

WEYMOUTH: Uh-huh. Two weeks ago maybe.

MOGHERINI: Two weeks ago. You see, one point of this crisis is that things change quite rapidly on the ground and the political framework. My impression from the talks with -- I had also yesterday with my European and American colleague, we also had a little bit of an update on Ukraine, Steinmeier was just back from -- not only from Kiev, but also he visited the south of Ukraine, and we have direct contact with the OSCE basically every day on the situation on the ground, is that at the moment the national dialogue, even if very difficult, is going on, is starting, that elections might successfully take place, probably, possibly in all regions, even if that is still question mark, and the point is working on the ground to make it possible.

We still have one week, and one week in Ukrainian times for now, it's a long, long time. Things can go for much better or -- or can go much worse. But we're working -- the point now is working for making the elections happen, making them a success, and together with that, proceed -- help Ukrainians proceed on the institutional reforms. That is also important.

"The third phase of sanctions has to be balanced in terms of burden-sharing among the different European countries. And as you know, some of us have stronger relations with Russia in the field of energy, others in the field of defense, others in the financial field, so we have to prepare technically our set of sanctions in a much more complicated way."

WEYMOUTH: You said that you flew to London yesterday, you told our audience, to attend the core group on -- which works on Syria, of course. So can you tell us how -- what happened yesterday? Is Assad just going to be re-elected in the election that he seems to have proposed to make himself? I don't know how you'd put it more delicately.

MOGHERINI: Yeah...

WEYMOUTH: Do you -- what do you think of the situation in Syria? Could it have been prevented? Do you think the United States should have acted more forcefully? Do you think the international community should have acted more forcefully?

MOGHERINI: First of all, I think it was good we had a meeting yesterday in London, because one of the risks we have is that Ukraine shadows all the rest while conflicts are still open around the world and especially in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean.

So it was good to have the meeting. It was good to show commitment to face the situation that is -- that seems to be not really developing in any kind of positive way. Out of the three processes, the political solution or the political dialogue out of Geneva process, the humanitarian assistance and the elimination of the chemical weapons, that is the -- the last one, the elimination of the chemical weapons, seems the only one that is going on quite well, missing now an 8 percent -- 7 percent, 8 percent of the chemical weapons elements to be eliminated, and we are doing that in Italy in the port of Gioia Tauro, and expect to do so in the coming weeks.

But the other two -- humanitarian assistance and the political dialogue -- are completely blocked. Brahimi resigned, so the meeting yesterday was to say, first of all, that we stay committed to face the situation. We do not recognize any kind of legitimacy to elections that have a double serious element of concern. On one side, you have elections in a country that is clearly at war with the clear will of excluding a large part of the population from voting and, on the other side -- so there is an element of a paradox there -- and then there's a more serious thing, which is that is a break of the Geneva agreements, because the agreement was that there was going to be a sort of transitional government and no election. So there is a double element of worry.

Then we agreed on other things, like, for instance, the deference to the International Criminal Court of the situation here in the U.N., here in the U.N., again, the -- the efforts to pass a resolution on humanitarian assistance on cross-border operations, and the support to the -- to the opposition forces in ways that we'll have still to discuss and agree on, but there was an effort to -- we also had a meeting with them. But that was...

WEYMOUTH: With the opposition forces?

MOGHERINI: Yeah. But that was a sort of package and an agreement to go on working in the coming days and weeks to see how to develop it further, to say that we are still committed to deal with the situation. I don't think -- as you asked, I'm going to answer -- I don't think that a military reaction or a stronger reaction sometime ago would have made the situation better, because that is, I think -- and I have some doubts on the fact that that can be the right approach.

I have the impression that we decided together to follow the political track with the Geneva process. I think that we have to stick to the fact -- and I've seen the declarations of it by -- the statements by Kerry yesterday in London to the press that were going more or less in the same direction, saying that we have to stick to the fact that we need a political dialogue to solve the crisis.

The point is -- is always the same. How do you force political dialogue to take place?

WEYMOUTH: Mr. Assad doesn't seem interested at all in any political dialogue, right?

MOGHERINI: I think the key element there is involving more and more the regional actors. Syria is a country that has complicated links to many neighbors, for good or for bad, mainly for bad at the moment. I think we should make an effort to see, for instance, if -- while we go on in defining a definitive deal on the Iranian nuclear issue, we might have a way of saying to Iran, well, try also to play a positive role or at least not a negative role in the Syria conflict, and make it -- make it a broader -- a little bit of a broader discussion, not conditioning one without to the other, but I think that also the other countries in the region, even the Gulf, you've seen probably that there is this new tendency or this news maybe of a meeting of the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran, that would be a game-changer, probably, yeah.

WEYMOUTH: That was amazing.

MOGHERINI: It was. It was.

WEYMOUTH: What did you think of that, Minister?

MOGHERINI: I think that was a change, probably a game-changer, if it happens. And I think that means that, you know, countries in the region are much more realistic and pragmatic and ready to be flexible in the ways they have to deal with the crisis around them, because it's in their interest.

WEYMOUTH: But do you think it meant actually that Saudi Arabia thinks the West won't do anything about the Iranian nuclear program, so they have no choice but to get along with Iran?

MOGHERINI: No, I think -- I think they are -- maybe, but you should ask them -- I think they are maybe ready to test if Iran, as long as it goes on with the nuclear agreement that is in discussions these days in Vienna -- seems to be quite well -- if that could also be, let's say, bring some change of attitude in the region.

I'm not saying they're becoming friends, but I'm saying that they might get to a point where they share an interest in the stability of the region. Let me give you an example, first, with European Union. One hundred years ago, we were starting the First World War. Now we are thinking it's basically impossible to be at war between European countries, among European countries.

What did -- what was the element that made the European Union process a success? Not that suddenly we liked each other so much. It's just that we started to share an interest -- it started with the economic community -- I think that sharing an interest and seeing the win-win situations you can work on could develop different relations in the areas that are concerned by these trends.

It might be that in the Middle East something like that could be wise to develop at a certain point, and it might be that the regional actors realize that before we do. I'm an optimist, as you say.

WEYMOUTH: Well, so you -- the rumor is that the Iran deal will be done by the end of July. What do you -- are you optimistic about the Iran deal? What -- how do you -- what do you think of the interim deal? What do you hope for in the final deal?

MOGHERINI: I think -- well, as you know, Italy is not in the negotiations, but we have, obviously, our links through the European Union and directly to Iran. You know that the -- at the time, Italian foreign minister was the first to visit Iran officially after the election of Rouhani last December, if I was not -- if I'm not wrong, and I would have done the same.

I think that the approach of engaging actors that have an influence in conflicts is always an attempt that is wise to at least try, not being naive. Obviously, I mean, the nuclear program is not an element of discussion. I think the negotiations are going quite well, as far as I know, from Cathy Ashton and from -- and from the others. I think they are quite optimistic on the possibility of reaching a definitive agreement by July.

And I think that would be a very good and positive sign of the fact that we could engage Iran on different dossiers, if that goes well. Obviously, there's no -- there's no deal that can be done nuclear in exchange of something else. The nuclear issue is definitely to be -- to be settled as a priority, and there is no way that Iran can and should have any kind of nuclear military facilities. That's for sure.

But if they manage to get to an agreement, a definitive agreement that is positive, I think we should also test their willingness and their readiness and their capacity to become a responsible regional actor. And that might be in the interest of the region itself.

WEYMOUTH: I know that oil and gas from Russia are a big topic in Europe. And, of course, it's one reason that the Europeans are hesitant to impose heavier sanctions upon Russia. And apparently, much of your oil and gas, some of it comes from Libya, am I correct?

MOGHERINI: Yeah.

WEYMOUTH: So how do you -- how do you see the situation in Libya? I interviewed the last prime minister -- the poor thing -- who was in Paris -- he'd been kidnapped from his hotel room and then, of course, now he's been ousted, and there's a new prime minister, and basically, there are all these groups fighting, as far as I can see.

MOGHERINI: Yeah. First of all, the situation in Libya is of concern, regardless of gas. There is also a gas issue, but as in Ukraine, the main concern is not the economic one. Again, I'm a strong believer of the fact that the situation of human rights and the situation of the people on the ground comes first. Call it naive, but I think -- I think that is -- has to be the basis for policy, to solving the conflict.

In Libya at the moment, there is an extremely difficult situation. Fragmentation, lack of institutions that has ever been there. Even when Gadhafi was there, the state was not there. And it was just something that covered the fact that the state was not there. And we cannot expect, I think, realistically that a country built institutions in a very complicated situation with the quantity of arms that is the equivalent of the arms that are present in Iraq and Afghanistan together, in a country with much smaller population.

"If they manage to get to an agreement [with Iran], a definitive agreement that is positive, I think we should also test their willingness and their readiness and their capacity to become a responsible regional actor."

So I think we cannot expect them to do that kind of work on institution buildings, control of the territory, control of the land borders, the sea borders, and the oil production from one day to the other. The point is, are they engaged in a process, an internal process that can lead them there? And is the international community ready to help to support this process when it happens?

I think that is the point. Now we are in a situation that is extremely fluid. We have at the moment a nominated new prime minister and still the old prime minister transitionally in place. The new government has not been presented yet, might happen on Sunday in front of the congress in Libya. Is it going to pass? Is it not going to pass? It depends on them. In the meantime, yeah, the situation on the ground is -- in terms of security, is not -- is not easy.

The only thing that I think we can really do is telling the Libyans themselves that they have to be committed to a national reconciliation process. There is no alternative to that and, then once they start to do it, support them strongly.

WEYMOUTH: OK. So now can I turn the meeting over to our members? And do you want to -- would you like to ask some questions of the minister?

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: Nina Gardner. I'm a consultant to -- on sustainability to NL and a adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS in Washington on business and human rights. First, I want to say what a great signal this is for a new and young Italian government to have a young and obviously very competent foreign minister with us on our first visit. It really shows that something is changing in Italy, and we're very proud (OFF-MIKE)

(APPLAUSE)

Not to mention perfect English. So my question is about forward things. Some of the big appointments and events you have coming up in 2015, so I want to move away from the security issue, which is your specialty, I know, but to the Expo that is happening in Italy, which is on food security, feeding the planet, and energy, and, of course, the COP 21, the climate change conference in Paris, as well, at the end of next year.

What are the priorities that you see as foreign minister? And what will you be trying to push? Because, in fact, being a young generation foreign minister, you -- we're all seeing this as something that is going to impact those of us who are younger, our lives and, of course, our children's lives, and so I'm just wondering whether you have some priorities that you want to make sure happen under your -- when you're there. Thank you.

MOGHERINI: First of all, thank you for -- not only for the nice words in the beginning, but also for considering natural that I will be still there at the end of next week, which is something great for Italian ministers. Thank you very much. That is a joke.

(LAUGHTER)

On Expo -- no, I start from the climate change. We talked about with Laurent Fabius, that I know he was in -- probably not here, but in Washington a couple of days before me, and we were in London together yesterday, and he was traveling -- I was traveling back here and he was traveling to China to discuss climate change, which I guess is probably the most -- one of the most difficult countries to discuss climate change with, but it means that we are already preparing on -- in terms of the political outcome, because I think that we cannot afford having a conference that is not a success on climate change in Paris next year.

And I think that is true not only for climate change in itself, but also for the links with energy. I think we have to be very much aware of that. And on the European side, we're trying to push -- and we will use our presidency to push forward this topic in the agenda. And one of my colleagues, Minister Federica Guidi -- we have two Federica in the government, which is for sure never happened in Italian history. It's very -- it's not a very common name. She's already working on that on the side of the next Italian E.U. presidency of the European Union to make sure that the European Union gives a united contribution to that kind of success. And we know that is a key.

"I'm a strong believer of the fact that the situation of human rights and the situation of the people on the ground comes first. Call it naive, but I think that has to be the basis for policy, to solving the conflict."

On Expo, my particular point on the agenda for Expo is underlining and working on that, is underlining the political relevance of the issue of the theme of Expo, which is, as you know, feeding the planet, that gives us the great opportunity to tackle the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals agenda. There is a development policy issue there, the contradiction between the fact that half of the population is eating too much, half of the population is eating too little in the world. Are we able together globally, together with the U.N. system, to face this problem? I know that the -- as you know, the U.N. agencies in Rome are the one targeted to food and food security and agriculture, and to these issues, we are involving them in the preparation of the content of Expo 2015.

We will use the Food Day, the World Food Day, 16th of October this year, and then the following one, to make it relevant also with the campaign. And I mentioned that during my -- during the previous days in the beginning of the week in Washington, we would be honored if the United States that will have a pavilion in Milan Expo 2015 could have some involvement of Michelle Obama that we know is very committed to the issue of sustainability and also food and nutrition.

The two elements are very strongly linked, and it would be, I think, a very powerful message. If we make public opinion worldwide aware of this contradiction we have, we are not lacking resources in terms of food and agriculture. We are lacking distribution of resources in that field.

WEYMOUTH: Hi, yeah?

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: I would also like to compliment you on the presentation. And a little bit of follow-up to the last question, but the presentation -- I'm sorry. The presentation was a tour de force on world politics, particularly Euro-centric world politics. Let you say something about -- is there a place where Italy will play a larger role than just as one member of the European Union, whether it's through the conferences or whether it's through bilateral work with some of the countries involved? In other words, do you have any special plans or views for a role that Italy can play in the affairs that you discussed earlier?

MOGHERINI: Yes, well, Italy, will have a special role taking the presidency of the European Union, especially taking the presidency in a time of transition. 25th of May, we were talking about that before coming in, 25th of May is quite symbolically a date of elections for the European Parliament, in Ukraine, and in Egypt, and I learned in Colombia, as well. And I think -- but these three elements I think give us a triangle of special role that Italy during the -- especially during the semester of presidency can play, Brussels, Mediterranean, and the eastern partnership.

There is the need for a European foreign common approach in the area, both east and south. I know I'm staying within the European part of the world, but I think that there are parts of the world where Europeans have -- or can have a better understanding of the complexity of the situation, and so much bigger added value to -- rather than other actors.

And if we don't do that, we're missing an historical opportunity. Look at the Mediterranean or the Middle East. We could have seen conflicts or problems coming up before they became conflicts, if we had a sort of focus on the region.

But on the other side -- and we -- we shouldn't miss the opportunity that is represented, for instance, by the next NATO summit in Wales in September to develop the other elements. I'm thinking about the global partnerships.

For instance, let me ask you a question. Is still pivot to Asia an issue here in the U.S.? Because my impression is that the crisis in Ukraine shadowed our analysis of the last, what, couple of years, and now we are risking to go back to a sentiment of security issues or -- or stability is just concerning Russia. And the risk is that Russia pivots to Asia and to China, and we concentrate on a geopolitical framework that maybe hopefully, in one year time, is not there anymore, hopefully.

And so I think we shouldn't miss the opportunity to rethink our strategic relations, our strategic partnership in other areas of the world, Latin America, the Far East, Asia, both in terms of security and in terms of economic growth and economic relations, looking a little bit more ahead of what we have. And we will try to play a role in that sense, both as a country bilaterally and as -- as the presidency of the European Union.

But I don't know if that...

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: No, that's wonderful. But as far as the pivot to Asia goes, each person in this room will give you a different answer. My answer is that has very little to do with Europe. It has to do with not being stuck in southwest Asia and being able to turn our focus east. Everybody else will give you something different, but I shouldn't be central to our relations with Europe.

MOGHERINI: No, in my personal opinion -- but then just this pivot to Asia -- but my personal opinion is that Europe is also interested in pivoting to Asia, and we can do that together. We're not jealous of our transatlantic relations. I think -- I think we have a specific interest in doing that, because the other continents, apart from our two, relates to each other much more than we normally realize. And there is a world out there that is going on, plenty of opportunity and challenges, and we should tackle both, I think, in a more aware way.

WEYMOUTH: So, next question?

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: Good morning. Thank you for a great presentation. (inaudible) from Deutsche Bank. My question is more concerning trends in Europe. We see what's happening in the Ukraine, but we also have the Scottish referendum coming up, potential cessation of Scotland from Great Britain, and we also continue to see issues with the Catalans in Spain. There's always an issue around Belgium. Do you think that this is the beginning of a trend and that we could see more areas within Europe wanting to become independent from the countries that they currently belong to? And what is Italy's view on this?

MOGHERINI: You know, we've had a political movement for quite some years that was also in government that was asking -- change its mind quite often, but either to become part of something -- leave Italy, then it was never more concrete than that, and now is, I think, the less -- yeah, it's the smallest group in parliament, I would say.

I think we don't have a trend of fragmentation in Europe. I think we have a need for a different way of -- of organizing our political institutional system. Germany is a federal country. And I think the answer to this aspiration to control local policies more in a global world and in a European integration system is the degree of decentralization and recognition of autonomies that a central state manages to put in place. And that tells us also lots about the crisis in Ukraine, for instance.

I think the smart way of dealing with these trends is, on one side, saying very openly that in this world we live in, there is almost no real and serious and big issue that can be solved, not even at a national level, that in my perspective, the European level is the minimum level to which we can give real answers to our real problems, but then there are plenty of small things that happen on a local level, and that not necessarily need to be tackled by the national government, can be -- can be an issue for local authorities that have more powers. Well, here in the United States also is a federal country, and that's a lot of that -- and I know that dynamic between the states -- the single states and Washington is sometimes very hard.

But I think the process we are going through in Europe is similar to that, not really a willing to split, also because splitting for going where? We share the same destiny; we share the same interests and values. But rather, the need for reforming our institutional systems in terms of giving more powers to the local authorities and entities.

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: Kimball Chen, Energy Transportation Group. Minister, it's in -- in the last decade, Italy's philosophies of foreign policy and trade policy in regard to energy have been quite interesting, forging under Mr. Berlusconi a somewhat special relationship with Russia. What is the evolving view of Italy or at least the view of Italy right now, the current government, in regard to convergence of European energy policy and energy security policy? And what does that mean in terms of Italy's own national interests as a transit state potentially for new pipelines, as well as existing pipelines, especially in the natural gas arena? This is a matter of great interest to many people.

MOGHERINI: Yes, I think it was -- in one sense, it's very good we started a real and deep work on the European strategy on energy. I think it was a shame it started only after the Ukrainian crisis. We should have done it before.

I think this might -- Italy, as you know, yes, has special energy -- and not only energy, also commercial relations with Russia, as well as many other European countries. We are not the ones that are more dependent on Russia for gas. But we are, let's say, an average, more or less, but other European countries are completely dependent on Russia for energy.

I think it's extremely wise to differentiate our energy resources. It's of great importance to be very realistic on the level of stability of the countries on which we depend. As you said...

WEYMOUTH: Algerian (OFF-MIKE)

MOGHERINI: ... we have Russia and Libya and Algeria, basically. So it's good to differentiate, but then you also have to work on the country's stability, because you can differentiate in 10 different countries and then if the 10 of them are quite unstable, you in any case have a problem.

I think we -- I think so. It's a very positive step. We have -- we have work developed now on the European level. I think it was very good that there was a request to have a trilateral dialogue also with Moscow that the European Union, as such, has started -- I think that was one week ago, and another meeting is going to take place in a while.

We hosted a G-7 energy in Rome one week ago, because we think that also on the G-7 level, we have to work on that more closely. Having said that, my impression -- I am not a specialist in energy, so I might -- I might be wrong -- but my impression is that energy, a little bit like investments for defense, takes quite some time to develop infrastructures and strategies that then bring a result.

I think it's good to differentiate. I think we should be -- while working at the next phase of our energy supplies, think how the world will look like when they will be actually in place, five years from now maybe, or three years from now, or 10 years from now -- I don't know -- because we risk to move the ship that moves so slowly in another direction and then find then direction where we were before in the meantime works.

So -- but this is not really -- this is not really to say that we shouldn't work on either a common European strategy or a common G-7 strategy or to differentiate more, but just to say that I don't think the times for -- for having supplies also -- also from the east in Europe is definitely over, also because my hope is that we -- we will manage for the -- for the sake of Ukraine first, to overcome the crisis and at a certain time to regain a certain partnership with Russia, both at a European Union level and with NATO. But that is an issue itself, I know.

WEYMOUTH: Yes?

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: You commented a little earlier that in looking at the range of your foreign policy interests, Italy is reviewing its relationships around the world, Asia, South America, maybe North America, and that raises the question of the United States, of your relationship with the United States, and Europe's relationship with the United States, the extent to which the traditional leadership of the United States in foreign affairs has been expected for the last 20 or 25 years, but that commentary now is that the U.S. consciously is giving up its leadership, wishing to take a more cooperative or at least shared view of leadership.

And my question is, to what extent has U.S. leadership in even NATO or throughout the European Union, with regard to considerations of Asia and Europe, diminished by reason of the U.S. withdrawal, if you want to put it that way, from activity in trying to lead the world in international affairs?

MOGHERINI: My impression -- well, obviously, I can hardly make the comparison with how it was 20 years ago, if not from an historical point of view. My impression is that the United States are not giving up a role, but they are rather interpreting it in different way, as you said, in a more shared or cooperational attitude, that I value extremely positively.

I think that the core of our transatlantic relations is working together. And as I said before, there are certain areas or certain fields of certain regions where Europe could have a better understanding of the situation on the ground or for different reasons, and it might be better to work more on the European level in certain dossiers and in other cases, the opposite.

I think -- I don't see a withdrawal of the United States from the international leadership. I see a different way, a different attitude in sharing this leadership, and I think it's very appreciated.

Obviously, the point is -- but this is my European perspective -- if Europe is able to respond to that in an appropriate way, this requires a European foreign policy and European defense policy, also.

WEYMOUTH: But that requires European defense spending, doesn't it?

MOGHERINI: Yes. Let me touch on that. Can I be very open and frank? I think that, yes, there is an issue of the quantity of our defense spending, but don't fool ourselves. We could spend more if we don't have -- if we're not going to have a common foreign policy, we could spend even 10 times more. We're not going to do anything with that, anything. We need to share a vision of what we need to do in the world. I think we partially have it, not in all cases, in Europe, not in all cases, and defense doesn't substitute a foreign affairs approach.

In addition to that, in Italy, for instance, we spend 1.2 percent, I think, 1.3 percent, so below the 2 percent, but real point for the Italian defense spending is not so much how much we spend, but how we spend, because we have an enormous amount of troops, probably too many for a country like Italy, and we invest too little in technology or in training.

So in my point of view, but this is more a defense minister issue, but in my point of view, we will discuss a lot on that. And we are doing the reform of the -- of the military system in Italy to rebalance the internal division of the budget for defense. We should invest in the smartest way the amount of money we already have for defense, and that was the process that was going on and still going on in the NATO way to the Wales summit, this smart defense approach.

I think it might be quite critical to raise the defense budgets in the times of crisis, even if -- in times when we're getting out of the crisis, given the fact that Ukraine crisis doesn't affect our economic recovery, which is a question mark at the moment.

But -- but we can work on how we managed to spend in a more efficient way, because it's not really the input. Well, it's also the input, obviously. If you don't have quantity, you cannot have quality. But given a certain quantity, you can work in improving the output a lot.

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: Mr. Chen mentioned earlier Berlusconi's efforts to build up a special relationship with Russia. And Berlusconi himself often spoke of his personal close relations with Putin. Has the present government made any effort to enlist his help in telling his pal to cool his jets?

MOGHERINI: First of all, let me say that I won't comment on Berlusconi, but I will say that Italy and Russia as two countries have relations, have special relations that are, as I said -- well, special relations. We have special relations with many countries. Let's say deep links in terms of economy, trade, energy, as we discussed, as many other European countries. And the relations are there country to country.

As we -- we will say in Italian, sistema paisa (ph) -- I don't know how to translate that in English, but -- so it's our business, it's our enterprises, is our firms working, universities, whatever. There are links that go far beyond the political leaderships of countries.

The last Italian-Russian bilateral summit was held in December in Trieste, and the prime minister was Letta and the foreign minister was Emma Bonino. So I think that goes beyond the persons that are in power, and I think it's good that we do not work on -- here we have a difference in attitude relating to previous governments. Foreign policy and, in particular, relations, international relations do not depend on personal relations so much.

They -- they help, obviously. I mean, but it's country to country. It's institution to institution. It's not that we're friends. We might also be friends, but that is not the key element. The key element is the national interest, the common interest, the global interest, and the institutional relations we manage to build.

Did that answer the question?

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: No.

MOGHERINI: No?

(LAUGHTER)

I'm sorry.

WEYMOUTH: Can I call on you, please, Ken?

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: What is your opinion on the impact of the strong euro on your ability to compete in exports? And are you supportive of the indication that Draghi made to significantly lower interest rates and which will have a significant impact on lowering the euro?

WEYMOUTH: Foreign minister.

MOGHERINI: Eh?

WEYMOUTH: Foreign minister.

MOGHERINI: Yeah, that would be a question for my very good friend and colleague, Pier Carlo Padoan, that is an extremely good and wise finance minister. You know, we depend -- we depend -- we work a lot on our exports. And we think that Draghi is making an excellent job, has basically saved the euro and the eurozone during the crisis, I think he's an extremely wise and competent person that is guiding us very well out of these difficult years.

And we will discuss within Europe, I think, the next steps. But I wouldn't say that we will discuss -- well, now it's only one week before the European elections -- we will have to see after that how the situation goes but that is an issue on the table.

WEYMOUTH: Jim?

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: Minister, thank you for your very interesting remarks. I wonder whether you might care to comment on the role of women in Italian politics. Obviously, you are a marvelous case in point, but apart from that, do you believe that there's further progress to be made? And if so, in what areas?

MOGHERINI: Yes, it was mentioned before, this is the first Italian government ever that has half-women, half-men. And I would add to that it's also the youngest government of the Italian republican history. And I would also add to that, that it has women in key positions -- foreign affairs, defense, economic development and energy, institutional reforms, school and university and research, health, and so on.

This doesn't mean that the work is done at all. On the contrary, this is a sign that we have wanted to give to Italy, and that was also an issue for debate, especially in my case, I think it was an issue of debate. Part of the message, of the cultural message that this government has wanted to give is that it's normal to have women in key positions at the institutional level and at -- the fact that at 40, you're not young. Only in Italy you're considered young at 40.

So -- but I think Italy has a problem -- has had a problem in politics, and we have had a political responsibility for that. There was a time when the Italian political message on women was particularly inappropriate, but that kind of work reflects -- or has to work with the -- with the rest of society. What do we mean?

I think this is not only in Italy. I think it's more or less worldwide. You have on one side the impression that society is much more ahead than politics and institutions. On the other side, there is a tendency still of seeing participation of women at the highest level as something strange. You see universities, journalists, with some very good exceptions, think-tanks, economy, if you see the boards, if you see the CEOs, we have a lot of work to do.

So I don't think it's only an issue for politics and institutions. It's an issue for society. Obviously, politics has a major responsibility, because it passes a message. And one thing is passing the message that women should stay home and cook, and one message is that women can be minister of defense. So it's not the way of solving all the problems. We know that having half women in government doesn't solve immediately the problem of women in power, if I can use this expression that is quite blunt. But it gives the contribution of the political responsibility in trying to change the culture of the country. So it's one step.

And if I can add to that, we have an international issue there on women in foreign affairs and diplomacy. You've had great madam secretaries, and one of the first ones. I think in Europe at the moment, apart from Lady Ashton, obviously, out of 28, it's only two women being foreign ministers, Italy and Croatia.

It's -- I mean, probably if you look at other ministers, it might be the same. It's not the relevant issue, but it's a sign. And I think we should work to network and to show a little bit more, also because there might be a different attitude in facing international relations and crisis management probably.

WEYMOUTH: Is there another question? OK, in that case, I'm going to ask -- do you have -- did you have a question?

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: (OFF-MIKE)

WEYMOUTH: I'm sorry. Would you introduce...

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: Given the turmoil in Africa, where Italy has a significant stake, do you see any courses of action which offer promise?

WEYMOUTH: In all of Africa?

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: Well, what can we do to deal with that effectively?

MOGHERINI: All of Africa?

WEYMOUTH: In Nigeria?

MOGHERINI: How much time do we have?

WEYMOUTH: Yeah, exactly.

MOGHERINI: This is -- this can be a very short or very long question or answer. You know...

WEYMOUTH: Nigeria.

MOGHERINI: I would -- I would -- well, I would mention Nigeria and I would also mention Sudan, as we have this -- this news yesterday of this girl that was sentenced to death because she changed -- she converted to Catholic religion. I don't know if that is an issue in -- but that was in the news in the Italian -- major news in the Italian press and TV in these days, and I think -- and then we have obviously the case of the more than 200 girls in Nigeria.

And these are key issues that concern on one side the issue of death penalty, and today I will also discuss that with Ban Ki-moon later during the day, because Italy during its presidency is going to work on -- on our traditional standing for death penalty moratorium for the next U.N. General Assembly as president of the European Union, and we're working on that. But I'll -- we have an issue of respect of human rights, of promotion of human rights, I would say, because we too often have double standards, and that makes us much less credible when we deal with the effects of violations of human rights when they happen somewhere else from -- than from our places.

Now, we have -- I think that we have underestimated the potential of Africa and seen Africa only as a place for -- of conflicts and -- and diseases and problems, while it's actually potentially a continent of huge development, socially, economically. It's young. I think it's the youngest continent in the world. And we risk to have an attitude towards Africa similar to the one that we had with Northern Africa when we didn't see what was happening and then suddenly the Arab Spring came out.

There might be trends in -- in Africa that could surprise us at a certain point and we're not -- just not seeing them. Then we have to work on -- on the conflicts in Africa, many -- different many conflicts in Africa, and on the roots, on the deep roots.

My concern is always that we -- we tend to -- we tend to concentrate on things that happen right here, right now, and we don't look where they come from and where they're going. And this is preventing us from preventing future conflicts in the coming months or years or decades. And sometimes the things that you do to tackle the issues that happen right here, right now, have negative consequences or might have not positive consequences on the things that would happen probably in a couple of years in other connected parts of the region.

And my impression is that in Africa we've had a similar kind of problematic approach, not seeing -- let's say, not putting in place a coherent global strategy on -- for the -- for encouraging the positive developments or the positive movements that can happen in there.

WEYMOUTH: Well, Minister, I think we all want to thank you and for your terrific performance.

(APPLAUSE)

MOGHERINI: Thank you very much.

WEYMOUTH: And I hope you'll return many times to the Council.

MOGHERINI: I will, for sure. I will.

WEYMOUTH: And I hope your visit to America was very successful.

MOGHERINI: Thank you very much. Thank you.

WEYMOUTH: Very nice to meet you.

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