The European Union’s incoming foreign policy chief’s first trip in her new capacity will be to Israel, The Times of Israel has learned.
On November 1, Federica Mogherini will succeed Catherine Ashton as the union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. Less than a week later, she is scheduled to arrive in Israel for her first official visit, sources in Jerusalem confirmed Tuesday. Mogherini — currently Italy’s foreign minister — will arrive in the region on November 7 and stay for two days. She is expected to also visit senior Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah.
“It’s very important that Ms. Mogherini comes to Israel on November 7. It’s her first official visit,” said Fulvio Martusciello, a member of the European Parliament from Italy and the new president of its delegation for relations with Israel. Having known her for a while, he believes she understands Israel’s many predicaments, he added, but refused to elaborate.
“I hope we will be able to work together,” Martusciello, who is currently visiting Israel at the invitation of B’nai Brith International, told The Times of Israel Tuesday during an interview in the Knesset.
Bastiaan Belder, a Dutch member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs committee, said Tuesday that he personally asked Mogherini whether she thinks that the EU and Israel have shared security interests, and if yes, how she would implement this into the union’s foreign affairs agenda. “She was evading a clear answer,” said Belder, a former chairman and current vice chair of the parliament’s delegation for relations with Israel.
“But I’m not a pessimistic man, for I know the important European member states have close intelligence cooperation with Israel in counterterrorism and the like.”
Mogherini is a member of Italy’s center-left government led by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who is known to be generally friendly toward Israel and tough on Iran’s nuclear program.
However, Mogherini will not inherit the Iran file from her predecessor. As The Times of Israel reported last month, Catherine Ashton will remain in charge of the West’s negotiations with Iran even beyond the November 24 deadline. Ashton has been leading a group of six world powers — the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — that has been conducting talks with Tehran over its nuclear program since 2010.
In April, Mogherini made headlines when she suggested that Iran could play a positive role in the Syrian civil war, but at the same time warned that “in no possible way” should the regime be allowed to acquire military nuclear weapons capabilities.
In July, she came to Israel at the height of Operation Protective Edge, and, among other things, visited a house struck by a rocket in Ashdod.
After her nomination as the EU’s foreign policy chief in August, she said at a press conference that her future “challenges are huge,” listing crises in Europe, Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, but not mentioning Iran.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, welcomed Mogherini’s appointment at the time, saying that “we have common ground both in terms of opportunities… as well as cooperation in order to address common challenges.”
On September 4, Zarif and Mogherini met in Rome and discussed the nuclear negotiations. “We clearly share the same perspective on the need to reach an agreement on the nuclear issue by November, which could allow greater stability and security in the region,” the Italian foreign minister told her Iranian counterpart, who heads the negotiations for the Islamic Republic. “I hope negotiations will lead to a positive agreement and within the established time.”
At a joint press conference, Zarif declared his wish for a “closer relationship” with the EU and said Italy could be a “bridge” between Europe and the Islamic world. “This role could be strengthened with the appointment of Mogherini as EU top diplomat,” he said.