Five day tour of the Middle East
In addition to discussions on peace talks, the trip, from 16 to 20 June, came against the backdrop of continued violence in Syria and recent violence in Iraq.
In Iraq, the High Representative signed an agreement committing €4 million in EU funding to the EU-Iraq Energy Centre.
Catherine Ashton also condemned recent attacks, urging all political forces to create a strong and common front against all forms of violence. She also offered encouragement for Iraq’s transition to democracy, promising that the EU ‘will continue to stand alongside the country to help it meet the challenges that it faces’.
Iraq and Egypt are just two of the countries affected by the fighting in Syria. Catherine Ashton paid tribute to all the countries looking after Syrian refugees, while calling for a political solution for Syria that will ‘end the bloodshed, stop the fighting and bring peace’.
While in Egypt, the High Representative highlighted the diverse ways in which the EU is supporting Egypt. EU funding is helping the poorest Egyptians, and it is also encouraging investment by industry and the growth of small businesses.
A visit to Gaza coincided with World Refugee Day. Catherine Ashton marked this with a visit to a local school to, saying she wanted to underline the situation in Gaza and offer the EU’s financial and political support to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Catherine Ashton also reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to supporting the peace process and the two-state solution – and to providing the economic support needed by Palestinians.
A similar message of support was given to the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The High Representative made clear that she fully supports the work undertaken by US Secretary of State John Kerry to launch peace talks.
‘I said this in Ramallah last night, I say it here in Jerusalem: we want this to be the way forward, to bring direct negotiations, and Europe will support this wholeheartedly,’ said Catherine Ashton.