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Mikser: EU's interest in Middle East keeping situation under control

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Sven Mikser.
Sven Mikser. Source: (Eero Vabamägi/Postimees/Scanpix)

The EU is facing serious dilemmas in the Middle East, but the priority remains keeping the situation under control and assuring at least some stability, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser said at the Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn on Sunday morning.

"The situation in the Middle East has direct and serious implications for Europe," Mikser said in a panel discussion titled "Can the Outside World Fix the Middle East?" He added that foreign powers have their own role, but it is supporting stability and providing development aid.

In the case of foreign actors, it must first be asked whether they are interested in conflict resolution in the Middle East or in something else. Mikser said that, in his estimation, the predominant motive of Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict is to maintain a strategic foothold on the Mediterranean Sea.

"When you look at Iranian motives, I don't think there is a great overlap with what we see is the interest of the majority of the Syrian people," he said.

Mikser also called for conflicts in the Middle East to not be "lumped together," noting for instance that it would be difficult to find a common denominator between the Israeli-Palestinian and Libyan conflicts.

According to the Estonian minister, the West should not be accused of all the trouble in the region. "The primary reason for these conflicts and dire socio-economic conditions comes down to a massive and monumental failure of leadership in most of these countries," he said.

Of course, the West should be more creative in seeking solutions for the region's problems, Mikser admitted, as forcing an agreement between foreign powers is likely not practicable or lasting. He added that the interests of all communities must be taken into account.

Şimşek: EU model should be taken as example in Middle East

According to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Mehmet Şimşek, movement toward the EU's democratic model should take place in seeking solutions to conflicts and problems in the Middle East.

"We must be humble," Şimşek said. "So far, outside intervention has not helped partly because it lacks strategy."

According to the Turkish minister, the sovereignty of countries must become the basis of the future in the Middle East. He said that one cannot "pick ethnic groups like football clubs," referring to soccer teams, as that would not end well as the region is so rich in ethnic groups.

The solution, according to Şimşek, is the EU model, as Europe has a long history with conflicts and many nations but has managed to cooperate. There is no reason why democracy could not succeed in the Middle East, he said.

Şimşek also ruled out the possibility of Turkey becoming an authoritarian state, saying that Europe is still an example for them. He added that Turkey is moving toward a more united and tolerant society.

Stopping violence in Syria top priority

On the subject of the Syrian conflict specifically, Şimşek said that the first priority when solving the Syrian crisis must be stopping the violence there.

According to the Turkish minister, the Astana peace process is a good start, as a ceasefire is necessary. "Geneva could be the next step," he added.

Şimşek said that four countries have the leverage to stop the violence: Iran, Turkey, Russia and the U.S. "They can achieve a lasting lull in violence," he noted, adding that talks could the continue regarding how to move forward.

He also stated that Europe should be more involved as it has a lot of soft power, for instance in building institutions, reconstruction and gender equality.

Kortunov: Middle East at start of long political, social transition

The Middle East is at the beginning of a very long and difficult political and social transition which will likely be considered the single most important global issue of the time by future historians, said Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov.

According to the director general, there are many problems in Middle Eastern countries that are currently exerting pressure and will continue to do so in the future, including unresolved social problems, incomplete modernization and climate change. In addition, there is no positive economic model in the region and the population of countries in the region is growing and very young.

Kortunov emphasized that the transition in the Middle East is not a regional but a global issue.

According to the researcher, foreign powers should demonstrate a certain modesty as a lot depends on dynamics in the region which are not very positive. External powers have had some impact on the region and sadly most of it has not been positive, he noted.

"No one has a strategy and no one has a solution — we are competing against each other instead of trying to solve the problems," he said, adding that this was short-sighted.

According to Kortunov, there are three main things that should be kept in mind.

First, that this is a complex and integrated region and that the countries there are interconnected, and so trying to solve problems separately will not work — these issues must be solved simultaneously.

Second, that an inclusive, not exclusive, approach must be taken, as without getting everyone on board there is no prospect of a stable solution. According to Kortunov, the trick is finding a balance of interests that would keep major players both in and outside of the region engaged.

The third issue that must be kept in mind is that it must be understood that it is not possible to separate security and development. According to Kortunov, most problems in the Middle East are rooted in the socio-economic situation. This provides Gulf of Persia countries and EU member sattes power to negotiate as neither Russia nor the U.S. are able or have the motivation to allocate a lot of money to the region, he said.

At the same time, he stressed that as the transition period is still in its beginning stages in the Middle East, now is a good time to influence it.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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