Extending the UN mandate on cross-border humanitarian assistance to northwestern Syria is crucial, Ireland’s foreign minister said in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency.
Simon Coveney said he visited Türkiye’s Hatay province bordering Syria with his Norwegian counterpart Anniken Huitfeldt, adding it is important to extend UN Security Council Resolution 2585 for the continuation of cross-border aid to Syria.
Coveney said 800 trucks cross the border for aid purposes per month. He noted that €200 million ($209 million) was spent last year on UN-led operations and that approximately 4 million people can be provided with basic items such as medical supplies, clothing, tents, and blankets.
“If the UN Security Council doesn’t keep that crossing open through a UN mandate, then the UN presence there would have to end, and that crossing would become much more complicated,” he said.
“And of course, if we can’t get the aid and support to the displaced people in northwest Syria, many of those people will look to move out of necessity.”
He said the UN Security Council will decide whether to extend its mandate for another 12 months on July 10.
“At the moment, it looks as if it would be very difficult to get a renewal of that mandate. Russia, in particular, has said that they are undecided as to whether they will support a renewal of the mandate for another 12 months,” said Coveney.
Coveney said Türkiye has a strategic role in these conversations and he spoke on the matter with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“Minister Cavusoglu has been speaking to his counterpart Sergey Lavrov, from Russia, in terms of trying to ensure that this essential humanitarian assistance, which is also about stability in the region, remains in place for another 12 months,” he said.
Coveney said that last year’s talks were also difficult but the extension was made. However, he said “we won’t know literally until the day of the vote” this year’s results.
Food security and Russia’s war on Ukraine
Coveney said the talks with Cavusoglu were “very good” and he thanked him for the efforts Türkiye makes “to get millions of tons of grain out of Odesa.”
“We know that because of Russian aggression and because of this war, food security has become a big issue for many countries that rely on the large-scale importation of Ukrainian and Russian grain,” he said.
“And so we need from a food security point of view and from a food pricing point of view to find a way of getting 22 million tons of grain out of Ukraine to other parts of the world that need it,” he added.
“I think the role of the UN and Türkiye has been and continues to be very important in those efforts.”
Ireland’s NATO membership unlikely in short term
Responding to a question on whether Ireland will seek NATO membership following the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Coveney said: “I don’t think that’s likely in the short term, certainly.”
He said Ireland is one of the four European Union member states that are not NATO members.
“I think Ireland’s focus right now is increasing our investment in terms of our own defense and security capacity. I think we will be doing more in terms of partnerships with other EU countries on defense projects and on security projects. But I think Ireland values its non-military alignment,” he said.
British government’s proposal on Northern Ireland protocol ‘illegal’
Coveney described the decision on the Northern Ireland Protocol taken by the British government last week as “illegal.”
The British government submitted the bill to parliament last week which foresees the unilateral amendment of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which regulates trade between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.
“All I can say is that what the British government is proposing to do now is illegal. Under international law, they are proposing to set aside large elements of an international treaty that they signed a few years ago. I think it’s very regrettable that they’re choosing to do that, at a time when international law really matters, to have the British government deliberately breaching international law for its own political domestic reasons.
“And of course, we wanted to avoid the need to put in place border infrastructure between north and south of the island of Ireland, which has been absent since the peace agreement nearly 25 years ago. So we don’t want to go backwards,” he added.
On the possibility of the unification of Northern Ireland and Ireland, Coveney said “the priority in solving the Brexit-related issues is trying to rebuild trust between communities and political leaders in Northern Ireland, trying to rebuild trust between Dublin and London.”
“The peace agreement is very clear on this issue. So what it says is if there’s a majority of people in Northern Ireland that want to change the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, then a referendum would be organized for people to have a formal vote,” he said.
“In the medium- to longer-term, of course, there are questions around what the majority of people in Northern Ireland will want, and that is a very legitimate debate, and I want to be part of it.”
Bilateral relations with Türkiye
Coveney said that Türkiye and Ireland reached the highest figure ever in terms of bilateral trade volume in 2021 at $1.7 billion.
“But of course, there is an awful lot more potentially on offer,” he noted.
He said Türkiye is the fifth most preferred country by the Irish for holidays and evaluated that further cooperation which covers areas such as student exchanges and joint research programs between universities as well as trade would be very beneficial for both countries.
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