Lithuania is initiating a meeting of EU and Israeli ministers to discuss terrorism threats and reduce tension between the European Union and the Jewish state, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said in an interview with BNS Lithuania on Friday.
Saulius Skvernelis
Saulius Skvernelis
© DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

Skvernelis said he discussed the issue with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the Lithuanian prime minister, Lithuania wants the EU to better understand Israel's attitude and that would assist in finding a compromise on complex Middle Eastern issues.

Does Lithuania need to be Israel's advocate within the EU?

We should not be a forthright advocate but after yesterday's meetings, I believe, Lithuania really has a better understanding of Israel and that understanding could be spread among other EU countries. We need to better listen, hear them out and understand their position. We definitely lack a direct dialogue.

We appreciate Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius' efforts for the Israeli prime minister to be invited to the EU Council where he could explain his position. I think such a format should continue. There's Lithuania's position on the Justice and Home Affairs Council to initiate a discussion with the Israeli public security minister on terrorism threats, prevention and security.

Lithuania will also invite the Israeli minister to the meeting of EU ministers?

Yes, we want for that discussion to happen. Understanding and the presentation of serious arguments facilitates the search for compromises on complex international political issues.

Critics say that because of such initiatives, which are not in line with the EU's common position on the Israeli issue, Lithuania might lose arguments for requesting a common and united EU position on Russia.

I don't think so. We spoke with the Israeli prime minister's delegation yesterday that we understand and hear their concerns over the situation in the Middle East regarding relations with Iran and the situation in Syria. We also expressed our position and arguments on the situation in our region, on the threat we feel from Russia, and we also want the same understanding, solidarity and for our arguments to be heard. We also have to speak in the European Union and listen to each others' arguments and not just stick to some stereotypes and preformed opinions.

The protesters who met Netanyahu outside the government building in Vilnius say that Lithuania, which itself experienced occupation, is acting unfair, closing its eyes on the occupation of Palestine by Israel and its crimes in Palestine. What would you say to them?

It's a superficial attitude. The processes are much deeper and their consequences are much wider than the Israeli-Palestinian relations. Lithuania is in favor of this issue being resolved based on the UN resolutions, and only peace talks can lead to final solutions.

But we have to admit that today Israel is not only waging war and defending its independence, the lives of its people, but is also fighting in a wider context, if we speak about terrorism and potential expansion of IS fighters to Europe.

Violence is taking place on both sides. Sometimes it might seem normal for somebody that 150 or 200 rockets are launched from outside the border into Israel. In any case, violence sparks violence, and dialogue and negotiations are the best solution.

Netanyahu invited you to Jerusalem during a press conference, calling it the eternal capital of Israel. Will Lithuania recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?

We need to discuss this in a wider context. International law and international UN resolutions are key here. Until there's no final negotiated solution, Lithuania sticks to the EU's common position.

The EU says it will continue supporting the deal with Iran, and the United States and Israel call for the introduction of sanctions to put pressure on Iran. What's Lithuania's position?

Yesterday we heard serious arguments with specific examples, numbers, and some of them are not publicly accessible. We have to maintain and will maintain the common position. Those agreements we had at least let us hope and ensure certain stability. There are risks that the sanctions being introduced might provoke Iran to resume its nuclear ambitions. Naturally, Israel sees much more than we do and has a very tough position. But any agreements and the search for compromises is more important than hard-line positions.

On the other hand, we also have countries in our region, subject to tough sanctions, and we are strongly defending our position, therefore, I really understand Israel's arguments as they are based on specific facts and specific information.

Palestine and Iran say they would consider opening their embassies in Vilnius? Would you agree?

There are no discussions on Iran yet. What concerns a Palestinian representation, there've been intentions since 2013 but there's been no real progress, so perhaps we'll have such a situation for now.

Thank you for the conversation.

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