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Den 10. marts mødtes Udenrigsminister Martin Lidegaard med det udenlandske diplomatiske korps i København.

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Dear ambassadors, excellences,

 I have been looking forward to this opportunity to meet all of you. Some of you I am meeting for the first time, others I have already had the pleasure to meet. Speaking to this distinguished group about important issues on our foreign policy agenda is a great way to start of our working relationship. 

 All of you follow Denmark closely, and you know that Denmark is a small country with a lot to offer to the world. Our companies count world leaders in several fields, and our public and private sectors have worked for many years to achieve high standards and find solutions in social welfare, energy, protection of the environment and many other sectors. 

 While we expand our ambitions to reach out in other regions with commerce and cooperation, we remain deeply dependent on Europe, and the European Union, for ensuring economic development and stability in our immediate neighborhood.

 So before I turn to our wider foreign policy agenda, let me first address the grave situation in the Ukraine…

 You will all have noticed the strong declarations by NATO and the European Union condemning the unprovoked violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

 Last Thursday, the EU Heads of State and Government decided to take actions, notably to suspend bilateral talks with the Russian Federation on visa matters as well as talks with the Russian Federation on the New Agreement. 

 The EU and the Russian Federation have a common objective of a relationship based on mutual interest and respect of international obligations – this needs to be promptly restored and it would be a matter of great regret if the Russian Federation failed to work in that direction, in particular through a productive dialogue with the Government of Ukraine. 

 Negotiation between the Governments of Ukraine and the Russian Federation is the way to a solution. In the absence of results, the EU will decide on additional measures to the political sanctions – such as travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia Summit. 

 I commend the measured response shown by the new Ukrainian government. Reforms and efforts to reach out to all regions and population groups should continue. Ukraine must ensure the full protection of the rights of people belonging to national minorities. 

 In addition to the statements of the EU and NATO, Denmark fully supports the setting up of an international observer mission under the OSCE and would be willing to contribute. Similarly, we are participating with two experts in the visit to Crimea under the Vienna Document following an invitation by Ukraine. 

 Personally, I had the opportunity to visit Ukraine last week together with my Swedish and Norwegian colleagues. Apart from Kiev, we had the opportunity to visit Eastern Ukraine (Donets’k). The reasons for our visit were two-fold: To show support and to gain a better feeling for the situation and the way forward for Ukraine. 

 Meeting with representatives of the new Government and the Acting President, I was heartened by the understanding and restraint shown by the leadership. The understanding of the need for reforms – also of the energy sector – and the need to be an inclusive force for change for all ethnic and regional groups was clear. I hope it will be followed by results. The restraint shown by Ukraine in the face of the military developments is similarly remarkable and to be applauded. 

 It is not easy, nor will it be in the days and weeks ahead. It is vital to avoid escalation and seek a negotiated solution that fully respects the independence, integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. It is up to Russia to take the first step and withdraw its troops. We will continue to support Ukraine and a peaceful, lasting outcome of the current crisis in full respect of the democratic decisions made by Ukrainians themselves.

[European Union] 
  Now, let me turn to the European Union. The crisis in Ukraine has further underlined how important it is for us to be able to address major foreign policy concerns through a common EU approach. Denmark wants a strong European cooperation, and we want to be at the core of it. 

 In connection with the European elections in May, I hope the campaign will generate a good debate across Europe on the benefits of EU cooperation and to confront the arguments of the Euro-sceptics that currently gain ground across Europe. 

 There is no doubt that the free movement of persons and their access to social benefits will play a big role in the debate in Denmark. Let me make it clear: No matter where you come from, fraud and abuse cannot be tolerated. The concerns of our citizens must be addressed. At the same time, we must not forget that the Single Market is a great success of the EU and is the source of thousands of jobs in Denmark - and millions across Europe. 

 On the day of the elections to the European Parliament, 25th of May, we will also have a referendum on the ratification of the European patent court. We do not in Parliament have the required 5/6 [five-sixths] majority to avoid a referendum as specified in our Constitution, and we know from experience that a referendum can be difficult to win. But I am confident that we will have sufficient ‘yes votes’. The patent court is clearly in our interest. 

 After the European elections, we will have to appoint a new Commission, including the Commission President. The most likely outcome is a package deal, which will include the President of the European Council and the new appointments for the High Representative and the Commission President. Denmark aims for a strong team to help build an even stronger union and common foreign policy. 

 Let me on this topic of the EU also mention the banking union and be very clear: The Danish government fully supports the work on the banking union and takes part in the negotiations. Denmark will decide whether to participate in the union, when there is clarity on all elements.

 Let me turn to the Arctic region which is a top priority for this government [and for me personally]. Danish Arctic policy is conceived in a joint effort between the three parts of the Kingdom: Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. We share a common vision and work closely together to safeguard the Arctic environment while developing the economic potential for the benefit of the people of the Arctic region. 

 We are all aware of the environmental challenges and their global impact; whether melting ice in Greenland or storms around the Faroe Islands, the Arctic environment influences the global climate and oceanic systems. 

 At the same time, the Arctic is turning into a region of economic opportunity with a great potential for resource development, new shipping routes and more to come. We want to develop this potential in a sustainable way while ensuring the highest environmental standards. 

 The safe and responsible development of the Arctic is a regional and global responsibility. For this reason we have favored strong international cooperation in the Arctic Council and the inclusion of more observers.

[2014 – possible break-throughs / opportunities] 
 Peace and stability is always high on the agenda for a foreign minister. Let me first shine a light on some of the opportunities that I see in 2014. 

 I want to start at home, in Europe, where peace negotiations in Cyprus have been re-launched thanks to the courage shown by Greek-Cypriot leader President Anastasiades and the Turkish-Cypriot leader Dr. Eroglu. 

 This is a historic opportunity to agree to a sustainable settlement to one of the longest conflicts in our continent. An agreement would immensely benefit the population of Cyprus and all of Europe. The reunification of Cyprus within the EU would close the last remaining conflict within our Union. I therefore urge the Cypriots, and their leaders, to continue to show courage, resolve and leadership.

 Let me also high-light the nuclear talks with Iran, where there is another opportunity for a break-through in 2014. The Joint Action Plan between E3+3 ermany, France, UK, USA, China, Russia) and Iran on the nuclear issue is an important first step. The action plan must now be implemented in full, and IAEA must monitor and verify that Iran is living up to the nuclear-related measures as put forward in the agreement. 

 I am pleased that the parties last month started the negotiations to reach a comprehensive and final agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. Further easing of sanction must depend on continued steps from Iran to prove the peaceful nature of the nuclear programme. I do not have to elaborate on the possible benefits of a comprehensive settlement for the Iranian people, for Europe and for the World. 

 On my list of opportunities not to be missed in 2014, are the US-led efforts towards peace in the Middle East. 

 I fully support Secretary Kerry’s efforts and I urge both the Israeli and Palestinian governments to seize the moment, engage with full commitment and prepare for the difficult, but necessary compromises. 

 Time has come, I believe, for Israelis and Palestinians alike to live peacefully side by side to their mutual benefit. Failure to bring an end to the conflict this time should not be an option.

 For Afghanistan, 2014 is the year of transition. By the end of this year, the Afghan National Security Forces assume full responsibility for security nationwide. On April 5, the Afghans will go elect a new President. The goal is an outcome broadly accepted by the Afghan people. And as Afghanistan transitions, our engagement will also change. The importance of our multilateral efforts in support of the EU and the UN will increase, as our bilateral footprint is reduced. 
Militarily, the NATO Summit in September will be an important platform for defining our engagement into 2015. Denmark is ready to support the ANSF with 100 million DKK annually for the coming three years (2015-17) and to contribute to the NATO Resolute Support Mission, provided there is a sufficient legal basis and a US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement.

[Great concerns / challenges]
 Now, I want to talk about my great concerns for the months to come: 

 I have already elaborated upon Ukraine. 

 So let me continue with Syria, which has turned into a humanitarian disaster of immense proportions. We strongly support the Geneva II process, even though the results so far have been limited. But to be frank – it is the only game in town right now, if we want to pursue a political solution to the Syrian crisis. The goal of the negotiations must be a transitional government accepted by both parties, and we must not allow the Syrian regime to use the talks to play for time. 

 Denmark will continue to work with partners to assist the moderate Syrian opposition in its efforts to reach out to the Syrian population and to stabilise the areas under opposition control. The Syrian people need to see, and experience by first hand, that there is an alternative to the Assad regime. 

 As you all know, we have taken the lead in the naval operation to remove Syria’s chemical weapons for destruction. Unfortunately, there are delays and only a small percentage of the materials have so far left Syria. All must now do their outmost more to ensure that the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) and Security Council decisions are fully implemented. 

 I welcome recent humanitarian Security Council resolution. I now call on all parties – in particular the Assad-regime – to respect international humanitarian law, protect civilians and allow safe and unhindered access for humanitarian aid to all of Syria.
Let me now turn to Africa, 

 I am deeply concerned by the situation in the Central African Republic. The need to protect civilians and provide humanitarian assistance is acute, and I appreciate and commend the huge efforts especially by the African Union and France in stabilizing the situation in the Central African Republic. I also welcome the UN Secretary General’s six point initiative, which he has presented to the Security Council. Now the World must act to avoid further escalation and stop the massive attacks on civilians. 

 Let me inform you that Denmark is responding to the UN Secretary General’s appeal in the Security Council for rapid support to establish a minimum capacity for the country to function for additional humanitarian assistance. Moreover, we are also ready – contingent upon the approval of Parliament – to support the UN with logistical support of a C-130 airplane. 

 In Mali, the overall situation has improved since the French-led “operation Serval”, supported by Denmark, was initiated last year. A case in point is the subsequent holding of successful elections, which have led to the return of constitutional conditions. 

 The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), to which Denmark is a contributor, continues to have military as well as police personnel deployed, but there is still instability and violence in Northern Mali. Moreover, the peace talks only advance slowly. 

 We face the risk that the fragile situation will spread to the Sahel and the positive process in Mali will reverse. To stimulate a positive development, we believe there is a need to complement high level talks with an inclusive national dialogue and reconciliation in Mali. As a long term development aid donor in Mali, Denmark will remain engaged in the country with a comprehensive package of political, security, development and humanitarian instruments to supplement the peace negotiations.

[MFA structural changes] 
 Let me politely finish by talking about ourselves. We have recently made some changes in our Foreign Service. Two main factors motivated and influenced this change: The need to respond to a changing political and economic global landscape and national budgetary constraints. 

 As a result, Denmark will open Embassies in Nigeria, Colombia, the Philippines and Myanmar. We will close 7 Missions and reduce staff at some other embassies. This has not been an easy decision. I think that is obvious considering that we have even closed missions in Europe. 

 It is important for me to make absolutely clear that a closure does not equal reduced ambitions or lack of interest in bilaterally and multilateral cooperation. Let me assure you, that Danish foreign policy will remain ambitious and focused, and that the Danish Foreign Service will continue to be engaged in conflicts around the world as well as promoting and defending Danish interests.

[Final remarks] 
 As I said at the outset, Denmark has many strong experiences to offer the world. Our energy-model, our flexi-security and other society models, which we are open to offer whoever wishes to get our advice. 

 For example, I am very pleased with the close energy cooperation with China. In my former capacity, that was the crown jewel of our sector-to-sector cooperation. 

 To me, foreign policy is also about inspiring each other to do better and to help each other build better societies to the benefit of the people. 

 With that, Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you for your kind attention. Now I will be happy to answer your questions.