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EU: Russia, Iran Expected To Top Agenda At EU-U.S. Summit

  • Ahto Lobjakas --> Russian law enforcement is increasingly meeting opposition with force (AFP) BRUSSELS, April 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Concerns over Russia's democratic record will be on the agenda of the twice-yearly U.S.-EU summit -- where, in the words of one senior EU official Russia now occupies a "prominent" place.

Russia, together with Iran, will top the foreign-policy agenda when U.S. President George W. Bush welcomes EU leaders to the Oval Office on the morning of April 30.

The EU delegation will be headed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will be representing the EU's current presidency, and Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission.

Unresponsive To Concerns

On April 23, the EU had a first-hand opportunity to gauge Russian reactions when its officials asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting in Luxembourg to explain the recent crackdown on opposition demonstrations in Russia.

The European Commission's spokeswoman for external affairs, Christiane Hohmann told RFE/RL today that the Russian side has yet to respond to the EU's concerns.
Russia's role in the ongoing dispute over Kosovo's future will be up for discussion during the EU-U.S. summit.

"[The EU] voiced [its] concern over the human rights situation and the freedom of press in Russia, and also mentioned the events over the weekend two weeks ago just to make sure that the Russian side is aware of our concerns on these issues," Hohmann said. "And the Russian side did not react to it."

After the meeting, Lavrov purportedly quoted the Enlightenment-era French thinker Voltaire, equating freedom with the obligation to follow the law, saying the demonstrators had overstepped their rights.

An EU source, who requested anonymity, said that during the meeting Lavrov responded to questions on Russia's human rights record by bringing up the situation of Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia.

Without commenting directly on the upcoming U.S.-EU summit, spokeswoman Hohmann said the EU will continue raising the issue in its own future contacts with Russia.

"We have a regular dialogue with the Russians on all political levels, including a human rights dialogue, and of course you know we have an upcoming summit in May where we will bring this up again because the [European] Commission and [the EU] presidency always bring up their concerns as far as human rights and the freedom of the press are concerned," Hohmann said.

'One Voice' Sought

Outlining the agenda of the April 30 EU-U.S. summit, a senior EU official on condition of anonymity said Russia's prominence in the talks stems from two reasons. One, the official said, is the need -- mutually acknowledged by the EU and the United States -- to "speak with one voice" on issues such as respect for democratic standards, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.

Secondly, he said, the European Union and the United States will also discuss Russia's role in the ongoing dispute over Kosovo's future, as well as that in other "frozen conflict" regions. Both the European Union and the United States also need to engage Russia better in their counterterrorism efforts and the drive to counteract the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The senior EU official said Iran's prominence on the EU-U.S. foreign-policy agenda is explained by the need to prevent it from becoming a nuclear-weapons nation. Both sides are also concerned about Tehran's activity in the wider Middle East, and they want to weigh ways of better engaging Iran's civil society.

Other issues to be addressed during the summit are Afghanistan, Darfur, the Middle East, and Kosovo. The two sides will also discuss combating terrorism, data exchange on air travelers, an EU push to get the United States to lift its visa requirement on new EU member states, climate change, and global trade issues.

Rising Russian Nationalism
Orthodox believers and nationalists heckling a gay-rights rally in Moscow in May 2006 (RFE/RL)

A THREAT TO CIVIL, RELIGIOUS LIBERTIES: Several leading experts told a briefing hosted by RFE/RL and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that several mounting trends in Russia are posing a growing threat to human rights, especially for members of the country's ethnic and religious minorities.


Listen to the entire briefing (about 90 minutes):
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