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EU: Foreign Ministers Meeting In Wake Of Afghan Air Strikes

  • Ahto Lobjakas

European Union foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg today for talks that are certain to be dominated by yesterday's U.S.-led air strikes against Afghanistan. The ministers are expected to decide to seek closer ties with Pakistan and Iran, both considered key countries in the fight against terror. They will also discuss a controversial plan to adopt EU-wide legislation to freeze terrorist assets.

Luxembourg, 8 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- European Union foreign ministers meet today in Luxembourg to discuss ways the EU can assist in the fight against terrorism.

The European Union yesterday spoke out firmly in support of the U.S. and British air strikes on suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan. Yesterday's strikes came in response to terror attacks on 11 September in New York and Washington.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, speaking for the EU as current holder of its rotating presidency, said yesterday the EU "reaffirms its full solidarity with the United States, the United Kingdom, and the other nations engaged in the operation."

Today's talks are certain to be dominated by the strikes and European Union reaction to them.

Our correspondent reports ministers are likely to consider improving ties with both Pakistan and Iran, considered key countries in the antiterrorist coalition being led by the United States against Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

A European Commission official, who asked not to be named, said the commission would ask ministers to approve reviving a frozen cooperation treaty with Pakistan and negotiating another treaty with Iran.

The EU-Pakistani cooperation treaty has been suspended since 1999, when a military coup brought President Pervez Musharraf to power. The unnamed official said the treaty could be revived if Pakistan assures the EU of "further democratization." He said General Musharraf had recently given a visiting EU delegation "oral assurances" that this was the case.

Similarly, the commission will ask the foreign ministers to issue a mandate to negotiate a trade and cooperation agreement with Iran.

Ministers will also discuss a controversial European Commission initiative to adopt EU-wide legislation obliging member countries to freeze the assets of 27 organizations and persons thought to be linked to the perpetrators of September's attacks on the United States.

That debate may not be easy. While member countries support the objectives of the initiatives, differences have emerged with regard to the legal basis the measure should have. The European Commission based it on a little-used article of the EU Treaty that allows the union in extraordinary circumstances to legislate in areas where community action is not otherwise authorized by the treaty.

A number of member states oppose the use of that article. Some are concerned about the legality of the process. Others find it difficult to reconcile the measure with their national legislation and constitutions. Still others fear the European Commission could set a precedent and come to dominate the antiterrorist effort at the expense of the member states.

The commission official said "a quick way out of an otherwise difficult discussion" would be a United Nations decision to attach the list to an existing anti-Taliban sanctions package. This, he said, would be binding for the EU and avoid the need for new and controversial legislation.

The ministers will also discuss the situation in Macedonia. The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and external relations Commissioner Chris Patten returned frustrated from a visit to Skopje on 4 October, unable to speed up the parliamentary endorsement of constitutional confidence-building measures agreed between the Macedonian government and ethnic-Albanian rebels in August. Patten told journalists on 4 October that he had called off an international donors' conference for Macedonia scheduled for 15 October. In Patten's words: "It's absolutely inconceivable that the donors' conference can take place, I could not possibly get donors to the table in these circumstances."

The EU foreign ministers were to conclude their meeting today with discussion on the "Future of the EU" debate and a commission report on the progress of enlargement negotiations.

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