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EU Ministers Debate Haiti, Afghanistan, Bosnia

  • Ahto Lobjakas

The EU's General Affairs and Foreign Affairs Council session in Brussels on January 25.

The EU's General Affairs and Foreign Affairs Council session in Brussels on January 25.

BRUSSELS -- EU foreign ministers met in Brussels today to discuss Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, the situation in Haiti, and the bloc's future engagement with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Looking ahead to the January 28 international conference on Afghanistan in London, EU ministers defined their expectations of the country's government.

Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative for foreign policy, told journalists after the meeting that Afghan representatives must convince the international community they are ready to take over responsibility for the country.

"It's an essential discussion with the Afghan government about how to strengthen our support, but also how to ensure greater Afghan ownership, and responsibility for the country's security and economic development," Ashton said.

Ashton said the EU ministers had had a "good discussion" today.

Diplomats say the bloc sees the conference as an occasion for putting pressure on President Hamid Karzai to respect his campaign pledges to cultivate democracy, good governance, and respect for human rights and the rights of minorities.

The London conference should also discuss a timetable for handing security responsibility for some areas to Afghan forces.

But Sweden's foreign minister, Carl Bildt, arriving tor today's talks, said there would be no quick exit from Afghanistan.

"I would not be looking at any exit dates. We should look at [gradual] transitions, from an engagement where the overall or overwhelming emphasis is military to an engagement where the emphasis is primarily civilian and political," Bildt said.

"But any talk of exit strategies in Afghanistan plays into the hands of the Taliban."

Iran, Yemen

Britain also briefed other EU member states on a January 27 meeting on Yemen in London to shore up support of the government of the country and help it fight terrorism.

In another decision with a view to propping up stability in the region, the EU today decided to send a crisis-management mission to Uganda to train Somali security forces.

The ministers held an extended lunch discussion on Iran. Ashton said the EU "continues to regret" Iran's refusal to discuss its nuclear program with the international community. She said Tehran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency is "insufficient."

Ashton warned that the "rules" established by the international community may lead to the application of sanctions on Iran.

Balkan Peacekeeping

Bosnia-Herzegovina provided another highlight today, with the EU extending until 2011 its military presence in the country.

Ashton today reaffirmed the EU's commitment to security in the region, saying the bloc is "ready to maintain an executive military role beyond 2010 under a UN mandate to continue to support the area, to maintain a safe and secure environment."

There are divisions within the bloc, with a number of member states having withdrawn from the EU's ALTHEA force. Many would like to see it converted into a training mission. Today, a decision was made to set up an EU training capability alongside with the continued military mission.

The situation in Bosnia is aggravated by the attempts of Bosnia's Serbian entity, the Republika Srpska, and some Croatian leaders to remove some of the international oversight mechanisms.

Diplomats say the EU-U.S.-led process of mediation between ethnic community leaders launched last year -- known as the Butmir process -- has not produced results.

EU high representative Ashton had asked EU ministers to outline their vision for Bosnia over lunch today.

Haiti Earthquake

The aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti kept EU ambassadors busy last week and overshadowed much of the EU foreign ministers' deliberations today.

The EU development commissioner, Karel de Gucht, reported on his visit to Haiti and Ashton on hers to the United States and UN headquarters in New York.

France, Haiti's former colonial master, is spearheading the EU response on Haiti.

That response will to comprise a more than 400 million-euro ($565 million) aid package, police units, and extensive rehabilitation assistance.

De Gucht said that "no one is hungry, no one is thirsty" in Haiti today, but warned that the rainy season starting in six weeks will create huge housing problems.

The United Nations has asked for 1,000-1,500 police, but commitments in the Balkans and Afghanistan make it unlikely the EU will be able to meet that target.

France has reacted painfully to the United States taking the lead role in the aid effort in Haiti.

This was reflected in EU calls today for UN leadership of the international relief effort.

Upcoming Talks

On January 26, Spanish Foreign Minister Angel Moratinos will chair restricted EU meetings with Serbia and Kazakhstan -- the latter in its current function as this year's chairman in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Moratinos represents the EU's current rotating presidency and his presence at the meetings testifies to latent tensions with high representative Ashton.

The same day, a newly established "Friends of Moldova" group will hold its first meeting over breakfast. Romania and France provide the impetus for the group, which includes most Eastern European member states, but also Germany and Britain. Moldova's foreign minister will attend.

An EU source said the bloc was "impressed" with Moldova's performance in the first round of association-agreement talks in Brussels on January 12.

The EU is now mulling provisionally suspending for six months its visa ban on leaders of Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester as an incentive to reforms -- much as it has done with Belarus.
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