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EU: Foreign Ministers Hold Talks On Terror, Iran, And Wider Middle East

EU foreign ministers today are holding their regular monthly meeting in Brussels. Discussions are expected to focus on terrorism, the topic also topping the agenda at the bloc's summit later this week. Talks will also turn to Iran, Syria, and the Wider Middle East -- including today's killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of the Hamas militant group. Yassin was killed by an Israeli air strike while leaving a mosque in Gaza City.

Brussels, 22 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- European Union foreign ministers today are continuing discussions on terrorism.

That topic was at the center of an EU interior ministers' meeting on 19 March, and it is also expected to feature prominently in the bloc's two-day summit later this week (25-26 March).

There appears to be broad agreement on a bloc-wide political declaration of antiterrorism solidarity. This will allow member states targeted by an attack to receive quick community aid.

EU leaders later this week also expected to create the office of a new counterterrorism coordinator.

Most member states are also calling for the bloc to pool its intelligence resources.

States appear willing to share police intelligence. They are more reluctant to pool information from individual security services, with many member states rejecting the notion of a "European CIA," similar to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

But EU officials say the new counterterrorism office may include an intelligence unit that brings together information from all the member states.

Germany and France are also pushing for strict timetables to speed up the pace at which member states put existing antiterrorism legislation into practice.

Foreign ministers today will also discuss improving antiterrorism cooperation with non-EU countries.

EU treaties containing counterterrorism clauses have already been signed with Algeria, Lebanon, Croatia, Macedonia, and most South American countries. Talks with Iran, Syria, and the Gulf countries on similar agreements are already in progress.

Today's talks are also expected to focus on the Middle East, which is expected to figure prominently in future U.S.-EU policy discussions.

EU diplomats are looking for any Middle Eastern initiative to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That conflict reached a new crisis point today with the killing in an Israeli air strike of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the Hamas militant group.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have staged spontaneous demonstrations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank since this morning's attack. Hamas and other militant groups have threatened swift retaliation.

Ministers today are also likely to look at Iran. The EU is likely to express continued concern over Iran's failure to fully disclose details about its nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

An EU official on 19 March said the bloc is adopting a wait-and-see attitude with the new Iranian parliament. The bloc does not expect to relaunch trade and political talks with Tehran until the IAEA finalizes a new assessment on Iran in June.

Relations with Syria will also be addressed. An EU said an association agreement the bloc expects to sign with Damascus in May will be the last step toward the EU's Barcelona process aimed at establishing closer links with the Mediterranean region.

Today's meeting will also confirm a series of EU initiatives at the 60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, currently under way in Geneva.

The EU and the United States have cosponsored resolutions criticizing Belarus and Turkmenistan for their lack of progress on rights issues. The EU has also authored statements on the human rights situation in Chechnya and Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.

Last week's flare-up of violence in Kosovo is likely to be condemned in an EU statement today. EU officials say they will call on local leaders in the province to settle differences by peaceful means.

The Serbian prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, is due to visit Brussels tomorrow. His Kosovar counterpart, Bajram Rexhepi, will travel there later this week.

The EU will also issue a statement calling for Serbia's full cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.