EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten commented on Libya as he arrived for today's meeting. "I think there's been a considerable improvement in Libya's cooperation with the international community," he said. "I think we've reached closure on some of the really awful incidents that happened in the past, and I hope it is now time to move on and find a better relationship with Libya."
The EU's foreign-policy and security chief, Javier Solana, also had encouraging words about Tripoli as he arrived today in Luxembourg. "Libya, as you know, has taken very important measures, in particular in the nuclear field, that has helped very much, not only to disarm themselves, but also to discover what we may call the 'red' market of proliferation," Solana said.
EU officials say the impetus for the lifting of the EU arms embargo on Libya has largely come from Italy. Italy is said to have an "obvious" concern with combating illegal immigration, much of which transits Libya. One diplomat said the lifting of the embargo is largely due to Italy's wish to sell Libya coast-guard equipment.
Officials at the European Commission on 8 October made light of suggestions that the lifting of the arms embargo might put refugees transiting Libya in danger. The commission has earlier said Libya has interned approximately 100,000 illegal immigrants in camps and has already deported tens of thousands. The commission has in other contexts also sharply criticized Libya for not signing international treaties on refugees' rights.
One commission official said on 8 October the arms embargo against in Libya was not imposed "in the context of human rights," but that of terrorism. The official said the ministers will today also give the green light to a technical EU mission that will shortly travel to Libya to "explore the problem of illegal immigration."
The official said the moves are part of a wider approach where the EU is hoping to move toward fully integrating Libya in its so-called Barcelona process providing for aid, trade, and legislative alignment with the bloc.
The EU ministers will today also once again condemn Libya's continuing refusal to release five Bulgarian nurses condemned to death for allegedly infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV/AIDS.
One official said the EU is "putting the finishing touches" on a humanitarian mission to support those who suffer from HIV/AIDS in Libya and the families of the victims of this particular case. However, the diplomat said, "it's a signal of EU solidarity and compassion for the people of Libya, and it is not to be understood as compensation."
EU sources say it is unlikely that ministers will lift the bloc's arms embargo against China. One official said the issue will not be resolved before next year. The two main conditions appear to be improvements in China's human rights record and further work on developing an effective EU arms-control regime. Officials say such a regime would prevent most arms sales to China even in the absence of a formal ban.
Officials say the positions of EU member states on the issue have remained unchanged since the summer. France spearheads the effort to lift the embargo, arguing it is anachronistic in a situation where the EU views China as a strategic partner. Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic, as well as Denmark and Sweden, are against. The United States continues warning EU member states against lifting the embargo.
The EU and China will hold a summit meeting in December.
The EU will extend its existing sanctions on Burma, also known as Myanmar.
Meeting in September, EU foreign ministers had warned Burma that without quick "movement" on the release of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, an end to the harassment of the National League for Democracy and the holding of an inclusive national convention, fresh sanctions are inevitable.
Officials say no such movement has taken place. As a consequence, the EU will extend its existing visa ban much more broadly to the military. It will now apply to everyone with the rank of brigadier general or above. There will also be what are described as "carefully worked-out" financial sanctions. The EU will not support loans to Burma from international financial institutions, and the bloc will ban the financing of Burmese state-owned enterprises.
Existing sanctions also include an arms embargo and an assets freeze. One official said on 8 October that the bloc remains "cautious" about economic sanctions because it is reluctant to do anything that might harm the general population.
In a related move, the EU will increase its current 10 million-euro ($12.4 million) annual aid package to the Burmese people in the fields of health and education.
The EU last month resolved a long-running row with the South Asian bloc ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) over whether to recognize Burma's accession to the latter. An EU-ASEM summit in Hanoi last weekend saw Burma attend at a lower level than head of state or government.
Officials say the ministers, discussing the Middle East over lunch, will face what one described as an "open agenda." If a statement is adopted, it will address issues such as support to the reform of the Palestinian Authority, and criticism of recent Israeli statements relating to the status of the withdrawal from Gaza and the way this is likely to negatively affect the viability of a two-state solution.
The ministers could also urge Israel to act within international law, deplore disproportionate military action, and condemn terrorism in all its forms.
One EU diplomat told RFE/RL that Israel is on the verge of being omitted from the bloc's "new neighborhood" initiative and the "action plans" for developing relations currently being prepared for seven neighborhood countries.
Israel is said to reject a number of EU conditions, among them the essential role of the internationally backed "road map" to peace with Palestine. Israel also appears reluctant to sign a fully binding clause against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Israel is long suspected to have a nuclear capability. A WMD clause is now obligatory in all EU treaties with nonmember states. Disagreement over the wording of the clause has so far also complicated EU-Syria association talks.
Officials say the EU will not unveil any new initiatives before a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November. One official said on 8 October that "the message to Iran remains that there must be full cooperation with the IAEA, and that the 23 November board meeting is crucial and it is important to act before then."
The official said the EU does not oppose a civilian Iranian nuclear program. It also remains willing to cultivate closer trade links with Iran and offer support to Tehran's World Trade Organization bid. All this, however, is conditional on Iran meeting the terms set out by the IAEA.
An EU statement is expected on the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine. One official said the declaration will say the poll is "an important litmus test for the EU-Ukrainian relationship and the values both hold in common."
Ukraine appears to have reversed its initial decision not to accept an EU "action plan" that would recognize it as a privileged "new neighbor" without, however, conferring on the country any membership prospects.