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EU: Foreign Ministers To Discuss Iraq, Ukraine, Middle East, Balkans

Iraq, the Middle East, and Ukraine are set to top the agenda as EU foreign ministers gather in a monthly meeting in Brussels today. In particular, the ministers are expected to issue a statement on Ukraine, though it is unlikely to offer any change in the EU's current position toward Kyiv. Meanwhile, ministers are also set to examine issues concerning the Balkans and Cuba.

Brussels, 31 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- EU foreign ministers today are expected to issue a statement on the elections in Iraq.

So far, European governments have widely praised yesterday's elections.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, has also had warm words. Solana had warned of a "disaster" if Iraq's Sunni Arabs were marginalized in the elections. But Solana's praise yesterday sounded conciliatory ahead of a visit to Europe next month by U.S. President George W. Bush.
Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary support giving Ukraine a promise of membership, however distant, but they remain isolated.

Foreign ministers today are also likely to state their support for a proposal by the European Commission on 4 February to earmark 200 million euros ($235 million) in aid for Iraq in 2005.


Ukraine, meanwhile, is another key item on today's meeting agenda.

The meeting is expected to issue a statement on Ukraine. Its wording was still contested over the weekend, but officials rule out any possibility of a change in the EU's current position on Kyiv.

The EU foresees an upgraded "action plan" for Ukraine within the framework of the EU neighborhood policy, but no mention of possible membership in the bloc.

However, new Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has explicitly called for joining the EU in recent weeks.

One EU diplomat told RFE/RL the "best" Ukraine can hope for in the foreseeable future is for EU governments and the European Commission to refrain from publicly asserting that Ukraine "can never join the bloc."

Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary support giving Ukraine a promise of membership, however distant, but they remain isolated.

Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner, have drawn up a 10-point letter suggesting concrete ways in which the EU-Ukraine relationship may be upgraded within the framework of the action plan.

The letter -- seen by RFE/RL -- proceeds from the assumption that no membership perspective is suggested. Instead, it says another agreement -- of unspecified nature -- will be negotiated with Ukraine when the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with the EU runs out in 2008.

It promises closer foreign-policy cooperation, but also makes clear that Ukraine must do more to help resolve the Transdniestr conflict. Better steel and textile quotas and other measures, possibly leading to a free-trade area with the EU, are also floated.

The EU also undertakes to strongly support Ukraine's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and give it market economy status. But both developments significantly depend on progress from Kyiv.

There is also a point holding out the possibility of visa facilitation. Diplomats say this would take place on lines analogous to similar discussions the bloc has already launched with Russia. The signing of a readmission treaty with the EU is a pre-condition.

Among other suggestions, the letter also says the European Investment Bank will consider allocating half of its "credit line" targeting Russia and the "Western Newly Independent States" to Ukraine. This will happen if Ukraine accepts the neighborhood "action plan."

Officials say there is widespread support among member states that the "action plan" could be reviewed at the end of this year if Ukraine's reforms are deemed sufficient.

Another discussion on Ukraine is set to take place at the ministers' next meeting on 21 February.


Meanwhile, the Middle East will also figure in today's meeting.

Officials say there is a consensus among EU governments that the election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian Authority (PA) president has opened a "window of opportunity" for the peace process.

The ministers are expected to praise the PA for moves designed to bring all security forces under its control. These moves, officials say, need to be consolidated. Among other measures, the collection of illegal weapons must be stepped up, tunnels under borders closed, and anti-Israeli incitement stopped.

In the words of one EU official on 28 January, "visible confidence-building measures" are needed from the Palestinian side.

Israel, for its part, is expected to continue releasing Palestinian prisoners and ease restrictions on the movement of people between Palestinian areas. The EU is also expected to call on Israel to cease its policy of targeted assassinations of militants.

EU officials said on 28 January that the United States still remains the key factor in the peace process due to the "unrivalled" influence it enjoys on Israel.

The Middle East will be high on the agenda when Bush meets EU leaders in Brussels in February.


EU ministers will adopt a short statement on the Western Balkan countries. Much of it will focus on their relations with the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) based in The Hague.

Officials say Croatia is seen as the test case in this context. EU membership talks are due to begin with Zagreb on 17 March, and an EU foreign ministers' meeting on 16 March must conclusively decide whether Croatia has displayed sufficient cooperation with the ICTY.

Croatia's only -- but vital -- problem concerns fugitive former General Ante Gotovina. An EU summit in Brussels in December used unexpectedly restrained language on Croatia, prompting hopes in Zagreb that membership talks could begin without the prior arrest of the general.

However, an EU diplomat told RFE/RL that some member states, notably Britain, have made it clear that there is "only one criterion" for Croatia -- "whether Gotovina is in The Hague or not."

Britain has also indicated it wants the ICTY's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, to brief the next EU foreign ministers' meeting in February. Del Ponte is known to be highly critical of Zagreb and has suggested Gotovina is in hiding in Croatia.

Croatia's critics, such as Britain, suggest that after the recent elections in Croatia, Gotovina's arrest should not be "overly complicated."

The official says the EU's treatment of Croatia is closely followed by other countries in the region. As long as the Croatian general remains at large without any visible damage to Zagreb's standing, others are unwilling to round up their ICTY suspects.


EU diplomats say the foreign ministers will discuss softening the bloc's stance on Cuba. This may involve normalizing trade relations and resuming high-level political contacts with Havana.

The EU imposed a partial freeze on relations with Cuba in 2003 after Havana passed draconian prison sentences on tens of dissidents and briefly detained two members of the Czech Parliament. EU governments canceled high-level political visits and member state embassies were encouraged to seek contacts with Cuban dissidents.

Moves to end the standoff were initiated earlier in January by Havana.

Human rights organizations last week urged the EU to avoid normalizing relations with Cuba until the country commits itself to large-scale legal reforms.

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