The EU was initially slow to react to events in Andijon and elsewhere in eastern Uzbekistan where hundreds of protesters were reportedly killed by government troops.
However, diplomats say many EU governments have become very concerned about the situation in the country.
Speaking on the margins of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels today, the bloc’s foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana said the situation in Uzbekistan is “worse” than the EU thought.
"Things there [in Uzbekistan] are worse than what we think they are. And therefore, the better we know what is going on and the better we see how we can help, the better (it is) for everybody," Solana said.
The declaration adopted today was rewritten in the course of the day to give clearer expression to EU misgivings by comparison with the initial draft drawn up on 20 May.
The declaration speaks of “profound” concern, strongly condemns the violence and expresses sympathy to the people who suffered.
In its redrafted form, the statement also puts further pressure on the Uzbek government to allow independent international investigators to look into the killings. The declaration warns that “depending on the response, the [EU] will consider further steps.”
The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said today that apart from allowing the investigation, pressure must be brought on Uzbek President Islam Karimov to initiate moves towards free and fair elections.
The EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner (eds: a woman) told a small group of journalists today, however, that the EU has no plans at this stage to either suspend aid or cut political ties with Uzbekistan.
The EU provides Uzbekistan with 10 million euros ($12.6 million) worth of aid annually. The two sides have signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which commits Uzbekistan to respect democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
Among other issues, Iran, Iraq, and the Middle East were to be discussed today. On Iran, the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany, and France were to inform their colleagues of their ongoing efforts to avert the country’s return to activities related to uranium enrichment. Representatives of the three countries were to meet Iranian negotiators in Geneva on 25 May. EU officials indicate they believe Iran may have hardened its stance as part of the runup to the presidential election in mid-June, and may be prepared to back down afterwards.
Officials say the new government in Iraq has now formally invited the European Union and the United States to organise an international conference in its aid in Brussels. One diplomat told RFE/RL today the event will take place on 21-22 June. Another source said the conference will give Iraq an opportunity to present and explain its priorities in three main aspects -- the political process, economic challenges and the reconstruction of the country, and the cementing of public order and the rule of law.
The ministers were also to review the preparations for completing an EU electoral observer mission currently being deployed in Lebanon. Out of a total of 100 monitors, 26 are already on the ground. An official said on 20 May the ministers will today begin “reflecting” on how to support reforms in Lebanon beyond the upcoming elections. The country is one of the beneficiaries of the bloc’s European Neighbourhood Policy.
The EU defence ministers’ meeting today was also to take stock of the progress the member states are making in setting up so-called “battle groups.” These are roughly 1500-strong units deployable within 15 days to respond to crises anywhere in the world. The EU expects to have 12 operational “battle groups” by 2010.
The bloc’s development ministers, meeting in Brussels tomorrow, will set themselves interim targets in their efforts to reach aid levels demanded by the United Nations. While the EU has committed itself to eventually supplying assistance to poorer nations totalling 0.7 percent of its gross national product (GNP), that remains a distant goal. Meanwhile, the European Commission says it wants old member states to reach 0.51 percent and new member states 0.17 percent by 2010. However, a number of member states are reported unwilling to underwrite so specific promises, among them Germany and most new accessions.