France, Germany, and EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana will brief other ministers on their attempts to revive the nuclear talks with another compromise package.
Emma Udwin, a European Commission spokeswoman, told RFE/RL ahead of the meeting that the package will be unveiled in August.
"We're looking forward to hearing [from] those most closely involved working with the Iranians [about] a package, which we hope will lead to a permanent suspension of uranium enrichment [and] what the state of play is," Udwin said. "So that means France, Germany, Britain, the [EU] presidency is also involved, and the [EU foreign policy] High Representative Javier Solana -- we'll be looking forward to hearing from them about their work in progress about that package, which we expect to be unveiled sometime in early August."
The package is built around the key issues identified in the so-called Paris Agreement last fall, which the EU interprets as signaling Iran's willingness to give up uranium enrichment for a series of concessions. Chief among the latter are Western economic and technological assistance, including the field of nuclear technology. Addressing Iran's security concerns is another key aspect.
Meanwhile, Udwin said, the Commission on 12-13 July held another round of talks with Iran with a view toward signing a trade and cooperation agreement with the country. These talks, she said, are part of the overall package being prepared by the EU.
"The European Commission will be reporting back itself on the latest round of trade and cooperation negotiations with Iran. We've just completed the eighth round. We're making decent progress," Udwin said. "You'll remember that these negotiations are part of the package that is being offered to Iran as a reminder to them of all they could gain from a deeper relationship with the EU if the nuclear question and some other important questions -- including human rights -- could be settled."
EU officials say the election of Ahmadinejad has caused no discernible changes in the Iranian negotiating positions. One diplomat said the atmosphere at the trade talks on 12-13 July had been constructive and friendly, adding, "If anything, the attitude of those on the Iranian side of the table was more positive and more open than previously."
The official said the EU currently "reserves judgment" about allegations that Ahmadinejad took part in the execution of a Kurd in 1989. Austrian authorities are said to be conducting an investigation into the allegation.
The EU also remains concerned about the human rights situation in Iran. Officials say the next round of the EU-Iranian human rights dialogue -- conducted separately from the trade talks -- will take place in September.
Attention On Uzbekistan
An EU official said on Friday that the EU regrets that international attention is "drifting away" from Uzbekistan. The official said strong concerns remain about what the EU recently called a "massacre" of antigovernment demonstrators in Andijon in mid-May.
The EU will continue to press Uzbekistan to allow an independent international inquiry into the events in Andijon, spokeswoman Udwin said.
"We are still deeply concerned about the situation in Uzbekistan following the events in Andijon earlier in the year and by the continuing refusal of the Uzbek authorities to allow an independent international inquiry into those events," Udwin said. "The council will look at this question again and, I think, will review what measures might be taken to keep up the pressure on the Uzbek authorities to change their minds."
Official said the EU ministers would adopt a declaration elaborating the kind of sanctions the EU could impose on the country. However, no measures will be agreed on today, with the EU remaining content at this stage with spurning Uzbek appeals for closer cooperation.
"I don't think that this will be the day when major decisions will be taken, but it's important to know that this is already having an impact on our relationship," Udwin said. "The Uzbek wish to see a deepening of the relationship is certainly shelved. We're not responding to their call for deeper, closer ties for the moment. One subcommittee meeting has already been canceled, and there are a range of options to be discussed about how we might maintain the pressure, how we might change the way we operate the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, whether it would be appropriate to impose an embargo on the kind of equipment that could be used for internal repression."
An EU diplomat told RFE/RL ahead of the meeting that the bloc did not want to pull the carpet out from under the feet of its new special representative for Central Asia, who will be formally named today. The diplomat predicted that Jan Kubis, a Slovak diplomat and one-time chairman of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE), would get the job.
A commission official said the EU has redirected 1.5 million euros of a total of 8 million euros in assistance it is giving to Uzbekistan toward activities aimed at strengthening Uzbek civil society.
Officials also say EU member states are looking for ways of activating the OSCE's "Moscow mechanism," which allows 10 OSCE member states to initiate the launch of an independent expert mission in another member state if it is felt the country is failing to honor its commitments before the organization. However, Russia is expected to block any such move.
A commission official said recently that the EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, has twice called the Kyrgyz foreign minister to warn that Kyrgyzstan must respect its international obligations with regard to Uzbek asylum seekers. In particular, the official said, Bishkek was told not to return anyone who might be subject to torture or the death penalty in Uzbekistan.
Observers In Afghanistan
The ministers are likely to adopt a declaration announcing the deployment of an EU election observation mission in Afghanistan next week, ahead of parliamentary elections set for 18 September. Also, the European Commission should be instructed to start work on a proposal setting out EU plans for long-term relations with the country after those elections.
The ministers were expected to discuss preparations for the UN's September summit, as well as reforming UN institutions.
Officials said the EU strongly supports the proposal by Kofi Annan, the UN's secretary-general, to set up a "peace-building commission" within the body. The EU wants the body to take charge of all post-conflict issues from peacemaking and peacekeeping to issues to do with democratization, the rule of law, and human rights "under one umbrella." The EU also wants a seat on the body.
The EU supports the creation of a new human rights council at the UN. Officials say the EU will demand that candidates for the body must be required to demonstrate they themselves respect international human rights standards.
The EU also recognizes the need to reform the UN Security Council. However, one official said there is no joint EU position on the issue "because of the differing aspirations of the individual member states."
Britain and France are both veto-wielding permanent members, while Germany is looking for permanent membership.
The candidacies of Croatia and Turkey was expected to arise briefly at the meeting this morning. EU sources said there is widespread agreement among member states that it would be premature to allow Croatia to launch accession talks at this stage. Nevertheless, Slovakia and Hungary are expected to strongly argue that Zagreb must not be unduly penalized for its inability to apprehend the fugitive war crimes suspect Ante Gotovina.
The European Commission in June handed the member states the necessary documentation for the EU to begin accession negotiations with Turkey on 3 October. However, diplomats say, member states are likely to leave it until their meeting on 2 October to come to a decision.
Some countries -- notably Austria, France, and the Netherlands -- are expected to argue for a toughening of the conditions laid out by EU leaders in December. There are also fears in Brussels that Turkey might itself not do enough to recognize the Greek government of Cyprus before October.