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EU: Foreign Ministers Reiterate Full Support For U.S. Air Strikes

Two days before the European Union summit is due to commence in Ghent, Belgium, EU foreign ministers today met in Luxembourg to take stock of the antiterrorism campaign. They also discussed wider political and diplomatic strategy regarding the future of Afghanistan. The ministers reaffirmed EU support for the continued U.S.-led air strikes and instructed the bloc's security chief, Javier Solana, to spearhead the EU's aid and reconstruction efforts in the region.

Luxembourg, 17 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg today, sought to dispel speculation that support for U.S. and British air strikes in Afghanistan is waning amid reports of civilian casualties and a deepening humanitarian crisis.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, who chairs the EU's current Belgian presidency, said British Foreign Minister Jack Straw had given his EU colleagues a "very clear explanation" of the targets and impact of the U.S.-led campaign. Britain is the only EU member state directly involved in the planning and execution of the strikes.

The EU's security policy chief, Javier Solana, said that after Straw's report, EU foreign ministers reaffirmed the bloc's "complete solidarity" with the U.S. in its action in Afghanistan.

"The report that has been given by the minister of the foreign affairs of Great Britain has been very complete and everybody has been very satisfied with the report. Military action has been done with all the care military action can take."

Belgian Foreign Minister Michel added that although "even one civilian casualty is one too many," casualties were inevitable. He said Straw had reassured his EU colleagues that everything was being done to restrict so-called "collateral damage."

The EU foreign ministers adopted a document that outlines the fundamentals of an EU plan for the future of Afghanistan. The plan would be put into effect after the country was rid of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network.

The document says Afghanistan must, in the future, have a stable and legitimate democratic government that is generally representative of the country's ethnic makeup. It also says the United Nations will have an "essential role" to play in the peace process.

The document says the EU considers the emergency humanitarian aid effort an "absolute priority." The ministers reiterated their decision of last week to make available 320 million euros (just over $290 million) in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and authorize the European Commission to use 25 million euros of its reserve funds to address particularly urgent needs.

The EU's foreign ministers also gave Solana a wide-ranging mandate to coordinate EU strategy on Afghanistan by establishing direct contacts with key international organizations and diplomats. Solana said his mandate was remarkably broad: "There is a process starting now with the UN, with the secretary-general [Kofi Annan], with [UN special envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar] Brahimi -- not only that, but also with other institutions like human rights institutions and also with all the countries in the region."

The EU foreign ministers also reiterated their determination -- voiced previously at a meeting earlier in October -- to contribute to the stability of the region surrounding Afghanistan by increasing political dialogue with the country's key neighbors.

At the top of that list is Pakistan, with which the EU intends to sign a new cooperation agreement. The ministers welcomed the commission's proposal on 15 October to ease the access of Pakistani textile exports to EU markets. They also indicated that Pakistan is expected to honor earlier commitments to increased democratization.

In apparent counterbalance to the EU-Pakistani rapprochement, Islamabad's arch-rival India also features prominently on the EU's list of key regional players. The EU expects the concrete aspects of further cooperation to become clearer at the 23 November EU-India summit.

The ministers also say the EU will authorize, by the end of November, the opening of negotiations on concluding a Trade and Cooperation Agreement with India.

Finally, the European Commission has been invited to prepare a proposal for EU initiatives to deepen political and economic ties with the Central Asian countries.