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EU: Foreign Ministers To Take Stock Of Developments In Iraq

European Union foreign ministers met in Luxembourg today for their monthly talks. Iraq continues to dominate the bloc's foreign policy agenda and today's meeting will formally open intra-EU consultations on postconflict scenarios for the country. Aside from Iraq, EU ministers will also consider the situation in the western Balkans, relations with Russia, and the evolving ties with the bloc's new neighbors.

Luxembourg, 14 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Events unfolding in Iraq in recent days have forced the EU sooner than expected to try and give substance to the rather general expectations voiced by the bloc's leaders at their Brussels summit last month.

Most importantly, officials in Brussels say, the EU must work out what it means when it calls for a central role to be given to the United Nations once the conflict is brought to a close. All EU member states agree that without a central UN role, the bloc's participation in the reconstruction of Iraq will be severely hampered.

EU officials say the European Commission has prepared a document listing options and measures available to the bloc. They refused to elaborate late last week, however, merely noting that the paper's main aim is to set the debate in motion.

Another exploratory document is expected to be presented today by the EU's current Greek Presidency after preliminary consultations between member state ambassadors on 10 April.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the foreign ministers' meeting, followed by another EU summit in Athens on 9 April, must result in the realization that for the member states to have any impact on developments in Iraq they must reach agreement on key questions.

The official said that although the debate about a prospective UN role in Iraq had so far been rich in adjectives such as "central," "important," and "vital," there is no single textbook model on how best to deploy the UN in a postconflict situation.

Naming a few recent conflicts, the official said the UN has played important but different roles in, among others, Kosovo, East Timor, and Afghanistan.

In Kosovo, military action was launched without a UN mandate, although very shortly after the conflict the UN authorized an international security presence and a civil administration. In East Timor, a UN resolution was adopted allowing a multinational force to restore the peace and providing for the creation of a transitional administration.

In Afghanistan, the UN's central role emerged in stages, and the initial civilian administration for the country was actually created outside the UN framework by the G-8 countries, although under the supervision of a UN special representative.

The EU official quoted above said the EU will first need to assess what options it has, noting today's meeting would be the beginning of the process, not the end.

More immediately, the ministers will also discuss the details of how the EU can assist short-term aid deliveries to Iraq. The EU has so far committed 100 million euros ($108 million) in humanitarian aid to Iraq.

In the shadow of Iraq, the ministers will also hold their first-ever televised debate on the EU's "new neighbor" policy. The European Commission last month unveiled a proposal for the medium term that offers countries on the eastern and southern borders of the enlarged EU potentially all the benefits of enlargement short of membership. Today's discussion will feed into the 17 April European Conference in Athens, where current and new member states will meet some of these "new neighbors."

EU officials say the aim of today's discussion is to move towards a consensus on broad objectives, although detailed conclusions will be left to future meetings, notably the summit in Thessaloniki, Greece, in late June.

Under the "Western Balkans" heading of their agenda, the EU foreign ministers are expected to ask the European Commission to prepare an assessment on whether Croatia is ready to assume candidate status.

Croatia formally applied for EU membership in February, but EU officials say it could take up to a year for the European Commission to look into the matter. They note that while Croatia's economic progress has been impressive in recent years, interesting political issues remain, among them the country's compliance with The Hague war crimes tribunal's demands, refugee return, reform of the judiciary, and minority rights.

Officials say the second major Western Balkans issue on the agenda is that of supporting Serbia and Montenegro in the wake of the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

One official said that Serbia's first response was to think that contributions should be in the form of a lot of new money. The official said the EU is likely to speed up the disbursement of some 90 million euros in financial assistance that is already in the pipeline. The bloc could also make further moves toward trade liberalization, especially in the area of textiles.

Finally, the ministers will discuss relations with Russia. They are expected to formally adopt regulations bringing the facilitated transit and facilitated rail transit documents for travel to and from Kaliningrad into the bloc's visa-free Schengen system.