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EU Ministers Discuss Afghanistan, Mideast, Eastern Neighbors

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Catherine Ashton took the opportunity to condemn the recent violence in the Middle East.
BRUSSELS -- Meeting in Brussels, the European Union's foreign ministers discussed the situation in Afghanistan, the Middle East peace process, and the bloc's eastern neighbors.

They also condemned Iran's jamming of satellite broadcasting and Internet censorship

Ministers from the bloc's 27 members debated preparations for a "reconciliation jirga" announced by Afghan President Hamid Karzai for April 29 that is meant to kick off a planned reconciliation process with moderate Taliban members.

Ashton also took the opportunity to condemn the recent violence in the Middle East, which has claimed the lives of four Palestinians. She said Israel and the Palestinian leadership should immediately launch peace talks.

"We believe that negotiations should within two years bring about settlement that will result in an independent, democratic, viable state of Palestine that lives side by side in peace and security with Israel and other neighbors," Ashton said.

But today's talks were overshadowed by disagreement over the future shape of the bloc's External Action Service -- a new EU diplomatic corps envisaged by the Lisbon Treaty. A power struggle over finance and staffing issues has developed among member states and the EU's executive, the European Commission.

Eastern Neighborhood

At Poland's request, the situations in Ukraine and Moldova were also taken up, albeit briefly, by the group of foreign ministers.

Diplomats say the EU is cautiously optimistic about the agenda of the new Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych is expected to pursue a "pragmatic" foreign policy that tries to avoid ruptures with the West, even as cooperation with NATO takes a back seat.

The EU's neighborhood and enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, recently wrote to the Moldovan government to discourage plans for a constitutional referendum to resolve the impasse over the election of a new president, which a divided parliament has been unable to do.

Instead, the EU -- following recommendations made by the legal advisory body known as the Venice Commission -- wants new parliamentary elections to take place before summer 2012.

An international donors' conference for Moldova will take place in Brussels on March 24.