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EU Wants To Boost Ties With 'Dangerous' Pakistan

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- European Union foreign ministers have agreed to look at ways to strengthen political relations with Pakistan, a country the bloc's French presidency described as important but dangerous.

At a meeting in Brussels, the ministers decided to send a three-man team to Islamabad early next year to see how to improve dialogue in areas ranging from trade to nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism.

The ministers will also try to arrange a summit with Pakistan during the six-month Czech presidency that starts in January, they said in a statement. It would be the bloc's first summit with Pakistan, an EU official said.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the aim was to show support for civilian President Asif Ali Zardari, who took office after the August resignation of military leader General Pervez Musharraf.

"We have considered it a key country, a dangerous country certainly, but a key country for the whole region," Kouchner told a news conference. "The need to help Pakistanis in the struggle they have taken on under President Zardari is obvious."

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the Czech and Swedish foreign ministers would visit Islamabad in February. Sweden will have the EU presidency after the Czech Republic.

"Despite the major positive developments in Pakistan, including first and foremost the return to civilian rule, Pakistan's transition to a democratic government...needs to be consolidated," she said. "This is not easy in the terrorist surroundings we have today. Pakistan is currently facing enormous challenges in security but also in the economic field and therefore I think deserves our full support in these very difficult times."

Ferrero-Waldner praised Pakistan's crackdown on militants. She said the EU wanted to encourage reconciliation between Pakistan and India and a regional drive against terrorism after last month's Mumbai attacks, which New Delhi has blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

The EU statement said Brussels would do all it could to improve trade relations and took note of a Pakistani request for the European Union to initiate a free trade agreement.