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Patten to visit Iran, Turkey and Lebanon

Brussels, Jan 31, IRNA -- The EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten will travel to Iran, Turkey and next week.

The objective of the trip is to discuss international and regional developments, as well as the EU's bilateral relationship with each of the countries concerned, the Commission announced Friday.

Dring his 3-day visit to Iran (Monday-Wednesday) the Commissioner will meet President Mohammad Khatami, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi as well as other senior members of the government, for discussions on bilateral relations between Iran and the EU as well as the situation in Iran's neighbours, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the continuing crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In Turkey , Wednesday and Thursday, Patten will meet Prime Minister Abdullah Gol and Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, among other leading figures.

Discussions will focus on Turkey's efforts to lead dialogue among Islamic partners on the situation in Iraq, and Turkey's aspiration to membership of the EU.

Patten said in press statements that: "The EU welcomes Turkey's active diplomacy with regard to Iraq. Turkey is uniquely placed to contribute in the current situation. We are keen to use our deepening relationship with Turkey to broaden consensus on this very difficult question".

In Lebanon, Thursday and Friday, Patten will meet Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, President Emile Lahoud and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud among others to discuss Lebanon's relationship with the EU through its newly ratified Association Agreement as well as developments in the Middle East.

Patten's visit to Beirut comes just as the EU-Lebanon Association Agreement has been ratified by Lebanon, and just before the Interim Agreement enters into force on 1 March 2003.

Patten said : "Last year we signed an Association Agreement with Lebanon, bringing us near to completion of the grid of the bilateral agreements, which will underpin the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.''

'' I am looking forward to discussing with Lebanese ministers the implementation of the Agreement and how we can help not only with this, but also with the economic reforms that the Lebanese government has put in hand to deal with the country's financial problems".

In Beirut, Patten will also discuss developments in the Middle East, and in particular the need to avoid any escalation of the conflict with Israel.

He will express the EU's understanding for the burden of hosting the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, but will stress that the current living conditions in the camps breed despair and radicalism, which endangers regional instability.

Patten will welcome Lebanon's readiness to co-operate on counter-terrorism, confirmed by an exchange of letters in June 2002.

He will, however, reiterate EU calls for the Lebanese authorities to assume responsibility for policing South Lebanon, said the announcement.

... Payvand News - 1/31/03 ... --

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