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EU Foreign Ministers To Discuss Iraq, Iran, Russia, Belarus

By Ahto Lobjakas, RFE

Today's monthly meeting of European Union foreign ministers will prepare the ground for a visit of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, timed to coincide with the bloc's summit -- also in Brussels -- on 4-5 November. The meeting will also examine strategy with respect to Iran ahead of a crucial board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) later this month, the situation in the Middle East, an upcoming summit with Russia, and measures to encourage democratic change in Belarus.

Brussels, 2 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- EU ministers will focus on preparations for the visit of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who has been asked to address the bloc's summit later this week.

Officials say the EU is examining ways to extend support for the interim government, in particular in light of elections scheduled for January. A new aid package will be drawn up, streamlining ongoing efforts and adding new elements.

Briefing Brussels journalists ahead of today's meeting, an EU official -- who asked not to be named -- said support for the elections is seen by the bloc as the centerpiece of the package. The EU has already pledged 30 million euros ($38 million) for this goal. It also plans to send EU experts to support the Iraqi election commission and is working on a training program for domestic Iraqi election observers, which is to take place outside the country.

The EU could also take steps to support a protection force for a UN mission in Iraq. The EU source said the United Nations is seen as playing a "very central" role in preparations for the elections.

The EU is already taking its first steps toward preparing the ground for a cooperation agreement with Iraq. The precise nature of the agreement will not become clear before a fully legitimate government is in place next year, however.

The EU is also contemplating dispatching a "rule of law" mission to Iraq to train senior law-enforcement officials, including the police, judges, and penitentiary staff.

The foreign ministers are expected to agree on a statement today outlining the elements of the planned support package.


EU officials say the bloc intends to signal clearly this week that "time is getting short" for Iran to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) requests. Crucial among them is a commitment to suspend uranium-enrichment activity for an indefinite period of time. The IAEA board meeting on 25 November is expected to decide whether to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.

The EU official quoted earlier said the bloc wants to help Iran find ways toward compliance with IAEA. The bloc is planning an updated approach that includes "both carrots and sticks." The main "stick" is a referral to the UN Security Council. This, the official said, doesn't necessarily mean immediate sanctions, but it would represent an "escalation" of the situation.

The EU source said the bloc wants to avoid any escalation if possible. Although Iranian lawmakers voted late last week to commit the government to a resumption of enrichment activity, the ministers are expected to state that the best way ahead for Iran is to comply with IAEA demands and give the assurances required concerning enrichment.

Although the EU agrees that Iran has a right to use nuclear power for civilian purposes, it believes Iran must now rebuild confidence. The official quoted above said there is now a "question mark" over Iran's intentions, largely as a result of discoveries made by IAEA inspectors, and Iran needs to give "assurances" that would enable a rebuilding of international trust.

The official said the "carrot side" of the EU strategy contains a resumption of trade talks suspended last year. The official said the EU still supports a gradual approach, irrespective of whether developments take a negative or positive turn later this month. The "worst-case scenario" for the bloc would be one in which Iran is isolated and all opportunity for dialogue lost.


The EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana will present the ministers with an outline of a revamped EU strategy for short-term action in the Middle East. This is expected to take the form of an oral statement and will not be distributed as a document. Solana will outline a series of concrete, short-term steps that the EU can sponsor at what officials describe as a "very low point" in the peace process.

Briefing journalists, the EU official stressed that the Solana plan is not an alternative to the so-called road map to peace sponsored by the United States, the EU, the United Nations, and Russia.

The EU has supported an evolving Israeli disengagement plan for Gaza, but officials say it must be "steered back" toward long-term objectives contained in the road map, where a two-state solution is a clear objective.

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on 29 October that any Israeli withdrawal from Gaza must be unconditional. The EU is asking for free access to aid workers, guarantees for the safety of personnel and projects it has financed, as well as Israeli facilitation of the rehabilitation of Gaza after the disengagement.

The official said the EU is satisfied with Palestinian plans for national elections, although there are questions regarding preparations for local elections. The EU will support both polls financially, having already earmarked 10 million euros ($12.7 million).

Copyright (c) 2004 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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