EU ministers meet for talks on Serbia, global hotspots


dpa German Press Agency
Published: Monday January 22, 2007

Brussels- European Union foreign ministers opened day-long talks Monday focusing on a review of global hotspots, including an assessment of weekend parliamentary elections in Serbia, the situation in the Middle East and relations with Iran. Ministers, meeting for their first encounter of 2007 under the German EU presidency, will study the impact of Serbian elections on the country's currently strained relations with the EU.

In preliminary results announced on Sunday, hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) which is against the EU and opposes independence for Kosovo, Serbia's breakaway province, won the most votes.

But several pro-democratic groups taken together secured enough ballots to form a new government, provided they can overcome their differences.

EU chief diplomat Javier Solana told reporters he saw a "clear majority" for democrats in the polls.

"I hope they will soon be able to build a speedy government that is in line with pro-Europe forces," said Solana, noting that the majority of votes went to parties with European objectives.

The EU froze talks on closer ties with Serbia last May because of Belgrade's failure to arrest Bosnian Serb wartime leader Ratko Mladic and other war crimes suspects and deliver them to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

The disputed issue of Kosovo's future status is also expected to be at the centre of the EU meeting, with ministers set to voice backing for United Nations envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, who will present his long-awaited proposal on the future of the territory in early February.

Ahtisaari is expected to to recommend limited independence for Kosovo which has been under United Nations administration since the 1999 war.

Negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, however, are stalled with Pristina demanding full independence but Belgrade instead offering some sort of autonomy for the province.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is chairing the EU meeting, has insisted that stability in the Balkans is a key priority for the EU, adding that the bloc will work closely with Serbia to find a peaceful solution to Kosovo's status.

EU ministers are also expected to deal with other global flashpoints including Iran, the Middle East, Somalia and Darfur.

Diplomats said that the meeting will look at ways to apply UN sanctions against Iran over the country's failure to halt uranium enrichment.

Tehran says that its nuclear programme is designed for civilian use. But the EU and the United States say this is a smokescreen for the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

Solana will brief ministers on his recent trip to the Middle East, including contacts with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Discussions will also focus on African Union efforts to restore peace in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency