EU ministers see hope for closer Serbia ties after polls


dpa German Press Agency
Published: Monday January 22, 2007


Brussels- European Union foreign ministers Monday voiced
hopes for rebulding closer ties with Serbia following weekend
elections which saw pro-democracy parties winnning enough combined
votes to forge a new government.
"We welcome the outcome of Serbican elections...two-thirds of the
seats in the parliament will go to democratic forces," said German
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Steinmeier, whose country holds the current EU presidency, said
the combined victory of pro-democracy parties would be "auspicious"
for the formation of a new government to lead the country along the
path to Europe.

"We therefore intend to support Serbia," said Steinmeier, adding
that the EU was considering the possibility of holding a meeting with
Serbian officials.

In preliminary results announced on Sunday, the 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.

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn insisted on the
importance of Serbia and the Balkans to stability in Europe.

"We in Europe also have a task to fulfil," said Asselborn, adding:
"We also have to move -provided that the government in Serbia is a
democratic one, that it wants cooperation with Europe and that it
cooperates with International Criminal Tribunal for the former
Yugoslavia (ICTY)."

Just as NATO had offered a partnership for peace deal to Serbia,
the EU should also take steps to rebuild ties with Belgrade, said
Asselborn.

The argument was taken up by Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot
who said the election victory of pro-European forces could also
impact on Serbia's cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The
Hague.

This meant that in return the EU should be ready to resume
currently suspended negotiations on a new cooperation agreement with
Serbia, said Bot.

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.

"We have to support Ahtisaari's proposal 100 per cent...it is the
only way," said Asselborn.

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.

Steinmeier has said the EU 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.

Steinmeier said it was important to ensure that all EU members
fully supported the implementation of the UN resolution.

EU sanctions under consideration include a visa ban on officials
involved in the nuclear programme and possible restrictions on
contacts with Iranian banks.

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.

Steinmeier told reporters the upcoming meeting of the so-called
Quartet (which includes the EU, the US, Russia and the United
Nations) on February 2 in Washington would be an important one.

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

© 2006 - dpa German Press Agency