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General Affairs and External Relations Council" meeting on External Relations

Dr Dimitrij Rupel at GAERC meeting in Brussels

The Middle East, Lebanon, Kenya, Chad and the Western Balkans were the key topics discussed at today's General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting, chaired for the first time by Slovenian Foreign Minister Rupel.

At a press conference during the afternoon break, GAERC President Rupel said that this time the Council's primary focus is on the Middle East. "The Council is deeply concerned about the latest events in Gaza and on the border with Egypt as well as the growing violence in Gaza and southern Israel," said the GAERC President. While the European Union recognises Israel's right to self-defence, it nonetheless condemns missile attacks and terrorist activities, and urges all sides to renounce violence. In this context, the EU Council has been pointing up the alarming humanitarian situation in Gaza and the lack of food, drinking water and energy sources. GAERC President Rupel also affirmed that the European Union has urged all sides to strive to open border crossings at the earliest possible opportunity. The Union in addition supports the proposal of the Palestinian authorities to take over the supervision of border crossings. The European Union also welcomes the efforts of the Arab League and Egypt to reach an acceptable solution.

GAERC President Rupel further expressed concern about the situation in Lebanon, since the country has not yet elected a president. The European Union supports the Arab League proposal concerning the election of a president, the formation of a government of national unity and new electoral laws.

In the context of the situation in Kenya, GAERC President Rupel said the European Union regrets the high number of victims and the severe humanitarian consequences in this country. In this regard the EU welcomes all initiatives, particularly the work of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities headed by Kofi Annan. Dr Rupel assessed the recent meeting between Kibaki and Odinga as positive. All sides must, however, continue dialogue in this process. "The solution must reflect the will of the Kenyan people," emphasised the GAERC President, who continued by noting that the lack of political dialogue could affect relations between the EU and Kenya and reduce donors' willingness to donate.

As regards the situation in Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic, the Minister noted that the crisis in Darfur had affected the entire region, claimed thousands of victims and resulted in a hundred thousand refugees. The European Union has adopted a decision on the launch of a military operation involving the largest number of troops in the history of the European Union. This operation is aimed at stabilising the region. EUFOR will protect displaced persons and create conditions for their relocation and potential return. It will be a one-year operation, and then the task will be assumed by the United Nations. The EU also wishes to revive the political process. "It is only possible to achieve lasting peace through an agreement," said the GAERC President.

The EU Ministers also supported the political process in Sudan based on the national unity government. The Council was informed about this matter by UN Special Envoy Jan Eliasson. The Ministers agreed that the political process will be successful only if violence is stopped. "Peace depends on security," warned the GAERC President.

The Council also discussed the situation in Pakistan. GEARC President Rupel informed the Council that he met with President Musharraf and apprised him of the European Union's expectations concerning free and fair elections, the strengthening of the rule of law and security during the elections.

In the context of the situation in Iran, the Ministers were informed of the recent meeting in Berlin; they did not adopt any formal conclusions, but, nonetheless, assessed the agreement on a new UN Security Council resolution as positive.


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Date: 01.02.2008