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Middle East and Russia on the first day of Gymnich

The first day of the EU foreign ministers' informal meeting at Brdo pri Kranju was centred on the Middle East Peace Process and relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation. The meeting is also being attended by the Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

At the press conference after today's meeting, GAERC President and Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel commented that the ministers had held a detailed discussion on the Middle East and also addressed the issue of EU relations with other countries in the region, particularly Syria. The ministers assessed that negotiations between Palestine and Israel are progressing, although slowly. Certain key issues are yet to be addressed, such as Israeli settlements in the West Bank, refugees, and the status of East Jerusalem. The participants agreed that as a member of the Quartet, the EU should endeavour to resolve outstanding issues. Much has been said about the added value that the EU could provide at this stage: in addition to the work successfully realised by Tony Blair, the EU should encourage economic activities in the West Bank, consolidate health, education, and social institutions, and assist the Palestinian authorities in establishing the judiciary and the police. The ministers agreed that the EU must improve its coordination of relations with Syria, including visits to the region, but should not, however, reward a lack of cooperation. The ministers emphasised the need for a coordinated approach to Iran and Iran's coordinated relations with countries in the region, and expressed support for Lebanon's and President Siniora's endeavours to resolve the political crisis in the country.

At the meeting relations between the EU and Russia were also discussed in detail. Minister Rupel stressed that the Union should consider Russia as a whole, and further explained that both sides are interested in strengthening cooperation, particularly in the economic sphere. In the modern world interconnectedness and strategic partnership are required in other fields as well, namely regarding resolving international issues in the common neighbourhood and increasing security, peace and stability. With regard to energy, Minister Rupel noted that the existing and new energy routes should provide increased security and ensure a smooth energy supply to the EU, regarding which the EU gives priority to diversification. The Nabucco project is an important element in this context. In view of this, the minister agreed that cooperation is strategically important. It is thus possible that during Slovenia's EU Council Presidency, the Council of Ministers will endorse a mandate to launch negotiations on a new draft agreement on partnership and cooperation. This is important considering the upcoming June EU-Russia Summit, an opportunity for the first meeting with the new Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev.

The Western Balkans will be the focus of tomorrow's discussion, the renewal of the Thessaloniki Agenda – which in 2003 guaranteed all Western Balkan countries a European future provided that certain conditions are met ¬– being one of Slovenia's presidency priorities.


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Date: 29.03.2008