Russia Looms Large at EU Foreign Ministers Meeting

EU foreign ministers Tuesday were to debate how to admonish Russia over its treatment of Georgians, while securing Moscow's cooperation on pressing international issues including Iran and North Korea.

A draft resolution on the Russia-Georgia problem, drawn up last week ahead of the EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, pulls few punches.

The 25 EU member nations express their "grave concern at the measures adopted by the Russian Federation against Georgia and at their economic, political and humanitarian consequences," in the draft resolution seen by AFP.

They further urge Moscow "not to pursue measures targeting Georgians in the Russian Federation," while calling on both parties "to work towards a normalisation of relations".

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi escalated recently with Georgia's arrest of four Russian officers it accused of spying and have remained acute despite Georgia's release of the men.

Moscow ordered the total rupture of ties with its Caucasian neighbour and former satellite.

As with the raft of issues which the EU 25 were discussing in Luxembourg, the draft resolution could yet be altered before or during the lunchtime meeting.

A resolution on Iran is less likely to be subject to last-minute tinkering, according to European diplomats, with the EU more or less throwing in the towel and handing the dossier over Tehran's nuclear ambitions to the UN Security Council.

EU nations now believe that "Iran's continuation of enrichment-related activities has left the EU no choice," but to throw the issue back to the United Nations.

The EU conclusions on Iran express "deep concern" that Iran has not yet suspended its enrichment-related and reprocessing activities as required by the IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, and a Security Council resolution.

Some observers see Russia's increasing global role, notably in the Iran and North Korea issues, and the future status of Kosovo, as affording it more leeway.

On North Korea the ministers were set to strong concern over Pyongyang's nuclear test of October 9 and support for the subsequent UN sanctions.

Among the other issues to be tackled are; the Middle East peace process, Darfur and Zimbabwe.

The EU "needs Russia on a lot of issues; North Korea, Iran, Kosovo, energy," said Antonio Missiroli, analyst of the influential European Policy Centre.

A European diplomat argued that the EU draft resolution on Georgia-Russia prepared for the EU ministers meeting is "unusually harsh" while an official background statement on Tuesday's meeting says only that it "is likely to call on both sides to reopen dialogue towards a normalisation of relations".

The harsher draft resolution could be toned down at the last minute, in line with the EU's Finnish presidency's wish to make moves towards Moscow, several diplomats said.

The inter-knitting of issues also leads to the southern Serbian province of Kosovo. The Russians have already said that independence for Kosovo could be used as an argument for the independence of Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions.

The foreign ministers' meeting comes just days before Russian President Vladimir Putin is a dinner guest of European leaders during an informal EU summit in Lahti, Finland on Friday.

Some EU member states, and former Soviet satellites, such as the Baltic nations, the Czech Republic and Poland, want the EU to confront Putin over human rights while, according to diplomats, most of the major European capitals would prefer such matters to be raised discreetly, or bilaterally.

Source: AFP

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