Iceland and Serbia both received good news on their European Union membership applications, while the bloc's foreign ministers approved a recommendation of tough sanctions against Iran.
Serbia has a long way to go before it can join the EU
Foreign ministers of the European Union's 27 member states left a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday with expansion of the bloc looking even more likely.
The ministers reviewed a statement that would have Iceland start formal accession talks, despite an outstanding dispute with Britain and the Netherlands surrounding the 2008 failure of the bank Icesave. The British and Dutch governments have demanded Iceland pay some of the 3.9 billion euros ($5.3 billion) in deposits that they gave to clients in their respective countries who lost money in the Icelandic bank.
The Netherlands and the UK had threatened to block Iceland's entry talks, but British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had received assurance that Iceland intended to pay its fair share.
"The United Kingdom will not block the start of Iceland's accession negotiations," he told reporters in Luxembourg on Monday. "But we will want it to be clear as they start that process that Iceland is committed to resolving its financial and legal obligations."
Serbia has reportedly stepped up its search for Mladic
Iceland hopes to achieve EU membership after a speedy 12 to 24 months of accession talks. While it was once largely skeptical about the EU, it applied for membership in 2009 after its large banking sector was crippled by the global financial crisis.
Long road for Serbia
Another country to move closer to EU membership Monday was Serbia, although the Balkan state has a longer road ahead of it than Iceland.
The foreign ministers agreed to implement with Serbia the Stabilization and Association Agreement, an aid and trade agreement that is recognized as the first official step to full EU membership.
The decision was reportedly based on Serbia's improved cooperation with the United Nations-sponsored International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague. The court's chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, briefed the ministers on Serbia's efforts to search out an capture indicted genocide suspect Ratko Mladic.
But British Foreign Secretary Hague added that there is still "no positive news about the arrest," and that "Serbia has not completed its task."
Serbia formally submitted its bid to join the EU last December. It is likely to face years of preparations, including democratic and economic reforms.
Western powers fear Iran is building a nuclear bomb
The wide-ranging foreign ministers meeting also reached a deal on recommending a package of sanctions against Iran for its controversial nuclear program, which the West claims is to build a nuclear bomb and Iran claims is for civilian purposes.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the sanctions, which could be enacted as early as June 26, "an important signal of determination" to the Iranian leadership.
"We wanted to show that we are not only supporting the international community, but that we Europeans can make our own contribution to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," he said.
The sanctions reportedly go further than those imposed by the UN Security Council last Wednesday, targeting trade and the transportation and financial sectors.
Author: Andrew Bowen (dpa/AFP/AP/Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold