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Europe

Iraqi Foreign Minister Comes to Brussels

The EU's foreign ministers are meeting on Monday in Brussels with Iraq's interim foreign minister. When he gets here, he'll be facing a still-divided EU.

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Hoshyar Zebari met his European colleagues for talks

At first, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Alawi accepted the invitation of the European Union’s Dutch presidency to travel to Brussels this Monday to attend a regular meeting of the EU's foreign ministers.

But sources in Brussels said that Alawi, who has served as head of the Iraqi interim government since June 28, was forced to cancel the trip because of the deteriorating security situation back home.

Instead, he’ll be sending Hoshyar Zebari, who will attend a luncheon with the foreign ministers and discuss Iraq’s wishes with the Europeans.

The Belgian capital had been planned as the first stop for Alawi, who was also going to travel to a handful of Middle Eastern countries and Britain.

The fact that he didn’t plan to make his first trip Iraq’s former occupying power, the United States, has been seen in Brussels as a sign that the Iraqi interim government, which was created with the de facto support of the US and Britain, is seeking to demonstrate its independence and to forge links with Europe.

In Brussels, Zebari is also expected to visit NATO headquarters. At the NATO summit in Turkey two weeks ago, the alliance offered its Iraq aid in developing its security forces. However, the specifics of the deal – how that training will be provided and how expansive it will be – must still be negotiated.

Germany has called for the training to be conducted outside of Iraq and has, indeed, refused to send any troops inside the country for training or any other purpose. Instead, it is pushing for the training to happen at a NATO school in the city of Oberammergau.

In the preparations for the meeting with the Iraqi foreign minister, the EU foreign ministers only succeeded in uniting on one front: a generally reserved statement offering Iraq help with its reconstruction and the organization of free elections. The brakes were applied to broader demands from Britain and Poland, which both have troops stationed in Iraq, by war opponents Germany and France, diplomats told Deutsche Welle.

Few new developments expected

It’s still unclear, for example, when the EU will open its own office in Baghdad or when it will begin the training of police it has pledged.

Since 2003, the European Union has made around €305 million in aid payments to Iraq. In the coming year, it is expected to provide an additional €200 million. The foreign ministers are expected to confirm this sum again during Zebari’s visit.

Otherwise, the ministers are expected to discuss with Zebari laws in Iraq pertaining to states of emergency, the possibility of debt relief for Iraq as well as the planning of a possible international Iraq conference similar to the successful Petersberg Conference for Afghanistan that was held near the German city of Bonn.

Peacekeeping on the agenda

The EU foreign ministers are also expected on Monday to decide on the structure of a future EU mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Deutsche Soldaten der Nato Schutztruppe in der bosnisch serbischen Stadt Celebici SFOR

German NATO-led soldier guards entrance to a German peace keepers camp in the Bosnian Serb village of Celebici near Foca.

The EU is currently in the process of taking over leadership of the SFOR peacekeeping mission from NATO. The mission will soon be renamed ALTHEA at the suggestion of the French. After considerable delay, the international computer deployed a mass number of peacekeeping troops to stop the civil war between ethnic-religious groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Due to positive security developments in the region, the number of troops is expected to be reduced to 7,000 at the time of the command change. But mostly, it will just be the name that’s changing – the same structure of troops will still be kept in place.

With ALTHEA, the EU will be taking command of its third peacekeeping job, following its leadership of missions in Macedonia and the Congo. The duration of the EU deployment in Bosnia-Herzegovina hasn’t been determined, but a decision is expected during the second half of 2005.

Meanwhile, at the request of the United States, NATO will remain present with its own headquarters in Sarajevo, where it will advise the government and continue its hunt for war criminals.

Fischer in Sudan

Germany’s foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, is not expected to take part in Monday’s discussions. He is currently traveling in the Sudan, where he is discussing the condition of the refugees in the western Sudan region of Darfur and bordering Chad with the government in Khartoum. Government sources told Deutsche Welle that Fischer’s trip is intended to send a signal to the EU that it is moving too slow in expressing its opinion on the crisis in Darfur.

Flüchtlinge aus dem Sudan in Tschad

A Sudanese refugee walks past a dead donkey in a refugee camp in Bahai on the Chad, Sudan border. An estimated 1 million Sudanese have been displaced during the conflict with Arab militias.

In Europe, France and Britain have both opposed sanctions. And in the UN Security Council, China and Russian have both expressed their concerns about issuing sanctions against Sudan. In their view, the refugee problem is a "domestic concern" for the country. However, following the recent visit by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Washington also appears prepared to take more decisive action.

If the Sudanese government refuses to negotiate in the coming weeks, the pressure will increase on the EU to take action.

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