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Syria expected to top the agenda at EU talks

The French and Italian foreign ministers called for 'a substantial strategic discussion' about Syria ahead of informal talks with their 25 other European Union counterparts in Cyprus.

Laurent Fabius and Guilio Terzi argued in a joint letter addressed to the EU's foreign policy coordinator, Catherine Ashton, that should the international community fail to bring an end to the bloodshed in Syria, "stability in the Middle East would be disrupted and Europe's security.... seriously threatened."

They also argued that it was now a foregone conclusion that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime was on the way out.

Luxembourg's foreign minister agreed that Syria was a topic for discussion, but he pointed the finger at the United Nations Security Council for having failed to take strong action to end the fighting.

"This is a real failure of the Security Council ... that the world community cannot find common ground to stop these atrocities and barbarities," Jean Asselborn said as he arrived in Paphos.

This was an apparent reference to Russia and China which have used their vetoes as permanent members of the council to block resolutions on Syria.

Iran's nuclear program

While it seemed a safe bet that Syria would find its way onto the agenda in Paphos, the British foreign secretary, William Hague called on his 26 counterparts to increase the diplomatic pressure on Iran over its controversial nuclear program.

"It is necessary to increase the pressure on Iran, to intensify sanctions, to add further to the EU sanctions," Hague said as he arrived in Cyprus on Friday.

Ashton was expected to use the meeting to brief the ministers on the state of negotiations between Iran and the group of five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program. Ashton represents the so-call P5 + 1 group in those negotiations.

Western nations fear Iran is using its nuclear power program as a front to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran insists that it is for peaceful purposes only.

pfd/slk (dpa, AFP)