EU Foreign Ministers have released their conclusions after meeting in Brussels, calling on countries to enforce Iran sanctions, pledging stronger ties with Ukraine and moving towards freer trade with northern Cyprus.
EU ministers pledged to work toward ending the trade isolation of northern Cyprus
The agenda was long for the meeting, which saw foreign ministers from the 27-member states of the bloc come together and present a unified face on a variety of topics.
The ministers called on all countries to enforce the limited sanctions that the United Nations Security Council approved on Dec. 23. They called on "all countries to implement the measures in full and without delay."
According to Britain's foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, a coordinated enforcement of the sanctions was important to pressure Iran "to accept the offer of the international community to come back to the negotiating table."
Officials said the EU was already drafting rules to put the sanctions in place, which include a ban on selling materials or technology which could be used in Iran's nuclear or missile programs.
EU foreign ministers also agreed on Monday to begin talks on strengthening ties with Ukraine although they papered over differences on whether the former Soviet state has a future in the European bloc.
The EU says it's committed to supporting Ukrainian democracy
The ministers said that the EU remains committed to supporting Ukraine's democracy, stability and prosperity and "wishes to reinforce this commitment through a new enhanced agreement."
The EU has intended for months to start negotiating an accord on political and economic cooperation with Ukraine, which would include the creation of a free-trade zone. Talks are expected to start on Feb. 6.
But strong divisions remain over whether Ukraine actually belongs in the bloc.
While acknowledging Ukraine's "European aspirations," the ministers avoided salting an open wound by saying that "a new enhanced agreement shall not prejudge any possible future developments in EU-Ukraine relations."
Britain, Hungary, Poland and Sweden support Ukraine's ambitions to join Europe's rich club but a number of the 27 current member states -- including France and Spain, with the "sympathy" of Germany -- are fiercely opposed.
They believe that ties with Ukraine should evolve under the framework of the EU's so-called "neighborhood policy," offering countries near the bloc a privileged relationship rather than under its enlargement strategy.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (front) wants EU accession talks to begin
Those hostile to Ukraine's future membership believe it is vital not to "create confusion between the EU's neighborhood policy and its enlargement strategy," an EU diplomat said Friday.
But those in favor say there is no reason why Ukraine could not shift from one policy area to the other, he said.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has pressed for accession talks to start next year but EU leaders said at the last EU-Ukraine summit in October that the country has not undertaken enough reforms to be a contender.
Northern Cyprus isolation
The controversial issue of the divided island of Cyprus was also on the agenda and EU nations agreed to work towards lifting the trade isolation of the island's north "without delay."
Work towards the adoption of "special conditions for trade" with the north "must resume without delay," the ministers said at the meeting's conclusion.
EU ministers want to establish "special conditions for trade" with the island's north
In 2004, after the Greek Cypriots rejected reunification plans in a referendum, the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, proposed to offer financial aid to the north of the island, which voted for reunification.
A total of 259 million euros ($336 million) in EU aid has been approved for northern Cyprus where there are fewer than 200,000 people.
While Nicosia agreed to the aid, it has remained opposed to renewed trade with the north, as that could be seen as an implicit recognition of the breakaway north.
However, last month, the Greek Cypriots agreed to sign up to a declaration engaging the EU to work towards resolving the problem.
Last month EU countries agreed to partially suspend Turkey's accession talks with the bloc in punishment for Ankara's refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic.