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. EU foreign ministers tackle Iran, Iraq ahead of summit
BRUSSELS (AFP) Nov 02, 2004
The European Union thrashed out a support package for Iraq Tuesday, while warning Iran over its nuclear plans and revealing new ideas to keep the Middle East peace process on track.

EU foreign ministers, preparing for an EU summit this week, also warned Sudan's government of possible sanctions unless it reins in an Arab militia blamed for an orgy of violence against the black Africans of the Darfur region.

On the Middle East, they unveiled a four-pronged offensive to accelerate the internationally-backed "roadmap" for the region, despite Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's ill-health and the US presidential election.

With the outcome of the US polls and a simmering crisis at the European Commission at home to tackle, the EU leaders have plenty to discuss when they convene on Thursday and Friday.

The foreign ministers prepared for the summit by approving a package of measures to be presented by their heads of government in talks with Iraqi interim prime minister Iyad Allawi on Friday.

The lunch encounter between the EU leaders and Allawi may gain added spice depending on the results of the US vote, which may be known Wednesday provided legal challenges do not hold up what is expected to be a close-run affair.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, who chaired the EU meeting, said approval of the package of pre-election measures showed that the 25-nation bloc had got over its bitter divisions caused by the Iraq war.

The EU "should be clear that we are united again and we have a package to offer", Bot told a news conference.

The foreign ministers said they stood ready to disburse 30 million euros, already announced by the bloc, "immediately" to support the election process before Iraqi polls planned for January.

They agreed to "contribute substantially" to the financing of a protection force for United Nations personnel re-building their presence in Iraq.

The bloc's executive commission was asked to work on a trade and political agreement between the EU and Iraq, and the ministers said they supported the idea of EU training for Iraqi police and judges.

"All of Europe recognises that we want the people of Iraq... to be able to live in a normal country," British Europe Minister Denis MacShane told reporters. "I think everybody will work hard to achieve that goal."

The EU foreign ministers also prepared the ground for summit debate on other international headaches such as Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Officials from Iran and the EU's three most influential powers -- Britain, France and Germany -- are to resume talks in Paris Friday with time running out for Iran to accept the Europeans' offer to suspend uranium enrichment in order to avoid possible UN Security Council sanctions.

"The negotiations continue and we hope that at the end there will be a successful outcome," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said, with Iran facing a UN deadline of November 25 to allay concerns about its nuclear drive.

"If we find a way I would be very happy. If not, we are moving forward in a very serious situation," Fischer warned.

On the Middle East, EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana said Washington was on the "same wavelength" as Europe in wanting to hasten implementation of the roadmap.

Solana's four-point plan agreed by the foreign ministers involves security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority (PA), to guarantee law and order when Israeli forces pull out of the Gaza Strip.

It also envisages further institutional reforms at the PA, more economic aid and support for local elections planned for next month.

On Darfur, the EU ministers warned sanctions were possible against the Sudanese government for failing to "rein in and neutralise" the Janjaweed militia.

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