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. Mideast, Iran on agenda as EU foreign ministers meet
BRUSSELS (AFP) Jul 17, 2005
Israel's high-stakes withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the state of negotiations on Iran's nuclear activities will top the agenda at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Monday.

In talks likely to last around three hours, the ministers will also discuss Syria and Lebanon, Turkey's candidature for EU enlargement, and express concern about developments in Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.

On the Middle East, "the focus ... will be on the issues connected to Gaza disengagement, which is the key issue of the moment but they may well range more widely," said a diplomat from Britain, holder of the EU presidency.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who has been travelling in the region, will report back on his findings and the ministers are likely to confirm their support for the Israeli withdrawal.

Israel is scheduled to begin removing all its soldiers and 8,000 Jewish settlers from 21 settlements in Gaza and four small enclaves in the northern West Bank from August 17.

The ministers will stress the need for closer cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), who were on the brink of open hostility at the weekend, but will also express concern about the PA's standard of governance.

The EU has already begun weighing financial options to help economic regeneration after the pullout, and is expected to further develop its position in September based on the way the withdrawal has evolved.

On Iran, Solana and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany -- the so-called EU3 -- will report on how negotiations on the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions are evolving since the presidential elections.

They will give an account of their work to prepare a package on three key issues agreed in Paris last November: nuclear issues, political and security issues, and economic and technological cooperation.

The package, which basically offers trade incentives for nuclear concessions, is likely to be presented to Tehran in August, according to a working document prepared for Monday's meeting.

Iran's position on its nuclear and foreign policy has been unclear since the hardliner Mahmood Ahmadinejad was elected president last month. He is scheduled to take office on August 3.

A low-level diplomatic spat with the United States is festering and senior Iranian negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, has said nuclear policy could change, particularly on its commitment to freeze uranium enrichment activities.

But so far, EU officials have not noted any major swing in attitude.

The ministers are expected to renew a call for Syria to respect and implement UN resolutions and call on Damascus to take action to promote stability in the region, notably in neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.

They are also likely to increase pressure on Uzbekistan for its failure to launch an international inquiry into the shootings in May in the eastern town of Andijan, in which at least 173 people were killed.

Zimbabwe will be condemned for human rights abuses over a house demolition programme launched some two months ago that has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

On enlargement, the EU's executive, the European Commission, will present a framework proposal for accession negotiations with Turkey, which is due to start those talks on October 3.

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