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General Affairs and External Relations Council

Volume 470: debated on Friday 25 January 2008

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 28 January in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

External Relations

Western Balkans

The Government expect discussion of the Western Balkans to focus on Serbia and Kosovo. The Council is likely to discuss the forthcoming second round of presidential elections in Serbia, including ways the EU can best take forward Serbia’s European perspective. The Government are committed to a tangible EU future for Serbia but, at the same time, committed to full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as a requirement for progress. On Kosovo, EU leaders agreed in December that the Union should play a leading role in implementing a settlement on Kosovo’s final status. The Council is likely to discuss ways to take forward that commitment. The Government believe the status quo in Kosovo is unsustainable and are working for a rapid resolution of status in co-ordination with international partners.

Middle East

The Government expect the Council to discuss latest developments in Gaza and southern Israel, as well as highlighting their support for the political process and welcoming the contributions made at the Paris donors’ conference in December, which raised over $7.4 billion over three years in support of Palestinian development.

The Government will support conclusions at the Council welcoming recent bilateral negotiations, maintaining continued support for the political process through the framework of the EU action strategy and expressing the EU’s serious concern about the humanitarian situation and continued violence in Gaza. The Government also want conclusions to encourage the parties to adhere to their roadmap commitments, particularly on Israeli settlement activity and on Palestinian security; and to welcome the achievements of the Paris donors’ conference.

The Government are committed to supporting the process initiated at Annapolis, which has put the Israelis and Palestinians on a path to real negotiations in 2008, which the Government hope will lead to a final settlement of two states living side by side in peace and security. Israeli security is absolutely fundamental to a just solution; and Palestinian hardship can only be tackled through a political process that creates an economically and socially viable Palestinian state.

The Government expect the Council to adopt conclusions on Lebanon in light of the ongoing political crisis and the recent spate of violence. Lebanon has been without a Head of State since President Lahoud’s term of office expired on 23 November 2007 amid ongoing divisions between the Government and the opposition over who should succeed him. The Government will support EU endorsement of the latest Arab League diplomatic initiative to help resolve the crisis and call on all parties to engage.

Sudan/Darfur, Chad/Central African Republic

The UN envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, will brief the Council on latest developments in the political process in Darfur. The Government will support conclusions welcoming the return of the SPLM to the Government of National Unity in Sudan, while noting the importance of timely and thorough planning for the elections in 2009. The Government will also want the Council conclusions to call on all parties to facilitate the prompt establishment of an effective African Union-UN peacekeeping force, UNAMID, noting in particular the continued lack of full co-operation by the Government of Sudan.

The Government hope that the Council conclusions will in addition express concern about the tensions between Chad and Sudan, call on both sides to refrain from any further escalatory action and support calls for an internal political process in Chad to end the armed conflict. The Government expect the Council to launch the EU military mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, which will contribute to the protection of refugees, facilitation of humanitarian assistance and the work of the UN. The Government welcome and fully support EU engagement and messages on these issues.

Kenya

The Government expect the Council to discuss the latest situation in Kenya and agree conclusions expressing concern about the humanitarian situation following questions raised in reports by a number of independent observers over the results of the presidential elections in December.

The Government will support a clear condemnation of the violence in the conclusions, which should also urge Kenya’s political leaders to work together to agree a political solution to the crisis while expressing strong support for the efforts of the African Union and the mission led by Kofi Annan to assist Kenya’s politicians in achieving this goal. The Government also expect the Council to discuss what further action the EU could take to support efforts to find a political solution. The Government welcome this opportunity for discussion given the seriousness of the crisis in Kenya.

Pakistan

The Government expect the Council to discuss the current political situation in Pakistan with a particular focus on upcoming elections and the steps the EU can take to support the Government of Pakistan towards delivering free and fair elections, including through an EU election observation mission.

Iran

The Government expect the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy to brief the Council on next steps following Iran’s failure to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747. The Government fully support the strengthening of EU sanctions and will be pressing partners to take a firm stand on this issue, following the adoption of a new UN Security Council Resolution.