My right honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Margaret Beckett) and Sir John Grant (UK permanent representative to the EU) represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Luxembourg.
The agenda items covered were as follows:
World Trade Organisation/Doha Development Round
The External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, briefed the council on negotiations between the G4 (EU, United States, Brazil and India) and with the G6 (the G4 and Australia and Japan) in New Delhi on 11 and 12 April.
Gulf Co-operation Council
The Commission briefed the council on negotiations between the EU and the Gulf Co-operation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) on a free trade agreement.
The council also took note of preparations for the EU-Gulf Co-operation Council Ministerial in Riyadh on 8 May.
The presidency briefed the council on negotiations with the US ahead of the summit on 30 April, including plans for a political declaration and proposals for strengthening transatlantic economic relations and energy and climate change.
There was a broad-ranging discussion in the council focusing on energy and climate change and visa waiver arrangements.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary intervened to underline the Government’s support for the presidency’s efforts in taking forward work on climate change, briefed partners on the recent UN Security Council debate on climate security and suggested Ministers look further at ways the EU could take forward work in this area.
The council discussed Sudan on the basis of a briefing by the UN special envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, who underlined the EU’s role in humanitarian, development and peacekeeping assistance, including financing for the African Union Mission in Sudan. Eliasson also welcomed the Government’s initiative to discuss the situation in Sudan at the UN Security Council last week.
The council welcomed the agreement between the Sudanese Government, the UN and the African Union on the implementation of the UN’s heavy support package, the second stage of a three-stage plan to restore peace to the Darfur region. The Government and other member states supported the need to continue diplomatic engagement with the Sudanese to accept the third stage, the deployment of a full African Union/UN peacekeeping force, as well as the ceasefire and reinvigorated political process agreed in Addis Ababa last November. However, if the Sudanese Government failed to comply, the EU should be prepared to consider further measures. There was broad support for this approach in the council.
The council adopted conclusions expressing concern at the appalling security and humanitarian situation in Darfur, and stressing the urgent need for an inclusive political agreement to solve the conflict while reiterating the council’s readiness to consider further measures, notably, in the UN framework, against any party which obstructs implementation of the agreements already reached with the Government of Sudan.
The council discussed the deteriorating human rights and political situation in Zimbabwe while welcoming the mandate given to South African President Mbeki by the Southern African Development Community to mediate between the opposition and the Government.
Following a UK proposal, the council adopted conclusions extending the EU’s visa ban list to include two additional individuals with responsibility for recent violence and human rights abuses.
The council discussed the renewed violence in Somalia and adopted conclusions stressing the importance of implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1744 to address the political, security and humanitarian challenges faced in Somalia, expressing grave concern at the escalation of the conflict, and urging the Transitional Federal Government to convene the National Reconciliation Congress as soon as possible. The conclusions also reaffirm the council’s support for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) while recalling the EU’s contribution of €15 million.
The presidency briefed the council on the draft EU central Asia strategy, including the Foreign Ministers’ meeting with the five central Asian countries in Astana on 27 and 28 March.
The council adopted conclusions taking note of the second round of expert talks with Uzbekistan on Andizhan in Tashkent on 2 and 3 April and decided to enter into a regular, result-oriented human rights dialogue with Uzbekistan. The Government support these talks as a means of encouraging Uzbekistan to make concrete progress on human rights concerns.
The council discussed relations with Iran.
The high representative for the common foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, briefed the council on his contacts with Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary briefed the council on the lessons learned from the capture of the naval personnel, emphasising the impact of strong international pressure, and thanked partners for their support.
The council also adopted a common position implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747 and a council decision applying the travel ban and assets freeze in the regulation to individuals and entities who meet the UN criteria in Resolutions 1737 and 1747 but who have not been designated by the UN. The common position also introduces a full formal EU arms embargo.
Middle East Peace Process
The council discussed the Middle East peace process and looked forward to further work by the quartet, including co-operation with Arab partners.
The council adopted conclusions: stressing the need for continuing support to the Palestinian institutions; endorsing the extension of the Temporary International Mechanism for a further three months; and welcoming the Arab peace initiative as a major element in moving the political process forward, and the ongoing dialogue between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert. The UK supports the Commission’s work to build Palestinian institutional capacity as a practical way for the EU to support the political process. The conclusions also demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Alan Johnston.
The council discussed Lebanon and the Hariri tribunal.
International Moratorium on the Death Penalty
The council discussed EU action on a global moratorium and eventual abolition of the death penalty. The council will assess the outcome of an EU action plan adopted in February before deciding on possible next steps.
External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner highlighted the possibility of renewed talks with Libya on the case of the Bulgarian medics.