Serbia, Hamas top EU forum agenda

European Union foreign ministers will warn Serbia that its EU aspirations are in peril, and thrash out how best to keep the Palestinian government afloat in the face of Israeli sanctions.

    The ministers will tackle various issues, including the Balkans

    In a busy schedule of talks in Brussels on Monday, starting at 0900 GMT, the ministers will also take stock of Iran's nuclear ambitions just a week ahead of a key meeting of the board of the US International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
    And with Iraq edging towards a sectarian civil war, they are also likely to express solidarity with the political forces seeking to calm the strife there.

    In discussions about the Balkans, the ministers are expected to endorse a report by the EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn noting that Serbia is not fully co-operating with the UN's war crimes court in The Hague.

    Against a background of speculation that a top war crimes indictee, Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, may have been arrested last week in Serbia, the ministers will warn Belgrade of the need for decisive action to bring suspects to justice.
    The EU and Serbia began talks in November on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), seen as a first step towards EU membership, and Rehn is likely to suggest that the talks progress is linked to Belgrade's co-operation.

    "If there is no full cooperation anytime soon, these negotiations cannot just continue as if nothing had happened," an EU official said, and hinted that the next round of SAA talks on 5 April could be cancelled.

    Middle East

    The officials are not expected to
    take a position on Hamas yet

    Turning to the Middle East, the 25 ministers will discuss how to help the Palestinian government to meet its payments since Israel decided to sanction it by withholding around $60 million a month in taxes and duties.
    The sanctions came as Hamas, which has launched most of the attacks on Israel, was asked to form the next government.

    The ministers are not expected to take a clear position on Hamas until the new government is formed and its position on recognising Israel, renouncing violence and working peacefully for a two-state solution is made clear.
    But they are likely to discuss ways to fund the outgoing government led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President. 

    "There is very active consideration being given to how we respond to the needs and the constraints of the current situation within the Palestinian territories," another EU official said, on condition of anonymity.

    Manouchehr Mottaki's recent
    visit to Europe will be discussed

    Turning to Iran, over lunch, the ministers will exchange ideas about the recent visit to Europe of Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister, and Russia's offer to enrich uranium on its territory for the Islamic Republic.

    They will also support the IAEA before its board meets on 6 March.

    Iran maintains that it only wants to generate electricity with its nuclear programme, but its enrichment activities have raised concern that it is trying to develop an atomic weapon.

    "It is time for Iran to reconsider its position on these activities and other areas of concern in order to avoid further deterioration of its relationship with the EU," the ministers will say, according to draft conclusions from their talks seen by AFP.


    Iraq's possible descent into civil war also features high on the agenda.

    The bombing of a revered Shia Muslim shrine in Samarra on Wednesday was met by revenge attacks on Sunni Mosques and people that killed about 140.

    The bloodshed only slowed after an unprecedented daytime curfew was slapped on Baghdad and three central provinces on Friday.

    "We do think that these kinds of attacks are intended to trigger fighting along religous-sectarian lines and therefore we support extremely warmly those political and religious leaders who have come out to try and calm down the situation," an EU official said.



    All Hail The Algorithm

    All Hail The Algorithm

    A five-part series exploring the impact of algorithms on our everyday lives.

    The priceless racism of the Duke of Edinburgh

    The priceless racism of the Duke of Edinburgh

    Prince Philip has done the world an extraordinary service by exposing the racist hypocrisy of "Western civilisation".

    China will determine the future of Venezuela

    China will determine the future of Venezuela

    There are a number of reasons why Beijing continues to back Maduro's government despite suffering financial losses.