European Union foreign ministers are focusing diplomatic efforts on the future of Afghanistan, as U.S. air-strikes against terrorist targets there go into a fourth week.
Belgian Foreign Minster Louis Michel, whose country holds the rotating Presidency of the EU, will hold talks with Central Asian leaders about the post-Taliban era and about new channels for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Mr. Michel left Tuesday for Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan - nations that have supported the U.S.-led military effort against Osama bin Laden and his al Qaida network, the prime suspects in the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
Javier Solana, the EU's chief of foreign and security policy, briefed the 15 foreign ministers on the situation in Central Asia, outlining areas in which the EU could help, including fighting drug trafficking and beefing up border controls as part of the war against terrorism. He acknowledged that EU interests are relatively small, be he said the organization will examine ways to help these countries economically, because terrorism can find fertile ground in poverty.
As the military campaign against targets in Afghanistan enters its fourth week, Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama says both humanitarian and political fronts are important as well. "It seems to me that there is the need for military results, also the need of political results, and a need for effectiveness regarding humanitarian support," he says. "But it has been forecast since the starting that it would not be a short type of operation."
EU leaders have declared total solidarity with the United States, but diplomats say there is some unease about civilian deaths and the worsening humanitarian situation.
The EU foreign ministers also reviewed the situation in the Balkans, where they are supporting reconstruction and aid, and signed a stabilization and association accord with Croatia.
The EU has allocated more than $50 million this year in financial assistance for Croatia. Another $170 million is planned for the period from 2002 to 2004. This is the second stabilization pact between the EU and a Balkans nation. The first was signed with Macedonia earlier this year.