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EU to back Obama's new strategy with civilian efforts

Video by Luke BROWN

Latest update : 2009-03-28

European foreign ministers announced that they are ready to increase civilian efforts in Afghanistan and economic aid for Pakistan in support of US President Barack Obama's new counter-terrorism strategy in the region.

AFP - European foreign ministers said Friday they were ready to increase their civilian action in Afghanistan and economic aid for Pakistan, to support a new strategy by US President Barack Obama.
   
"We are always prepared to do more," said Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, as he entered Hluboka castle in the southern Czech Republic to host talks with his EU counterparts. His country holds the rotating EU presidency.
   
Obama vowed Friday to wipe out terrorists from Pakistani safe havens, warning that Al-Qaeda was plotting catastrophic new attacks, as he unveiled a sweeping new Afghan war strategy.
   
As part of those plans, the president called on US allies to join a major new civilian effort to stabilize Afghanistan, and warned he would not turn a "blind eye" towards government corruption, which he said undermined faith in its leaders.
   


British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Obama's speech would "give concrete meaning to the idea that we are looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan together.., and that they want to balance the civilian and military aspects of their work."
   
The EU has three non-military roles to play in the region, he told reporters.
   
"In Afghanistan on the policing side and in Pakistan on the economic side and in both countries also putting in place democratic governance."
   
The new US strategy places stabilizing Pakistan at the centre of the reframed US approach for fighting an unfinished and bloody battle against Al-Qaeda, which Obama said was neglected during a US diversion to Iraq.
   
Pakistan's mountainous border region with Afghanistan is an Al-Qaeda haven.
   
Miliband said Obama's strategy would "strike a very strong chord with the Europeans," who also see a strong link between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  
Europe's own initiatives should be "integrated closely with the NATO operations, we certainly don't want more bureaucracy and new structures being created," he stressed.
   
The civilian and military efforts will be discussed at a NATO summit, Obama's first, on the French-German border on April 3-4.
   
The EU is already planning two fresh civil projects in Afghanistan.
   
It has agreed to send observers, if security permits, to observe local and presidential elections as well as increasing their police presence in Afganistan from 250 to 400 officers.
   
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said his country was also ready to send 150 gendarmes to train Afghan police, if other European nations follow suit.
   
Kouchner foresaw, in that case a total European gendarmes force of 300-500 instructors "on the ground".
   
Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain were ready to take part in that project, with possible contributions also from Poland and non-EU Turkey.
   
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that more financial aid to Afghanistan would be announced at a conference on Afghanistan in The Hague next Tuesday.
   
"We will certainly contribute to a civilian surge, having some more funds available," she said as she arrived, adding that she might announce an amount at The Hague.
   
The European Commission's current undertaking is 610 million euros (811 million dollars) for the 2007-2010 period.
   
In order to better help Pakistan economically, Miliband said Britain supported a free-trade deal with Lahore, something that could be discussed at an EU-Pakistan summit.
   
Last December the European signalled its wish to reinforce its links with Pakistan.
   
No date has been set for a proposed EU-Pakistan summit but Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said it could take place in June.

Date created : 2009-03-28

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