EU hopes to start new era of relations with Yugoslavia

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The Independent Online

European Union leaders, who met the new President of Yugoslavia over lunch today, will offer their support and will not pose any conditions for EU aid, President Jacques Chirac of France said.

European Union leaders, who met the new President of Yugoslavia over lunch today, will offer their support and will not pose any conditions for EU aid, President Jacques Chirac of France said.

Vojislav Kostunica, arriving for his first foreign meeting since defeating President Slobodan Milosevic in the Yugoslav elections, said fresh European money would be distributed fairly to those who need it most.

"Today, we will tell him we will continue to support him," Chirac told reporters just prior to Kostunica's lunchtime meeting with leaders of the 15 EU nations. "We want this renewal to be a success. We are not here to start laying down conditions."

Kostunica, arrived at Biarritz, where EU leaders are wrapping up their two-day summit, on a Yugoslav airlines charter flight.

"I expect support from Europe for the democratic changes in Serbia and for its return to where it has always belonged, Europe," the new president told reporters en route to Biarritz.

During the meeting, EU leaders were ready to promise Kostunica a 200 million-euro aid package to get Yugoslavs through the winter and to bolster his hold on power.

Asked how he would use the money, Kostunica replied: "In the same way that Europe has shown its solidarity with us, we will show solidarity with our most endangered citizens."

EU leaders were not expected to press Kostunica on his reluctance to bring Serb suspects - including Milosevic - to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

"He needs the room and time to stabilise his government," said Jozias Van Aartsen, the Dutch foreign minister.

The 15-nation EU is eager to take the leading role in the reconstruction effort of the Balkans after last year's NATO bombing campaign.

While Yugoslavia will be the main focus of Saturday's meetings, attention will also be paid to the crisis in the Mideast.

Javier Solana, the EU's top foreign policy official, briefed EU leaders on his shuttle diplomacy over the past few days.

Britain's foreign secretary, Robin Cook, who has also been in the Mideast, briefed EU leaders on the progress made so far in trying to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table after two weeks of fighting.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday after a meeting with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that he expected a summit to be convened within 48 hours.

Crises in the Balkans and the Middle East have overshadowed the original agenda of the summit which was to focus on EU institutional reforms. Leaders will try on their last day of talks to work on breaking the deadlock between national positions on vital EU reforms which have to be agreed to by the time leaders meet again in December.

The EU prime ministers and presidents began the final day of their two-day summit, however, with a discussion of a charter of fundamental rights for European citizens. A European convention has been drawing up a charter model, which is aimed at moving the EU from a mere economic union to a real political union.

Issues over limiting national vetoes, reshaping the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, and on diluting more powers to the EU executive were debated without any conclusions on Friday.

A final deal is to result in a new EU treaty at a Dec. 7-8 European summit in Nice, France.

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