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The problems of the Balkans have helped to push the EU towards tighter foreign policy co-operation, though not always with particularly sparkling results. With a temporary lull in the fighting, foreign ministers on Monday tried to ensure that what littlehas been achieved does not get undone.

The EU has offered Croatia a carrot to persuade it not to throw out UN peace-keepers (Unprofor), as the Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman, had threatened.

Foreign ministers put forward the offer of a co-operation agreement when they met on Monday, but said the plan was conditional on Zagreb's behaviour in the peace process in the former Yugoslavia. The European Commission has been asked to prepare a draft agreement in two weeks' time. But, ministers added, the EU "is concerned at the implications which the Croatian government's decision not to accept the renewal of Unprofor's mandate might have" for peace.

A co-operation agreement would be the first step on the long road to possible EU membership. Croatia would also like access to funds from Phare, an EU scheme aimed at boosting technical and economic know-how in Central and Eastern Europe.

"This would be the best sort of support Croatia needs in the present moment," Zoran Jasic, the country's ambassador to the European Union, told a meeting of the Centre for European Policy Studies.

On the trade front, the foreign ministers also pushed ahead with a new co-operation agreement with Vietnam, which includes economic aid.

And Kazakhstan's President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, signed a partnership and co-operation agreement with the EU. All these deals are part of the EU's efforts to reach agreements with the post-Cold War states that have emerged over the past five years, while extending its own political influence as far as possible.