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Commissioner Chris Patten to visit Iran, Turkey and Lebanon 2nd-7th February 2003

The Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten will travel to Iran, Turkey and Lebanon in the first week of February. The objective of the trip is to discuss international and regional developments, as well as the EU's bilateral relationship with each of the countries concerned. In Iran, the Commissioner will meet President Mohammad Khatami, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi as well as other senior members of the government, for discussions on bilateral relations between Iran and the EU as well as the situation in Iran's neighbours, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the continuing crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Wednesday the 5th February he will launch the second round of the EU-Iran negotiations for a Trade and Co-operation Agreement. In Turkey Mr Patten will meet Prime Minister Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, among other leading figures.

Discussions will focus on Turkey's efforts to lead dialogue among Islamic partners on the situation in Iraq, and Turkey's aspiration to membership of the EU.

In Lebanon, the Commissioner will meet Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, President Emile Lahoud and Minister for Foreign Affairs Mahmoud Hammoud among others to discuss Lebanon's relationship with the EU through its newly ratified Association Agreement as well as developments in the Middle East. On the eve of his visit Commissioner Patten said: "It is very important that at this testing moment for the international community, we do not allow a 'clash of civilisations' to develop. Europe's history is intertwined with the Islamic world. Commitment to peace, the fight against terrorism and the quest for stability should be values shared between the great cultures of Europe and the Middle East. I hope during this trip to underline our common ground".

Lebanon

Arrival: Thursday 6th February Departure: Friday 7th February

Commissioner Patten's visit is an opportunity to discuss regional and bilateral issues.

The visit comes just as the EU-Lebanon Association Agreement has been ratified by Lebanon, and just before the Interim Agreement enters into force (Ist. March 2003).

He says:
"Last year we signed an Association Agreement with Lebanon, bringing us near to completion of the grid of the bilateral agreements, which will underpin the Euro-Mediterranean partnership(2). I am looking forward to discussing with Lebanese ministers the implementation of the Agreement and how we can help not only with this, but also with the economic reforms that the Lebanese government has put in hand to deal with the country's financial problems".

Mr Patten will also discuss developments in the Middle East, and in particular the need to avoid any escalation of the conflict with Israel. He will express the EU's understanding for the burden of hosting the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, but will stress that the current living conditions in the camps breed despair and radicalism, which endangers regional instability. Mr Patten will welcome Lebanon's readiness to co-operate on counter-terrorism, confirmed by an exchange of letters in June 2002. He will, however, reiterate EU calls for the Lebanese authorities to assume responsibility for policing the South.

Brussels,02 04 2003
European Union Redaction
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