On 14-15 December, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet took part in the European Council, where foreign ministers met to discuss the situation in the Middle East, Iran and Africa, especially matters related to Sudan. The Council passed declarations on issues related to the Middle East peace process, Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan and Africa.
The Council noted in a declaration that the Middle East was standing eye to eye with one of the most serious crises in years. Paet said the European Union is prepared to all it can to overcome the current impasse in the peace process and alleviate tensions in the region as a whole. "The Gaza ceasefire is the first important step toward abatement of tension," said Paet. "At the same time the ceasefire only has a point if violations cease and it is supported by the political process," he added.
The Council stressed the need to implement rapidly and completely the road map for peace in the Middle East, leading off with the most important points: the complete and rapid guaranteeing of freedom of movement and access, release of prisoners and recommencing security related cooperation. Paet said that these first but important steps must lead to concerted negotiations concerning the final status of Palestine. "The goal is the same as it was: to end the occupation which began in 1967 and the creation of an independent, democratic and vital Palestinian state," said Paet.
With regard to Iran, the foreign ministers of the European Union expressed concern that Iran's policies could have a negative effect on Middle Eastern security and stability. Paet noted that Iran has become the most powerful state in the Middle East. "Iran must take its role in the region far more conscientiously," emphasized Paet. Paet added that Estonia hopes for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear question and expressed regret that Tehran has not displayed a serious attitude to the proposals of EU foreign policy head Javier Solana.
Speaking of problems related to Africa, the EU's foreign policy heads drew attention to Sudan's Darfur region. In the declaration passed, the Council expressed deep concern over the security and humanitarian situation and human rights violations in Darfur. Paet said that the expanding violence in Darfur has led to an abrupt worsening in the humanitarian situation, forcing the suspension of humanitarian operations. "We believe that violence must end immediately and that all sides must honour human rights pursuant to the recent declaration if the UN Human Rights Council," said Paet. "The Sudanese government must commence cooperation with the international community, since the level of violence in the country requires rapid intervention," he added.
Estonia has provided support for the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Sudan since 2004. This year the Foreign Minister sent 800,000 kroons for a humanitarian aid project in Sudan. The African country has been gripped by civil war for the last 21 years, as a result of which the country has been classified by the UN as one of the world's biggest humanitarian disaster zones. The UNHCR has specialized in aiding refugees in the region and humanitarian aid goes above all to refugees and displaced persons in southern Sudan.