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EU top diplomats meet on thorny regional issues amid widening crack with US

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-02-07 09:45

BRUSSELS - Top diplomats of the 28-nation European Union (EU) on Monday wrapped up a one-day gathering in Brussels, seeking to tackle thorny regional issues ranging from Ukraine crisis to Middle East Process, in the context of a widening crack between the bloc and the new US administration.

"We will have intense exchanges in the coming weeks with our US counterparts," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at a press conference after the Foreign Affaris Council.

"Today's discussions, on Ukraine and the Middle East Peace Process in particular, were very useful to take stock of where the EU stands, that it is united, and has very clear positions," she stressed.

As to the recent resurgence of violence in eastern Ukraine, the council said in a statement that EU foreign ministers expressed their concern, "in particular with regard to the humanitarian situation."

"They discussed how to increase EU support for the implementation of the Minsk agreements," the council said, hinting that the bloc will not budge on its sanctions against Russia, regardless of US President Donald Trump's pro-Russia stance.

The US Treasury Department on Thursday issued a notice easing sanctions on a Russian intelligence agency that former US president Barack Obama sanctioned over Moscow's alleged hacking activities in last year's US presidential election.

Trump has indicated that he could lift the sanctions against Russia if Moscow proved helpful in battling terrorists and reaching other goals important to the United States.

The sanctions against Russia are not the only issues the EU at odds with the Trump administration.

Highups of the EU, including Mogherini, have recently blasted a travel ban signed by Trump that bars citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen from traveling to the United States for 90 days, stops accepting refugees for 120 days and indefinitely halts refugees from Syria.

Mogherini last week pledged that the EU would not turn its back on anyone who has the right to international protection, because "this is where we stand, this is where we will continue to stand."

But the bloc is on the other hand seeking ways to better control the migrant inflows, especially those reaching it through the central Mediterranean route, which links Libya to Italy.

The central route has attracted more attention from the EU since last year when a EU-Turkey deal led to nosedive of the number of asylum seekers via the eastern Mediterranean route.

Foreign ministers at Monday's council reaffirmed the importance of helping Libya to regain stability "through an inclusive political settlement under the framework of the Libyan political agreement."

"A stable and peaceful Libya is important not only for its neighbours - the EU included, but for the Libyans themselves, as well as for migrants currently in Libya," the council said, echoing an action plan adopted at the Malta summit on Friday to stem the migration flow into Europe along the central Mediterranean route.

According to the plan, the EU will train and equip the Libyan national coast guard, disrupt smuggling business and support the development of local communities.

Over 181,000 migrants and refugees, most of whom use Libya as a springboard, arrived in the EU in 2016 through the central Mediterranean route.

As the deadliest route for migrants last year, the central Mediterranean route claimed the lives of 4,576 people, according to the International Organization for Migration.

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