EU holds fresh talks on blacklisting Lebanon's Hezbollah

AFP , Wednesday 19 Jun 2013

If left unresolved the matter could be discussed by foreign ministers or heads of state and government at talks in Brussels next week

European Union experts hold a second round of talks at Britain's behest Wednesday on whether to add the military wing of Lebanon's Hezbollah to its list of international terrorist groups, diplomatic sources told AFP.

After months of hesitation, counter-terror specialists from the 27-nation bloc held a first meeting on the issue June 4 but failed to reach unanimity on blacklisting Lebanon's most powerful group.

Formally requested by Britain, "new talks will take place today," an EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

The addition of the Shiite militia to the dozen people and score of groups currently on the EU terrorist list -- including Hamas and Colombia's FARC guerrillas -- would make them subject to an asset freeze.

Diplomats had said they hoped to have an accord by end June, but while France, Germany and the Netherlands have backed Britain, some eastern European nations "still need some time to weigh the issue", as one EU source put it.

If left unresolved the matter could be discussed by foreign ministers or heads of state and government at talks in Brussels next week, another diplomat said.

Wednesday's closed-door talks take place within a committee known as CP931 after the EU's "common position" 931, setting up the bloc's terrorist blacklist. It meets regularly to oversee the EU list.

Despite months of strong pressure from Israel and the United States to follow their example and designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group, the EU up until this month skirted an issue seen as sensitive and divisive, with Britain openly in favour but France and Italy reluctant.

As the former colonial power, France feared destabilising politically fragile Lebanon, where Hezbollah is the leading political group and part of the government, while heading a militia more powerful than the country's army.

There were worries too from France, Italy and Spain for the safety of national troops committed to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.

But mounting global concern over the Shiite group's active support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad finally swayed even the most reluctant EU nations.

In Europe, the mood had shifted somewhat last year after an attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria which Sofia blamed on Hezbollah. In March, a Cyprus court sentenced a Hezbollah member to four years behind bars for planning attacks there.

There was some confusion in Brussels earlier this month however when Bulgaria appeared to backtrack.

But Bulgaria's new Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin was subsequently cited in a statement as telling Ireland's ambassador to Sofia John Rowan that "Bulgaria has not revised its stance on the terrorist act."

"Bulgaria is ready to join a consensus decision of the EU and it is our responsibility to present an even more solid basis for this," Vigenin was cited as saying.

Hezbollah has been on a US terror blacklist since 1995 after a series of anti-American attacks, including the bombing of the US embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in the 1980s.

Currently, Britain and the Netherlands are the only EU nations to have placed Hezbollah on their lists of terrorist groups.

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