Asem to slam Israel over settlements

A two-day Asia-Europe summit of 46 countries opened in Brussels, the EU capital, Monday with the European Union pledging to be both a stronger international player and stronger partner for the Asia region.

The Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem), which meets every two years, is a forum for dialogue that began in 1996 but now represents 60 per cent of the world population.

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam is attending the two-day summit.

His Majesty attended the welcoming ceremony where the monarch met King Albert II of Belgium at the Royal Palace in Brussels prior to the Asem.

Earlier, on the sidelines of the ASEM 8 Summit, His Majesty met European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso for talks during their working session at the EU headquarters.

His Majesty also had a meeting with the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy.

Opening the meeting, to be followed Wednesday with China-EU and South Korea-EU summits, EU president Herman Van Rompuy said "the European Union is committed to be a stronger actor on the world stage and a stronger partner for Asia".

"The 27 heads of state and government," he went on "decided that the EU needs to look East. Not only in words, but also in facts."

The meeting brings together the 27 EU nations, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), as well as China, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan and Mongolia.

Australia, New Zealand and Russia this year join the forum.

European and Asian leaders are set to criticise Israel's decision to resume building settlements on Palestinian land and call on the country to open full access to the Gaza Strip, according to a draft statement prepared for a summit ending Tuesday.

Israel had imposed a 10-month moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank at the end of 2009, as part of a bid to galvanise peace talks. But it allowed the freeze to lapse a week ago, despite the fact that direct talks with the Palestinians had just re-started.

Leaders at the Aseam summit "regretted the Israeli decision not to extend the moratorium" and "recalled that settlements are illegal under international law", a draft statement seen by the German Press Agency dpa reads.

The Israeli move cast a chill over the newly reopened peace talks and provoked outrage across the Arab world.

"The parties must now engage with determination to overcome the obstacles and find a satisfactory way for the negotiations to continue and gather momentum," the draft reads.

The leaders and top politicians at the two-day summit - representing 27 European Union and 19 Asian countries - also called on Israel to provide more access to Gaza.

Recent measures to lift the Gaza blockade "are important steps, yet full implementation and complementary measures are needed in order to achieve a fundamental change of policy that would allow for the reconstruction and economic recovery of Gaza," the draft reads.

Leaders are also due to express "deep concern" over the sinking of a South Korean warship in March and the accusation that North Korea was responsible.

The sinking of the frigate Cheonan sparked threats of war between Pyongyang and Seoul. If approved, the statement of the Aseam summit in Brussels would carry weight, because China - the North's top ally - is a key member of the forum.

Summit leaders "expressed their deep concern" over the sinking and "stressed the importance of preventing further such attacks".

The draft summit statement makes no mention of an international report, commissioned by South Korea, which laid the blame for the sinking of the Cheonan on the North.

But it calls for "all parties to fulfil their commitments" under regional and United Nations resolutions "which provide the framework for (North Korea) to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner."

At the same time, it praises the two Koreas for relaunching a family reunion process and calls for "joint efforts to create the circumstances to resume" six-party talks on the nuclear programme.

Leaders at the summit still have to approve the text and could insert changes or delete some passages. - Borneo Bulletin (5th October 2010)