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On 5 April 2005, Jean Asselborn, Minister for Foreign Affairs and current President of the Council of the European Union, co-chaired the 15th Joint Council and Ministerial Meeting between the European Union and the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Bahrain.
The delegation of the Gulf Cooperation Council was led by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bahrain and current President of the Ministerial Council of the GCC. The European Commission was represented by the Commissioners for External Relations and Trade, Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Peter Mandelson.
The Joint Council focused on the state of negotiations on a free trade agreement between the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council. The two parties agreed that rapid progress was needed on a number of outstanding trade issues, particularly on services, industrial tariffs and public procurement. They also noted the importance of a rapid conclusion of the negotiations on human rights, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and migration issues.
In view of making further progress in the free trade negotiations, ministers agreed that the next round of talks should take place in Brussels on 7-9 June 2005. "We are all committed to conclude these negotiations without undue delay, preferably before the end of 2005," said Jean Asselborn at a press conference following the ministerial meeting.
The ministers also addressed a number of regional and global issues of mutual interest, such as the peace process in the Middle East, developments in Iran and Iraq , the fight against terrorism and the protection of human rights.
Speaking of the Middle East Peace Process, Jean Asselborn stressed that the European Union and the Gulf states had welcomed "the recent positive developments in the area, and especially the commitments made by Israelis and Palestinians at the Sharm el Sheik Summit in February" and encouraged "both parties to continue on the path of dialogue and political negotiations."
In a final statement, the ministers welcomed the recent appointment of the speaker and deputies of the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly and underlined the need for all parties "to work together to establish a safe, stable, independent, prosperous and democratic Iraq."
Further to a recent joint EU-GCC seminar on Combating Terrorist Financing in Abu Dhabi, ministers decided to continue their cooperation in the fight against terrorism through regular meetings at the experts' level. "The fight against terrorism must continue to be given the highest attention, both in international fora and at the national level. We all agreed that terrorism can only be tackled if the whole international community works together," said Jean Asselborn.
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