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Slovenia ready to end veto on Croatia's EU accession

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Slovenia ready to end veto on Croatia's EU accession

Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor - Photo EU Council

(LJUBLJANA) - Slovenia said Friday it was ready to end a block on Croatian talks to join the European Union, as part of a compromise to settle a border row between the two former Yugoslav republics.

Following talks with his Croatian counterpart Jadranka Kosor in Ljubljana, Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor said his government would lift its veto on Croatia's EU membership.

"The government decided yesterday (Thursday) to propose to the parliament's foreign and EU affairs committees that Slovenia withdraw its objections to Croatia's EU accession talks," Pahor told a joint news conference.

Slovenia has blocked Croatia's negotiations with the EU since December over a border row dating back to 1991, when both countries proclaimed independence from the former Yugoslavia.

Ljubljana has demanded guarantees on access to its territorial waters and has refused to open any new chapter out of the 35 that make up Croatia's membership bid.

"If the decision is backed by the committees, the government will call for an EU-Croatia accession conference to be held as soon as possible, while negotiations on the border row will continue simultaneously," Pahor said.

Kosor said she had sent a statement to Sweden in its role as current holder of the rotating EU presidency, saying any mention of borders made by Croatia to the EU as part of its membership bid should not prejudge the outcome of its row with Slovenia.

Ljubljana has argued that in Zagreb's negotiations to join the European bloc, Croatia presented maps and legal papers that potentially prejudice the final definition of the border.

Croatia, which hopes to adhere to the bloc by 2011, insists the dispute should be separated from its EU talks and solved by international arbitration.

On Friday, Kosor described the new compromise as a "win-win situation".

And she expected an EU-Croatia accession conference, which has been repeatedly postponed over the border row, possibly "by the end of this month."

According to the head of the main opposition Social Democrats in Croatia, Zoran Milanovic, Slovenia's decision was the result of EU pressure.

"The European Union -- notably Sweden, current holder of the EU presidency, its Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and the rest of the EU who did not want to watch this show any more -- put pressure on Slovenia," Milanovic told national radio following the announcement in Ljubljana.

Croatian President Stipe Mesic added that former premier Ivo Sanader had also contributed to the deal.

"He was holding talks, he was probing the terrain and this (agreement) is a continuation of these talks," Mesic said.

The Swedish presidency of the EU welcomed the announcement on Friday, in a statement on its website.

"This agreement underlines the strength of the European integration process and the virtue of dialogue," it noted.

"It will promote regional stability and serves as a model for the Western Balkans as a whole," Sweden added, praising Premiers Pahor and Kosor for showing "European leadership in breaking a difficult deadlock."

Zagreb and Ljubljana were to resume talks separately on the border dispute, mediated by the European Commission.

These talks, under the arbitration of EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, had ended in a stalemate in June. While both sides agreed to set up a tribunal to mediate the dispute, Ljubljana wanted it to make the final ruling, while Zagreb saw it simply as a stepping stone to a resolution before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

At the end of their meeting there, Pahor and Kosor took a stroll through central Ljubljana accompanied by officials, security guards and photographers.

Relations between Ljubljana and Zagreb, which were frosty earlier this year, have improved significantly since Kosor took over as Croatia's premier following the surprise resignation of her predecessor Ivo Sanader in July.

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