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Ukraine Dominates Meeting Of E.U. Leaders In Brussels


We start this hour in Brussels where European leaders met today trying to do with several crises facing that continent. The summit was supposed to focus on the threat of terrorism after last month's attacks in Paris and on the demand from the new Greek government to renegotiate its bailout. Instead, the conflict in Ukraine dominated today's talks after all-night negotiations over a potential cease-fire. From Brussels, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley begins our coverage.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The start of today's summit was pushed back three hours so that the leaders of France and Germany could make it on time. Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande flew straight to Brussels from Belarus where they had stayed up all night negotiating a cease-fire deal with the leaders of Ukraine and Russia. Many details of the agreements are still to be worked out, but Hollande said an imperfect deal was better than no deal at all.


PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Through interpreter) Of course this agreement doesn't guarantee peace. Europe must now be vigilant and united, keep up the pressure on those who signed this cease-fire. This is a crucial moment. There's hope, but it could still go either way. The next hours will be critical.

BEARDSLEY: The cease-fire calls for the fighting to stop on midnight local time this coming Saturday. Both sides are to pull back heavy weapons and forces from a buffer zone. Analysts say the key will be getting Russian President Vladimir Putin to convince separatists to withdraw after they've made significant territorial gains in recent weeks. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, also in Brussels, spoke of the intensity of the recent talks.


PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO: The last 72 hours, I sleep only five hours. I was in Kramatorsk in the previous night where there is a completely disaster because of the Russian-backed terrorists. Immediately after, we go to Minsk. Very difficult and very long negotiation for 17 hours just to reach this deal. That is also why I arrived to Brussels to coordinate our next step with European Union partners.

BEARDSLEY: The peace deal will now have to be endorsed by all 28 EU member states. Vivien Pertusot, head of the Brussels office of the French Institute for International Relations, says some countries such as Poland or the Baltic states may not be entirely happy with the terms.

VIVIEN PERTUSOT: Yes. They may feel that Russia is getting the upper hand, so that's something that the French and the Germans will have to explain to their European partners - that it had to be done that way, otherwise it would have been impossible to iron out an agreement.

BEARDSLEY: While the Ukraine conflict alone was enough to fill the agenda, there's also the matter of terrorism and Greece. The country's new far-left prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, is demanding an end to austerity and to renegotiate the terms of his country's EU bailout. Germany is staunchly against such a plan. It doesn't sit well with conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron either. He had stern messages for both Greece and Russia as he arrived.


PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: Well, first of all, I'm looking forward to my first meeting with the new Greek prime minister. I'll be saying that what is required between Greece and the eurozone is not a standoff but a solution. And I think we should be very clear that Vladimir Putin needs to know that unless his behavior changes, the sanctions we have in place won't be altered.

BEARDSLEY: As the summit stretched into the night, the threat of war, default and terrorism hung heavy in the air. But Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel remained optimistic. Europe's magic, he said, is to always find solutions even when everyone believes it's impossible. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.