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EU foreign chief talks down attending direct Middle East talks

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton says she has no place at US-brokered Middle East peace talks next month after calls by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for her to attend.

European flag superimposed on a map of the Middle East

Ashton said she doesn't need to represent the EU at the talk's first stage

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has hosed down calls by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for her to be at the table when Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet for peace talks in Washington next month.

As the greatest contributors of aid to Palestinian projects, Kouchner said, EU nations should play a greater diplomatic role in the peace process.

"It would be a shame if there were no European representation," the minister told a conference of French ambassadors on Friday, August 27.

But Ashton sought to quickly dispel any talk of her attending the talks, replying through a spokesperson on Saturday that she already had plans to be in China for a strategic partnership summit next month. She added that her presence at the Middle East talks "would have no substantial influence on the talks," which were "strictly between the two parties."

"Both sides already know the importance of the EU in this process and acknowledge ... Ashton's personal involvement and time invested in getting to this point," the spokesperson said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton

Ashton says she would have no place at the Mid East talks

"The focus is on a successful outcome of the talks, particularly the first round and the focus should not be on the choreography or who goes to Washington or not."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will meet face-to-face in Washington on September 2 with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Praise for US role

Kouchner, the French foreign minister, also praised the US for its role in brokering the talks - the first to take place since Israel launched a military offensive against the Gaza strip in December 2008 - after protracted negotiations.

"The hopes raised by American mediation have been slow to be realized," Kouchner said, adding that the latest round of talks "invites us to be a little more optimistic."

The initial talks will also be attended by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II. The EU is part an official "quartet" of entities working to seek a settlement in the conflict, along with Russia, the United Nations and the US.

Author: Darren Mara, Richard Connor (AP/AFP)
Editor: Toma Tasovac

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