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Germany, France to Unveil Middle East Plan

France and Germany have agreed to a comprehensive Middle East peace plan, according to a report in a French newspaper. The agreement comes amid a flurry of Middle East initiatives.

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Germany and France have teamed up on a number of issues - now Middle East is one of them.

The two European powers plan to reveal the details of the new Franco-German initiative at a meeting of EU ambassadors next week, according to Le Monde.

The announcement comes at a time when several plans aiming to tackle the various problems in the region using a comprehensive approach having been floating about. Most prominent so far, Washington's Greater Middle East Initiative, which the Bush administration wants to present at the G8 Summit in June.

The Franco-German plan emphasizes the importance of working on a individual, country-by-country basis to bring stability to the region, according to Le Monde. Paris and Berlin stress that "every initiative for the Middle East must respond to the needs and aspirations of the region," wrote Le Monde.

Arab world wary of U.S. plan

The Franco-German plan might get a better reception among Arab leaders who said this week they were wary about the Bush administration's proposal. The over-arching plan wants to address major problems of unemployment and poverty in a region stretching from North Africa to Pakistan.

U.S. President George W. Bush will meet with Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak in Texas in April to discuss the details of the plan, which will call on Arab governments to implement significant political changes and economic reforms, according to reports.

The Franco-German plan is an extension of the 1995 "Barcelona Initiative," an EU plan to set up trade and economic partnerships with Middle Eastern countries. Part of the strategy is to involve not just governments, but society as well.

Ireland, which holds the current six-month rotating EU presidency, is currently gathering thoughts on Middle East peace from other member states. The Irish presidency will then draw up a report at a planned EU summit at the end of March.

Cooperation, not competition

Despite some skepticism in the EU over the U.S. approach, the two sides are keeping an open dialogue. A high-level EU delegation headed to Washington this week to discuss the Middle East with their American counterparts, though the EU is not expected to fully back the US plan at this stage, since elements of its own plan may differ.

Sicherheitskonferenz in München Rumsfeld und Fischer

U.S. Sectretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, left, discussing the Middle East conflict with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, during the Munich Conference.

Germany -- one of the first proponents of a broader pact with Arab countries -- was supportive of U.S. efforts at a transatlantic meeting in Munich last month. And while France also indicated broad support, it warned against lumping all Muslim countries together, and said that any plan should either be separate from the particular conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, or based on solving this issue before trying to tackle other issues in the region.

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