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Europe

Mideast Leaders Call for Greater EU Role in Peace Process

EU Foreign Ministers and their counterparts from Israel and the Palestinian-controlled areas come together in Brussels for their first meeting in two years, with talk of getting the road map to peace on track dominating.

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German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (right) and his counterpart Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

Efforts to get the Middle East peace process back on track led the agenda of a meeting of the European Union’s foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday. The foreign ministers held talks with their counterparts from Israel and the Palestinian-controlled areas for the first time in two years, though the groups met with the foreign ministers separately.

Israel's chief diplomat, Silvan Schalom, was unusually frank on this point. He said he expected more engagement from the EU and, above all, a balanced approach. In his opinion, in the past, the Europeans often took too strong a stance in supporting the rights of Palestinians. Now he said he sensed a change of thinking, especially relating to Palestinian President Yassir Arafat -- a leader Schalom alleged the Europeans backed for too long.

“Among friends, we can agree to disagree,” Schalom said. “And I think that now more countries are aware that Arafat becomes more and more an obstacle to peace. That’s why we have to strengthen Mahmud Abbas -- because he looks more moderate and that’s why not only us, (but also) the Americans and I think now many European countries feel the same and think the same.”

Schalom demanded that the EU put more pressure on the Iranians to stop its suspected nuclear program, saying Iran’s mullah regime poses a threat not only to Israel but also to all of Europe.

The EU has also issued a strong warning to Iran in the wake of a discovery by United Nations inspectors that the country is in possession of enriched uranium that could be part of an effort to develop nuclear weapons. The EU has said it will review its diplomatic ties with Iran in September.

"We have full confidence in Europe"

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Schaath, meanwhile, stressed the generally good relations his people have traditionally maintained with the EU. Schaath also welcomed the demand of his Israeli counterpart Schalom for Europe to take on a more active diplomatic role in the Middle East.

“I’d be very happy if Israel really supports the role of Europe in implementing the road map because that is really an important step in moving the road map,” Schaath said. “As you know, we have full confidence in Europe. Europe in the peace process is a guarantee for us and a great support for peace.”

He said he hoped that the EU would help the Palestinians as they attempt to form a common state. At the same time, however, he demanded continuing support for Yassir Arafat.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said after the talks that he was convinced that the EU would play a very important role in the Middle East, noting that the discussions with the Israelis and Palestinians had been both “positive” and “constructive.”

Superfund for Iraq

Addressing the current crisis in Iraq, Fischer said he was pleased to see Europe engaging in on creating its own fund for the country’s postwar reconstruction. The fund should be formed independently of the existing funds that are controlled by the United States, he said, adding that Washington is likely to agree to a plan once it is completed.

“I think there is a possible solution if all parties want one,” said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. “ I think the idea that the Europeans put together a fund that is controlled internationally is a good one.”

But any decision on the size of such a fund and who will pay into it will unlikely be made prior to a planned donors’ conference in autumn.