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Germany

Mutual Pat on the Back at Washington Meeting

German Foreign Minister Fischer and US Secretary of State Powell were full of praise for each other's mediation efforts in the Middle East at a meeting in Washington. It’s an encouraging sign, say analysts.

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US Secretary of State Colin Powell and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer

The air was thick with words of praise as German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer met with US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday evening, at the start of a four day visit to Washington.

The Middle East dominated talks as both leaders lauded each other’s efforts in trying to defuse the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Fischer said he spoke on behalf of the European Union when he said he greatly appreciated the leadership of the United States in finding ways out of the Middle East crisis.

"The United States is in the driver’s seat and we are fully backing all the efforts which have been brought forward by the Secretary of State, or by the President, or other representatives of American diplomacy in the region and internationally," he told reporters after the meeting at the State Department.

Fischer’s gushing words have come as a surprise to some in light of the scant progress that Powell’s recent visit to the Middle East achieved, although there has been more momentum in recent days.

Europe, US closer on Middle East issue?

But the united transatlantic front that the two leaders presented for solving the Middle East conflict is welcomed by observers at a time when Washington’s political elite is sore at what they see as Europe’s overly sympathetic view of the Palestinians.

Powell on his part piled high praise on the German Foreign Minister too. "The minister has been deeply engaged in the Middle East for a very, very long time and has made many, many visits to Israel and the occupied territories in the quest for peace and so as you would expect, we had a long discussion over the current situation", Powell told reporters.

Analysts believe that Fischer and Europe at large finally feel that their ongoing demands for the US to become more intensely involved in solving the Middle East conflict is finally being taken seriously.

Fischer applauds US initiatives

The US has stepped up mediation efforts in the Middle East in recent weeks.

Fischer credited US diplomacy with helping to end a siege at the West Bank town of Ramallah. A US-brokered effort has been successful in getting the Israelis and Palestinians to agree upon a lifting of the siege on beleaguered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

A State Department official is now being sent to the region to take part in talks between a British team and Israeli and Palestinian officials abut implementing President Bush’s plan for Israel to lift Arafat’s blockade.

Fischer also applauded American attempts to end the stand-off at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem where about 30 Palestinian fighters wanted by Israel took refuge in the sanctuary on April 2.

UN team stranded as Israel says no once again

As the two leaders agreed on mediation tactics in the present conflict, in the region itself international efforts received a setback as the Israeli cabinet decided against allowing a UN fact-finding team to visit the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin.

This makes it the third time that Israel has delayed accepting the team since the UN decided on sending the mission on April 19.

Palestinians claim that hundreds were slaughtered by Israeli forces in the refugee camp of Jenin, while the Israelis maintain that there were only a few dozen casualties in what they describe as a legitimate operation to root out militants.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Kofi Anan, the UN Secretary General that Israel would not allow the team a free hand to summon and interrogate soldiers who took part in the Jenin offensive.

Israeli Communications Minister, Reuven Rivlin said in an interview with the Financial Times, "this awful United Nations committee is out to get us and is likely to smear Israel and to force us to do things which Israel is not prepared even to hear about".

Palestinian officials have denounced Israel’s decision, saying the UN should impose sanctions on the Jewish state.

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