EU targets new start in Middle East peace process

The European Union intends to go all out to try reactivate the Middle East peace process in the first six months of this year, the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Friday, warning that it was crucial to do so before the United States enters its campaign period for the 2008 presidential elections.

“If in the first semester of 2007 we don’t get the process at least framed, I don’t say finished, but framed, I have my doubts that we will be able to do it before 2008,” Mr Solana said.

“We have to put the political process in motion,” he said at the end of a two-day conference in Madrid that aimed to revive optimism into stalled Middle East peace.

The conference, organised by private foundations, brought together diplomats, academics and politicians from Europe, the United States, Russia and Middle Eastern countries.

It was called to commemorate the 15th anniversary of landmark 1991 Madrid peace conference that brought Israelis and Arabs to the negotiating table for the first time.

The latest conference has been criticised by some given that none of the major players in the region sent senior representatives but Mr Solana said the important thing was to get people talking.

Earlier Jordan’s King Abdllah II urged George Bush to make greater efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process when the US president telephoned the Jordanian monarch, the palace said in a statement.

Mr Bush called both the king and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to discuss Iraq, the peace process and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the Middle East this weekend, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in Washington.

The palace said Abdullah encouraged Mr Bush to intensify his effort to relaunch the peace process, adding that a solution would have to based on the establishment of a Palestinian state and the Arab initiative.

The Arab initiative, unveiled at the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002, calls for Israel to withdraw from all territory occupied since the 1967 Middle East war in return for full recognition by Arab countries.

Mr Bush briefed King Abdullah on his plans to try to revive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – which have not taken place since early 2001 – and referred to Ms Rice’s visit, the palace said.

She is expected to visit Israel and Jordan this weekend, and then fly to Cairo for talks with Mr Mubarak.

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