Taking More Active Role in Mideast, E.c. Leaders Plan Visit to Region

The European Community is embarking on a more active role in the Middle East peace process.

But while talks with Arab leaders have been set, there is no agenda yet with Israel.

The foreign ministers of France, Spain and Ireland will visit Tunisia on Nov. 11 on behalf of the 12-member E.C., for exploratory talks with Chedli Klibi, secretary-general of the Arab League, and a meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat.

They fly to Egypt on Nov. 12 for talks with President Hosni Mubarak.

The three foreign ministers comprise the E.C.’s diplomatic “troika” dealing with the Middle East.

They are Roland Dumas of France, current chairman of the E.C. Council of Ministers; the immediate past chairman, Francisco Fernandez Ordonez of Spain; and Gerard Collins of Ireland, who will replace Dumas in the rotating office on Jan. 1.

A visit to Israel is on their agenda, but no date has been fixed. That has led to reports that Israel is reluctant to receive the E.C.’s peace mission.

Such speculation has been fueled by the fact that Jerusalem’s relations with the E.C. have been strained since the start of the Palestinian uprising nearly two years ago. The Europeans often have been critical of Israeli measures against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

MITTERRAND PROPOSAL ON AGENDA

When Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens was in Brussels last week, E.C. officials made clear to him that the community’s economic relations with Israel are linked to developments in the peace process.

The E.C. supports the idea of an international conference for Middle East peace under U.N. auspices, which is strongly opposed by Israel. But Arens has dismissed reports of Israeli hesitancy about a visit from the three European foreign ministers.

Officials said that busy travel schedules for Arens and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir are the reason why a firm date could not be set. Shamir is scheduled to visit the United States in mid-November.

The E.C. “troika” is expected to discuss with Klibi the recent proposal of French President Francois Mitterrand for an E.C. conference, to be held in Paris in December with participation of the 22 Arab League member states and the PLO.

Such a conference, by its very nature, excludes Israel.

The E.C. ministers are also expected to talk with Egyptian President Mubarak about his offer to host an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in Cairo, and about his differences with Israel over the plan, which the Europeans hope they can help bridge.

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