BRUSSELS (Apr. 18)
U.S. Secretary of State James Baker now says he wants the European Community to be “associated with” the proposed Middle East regional peace conference.
Baker was expected to try to sell the idea to Israeli leaders during meetings with them Friday in Jerusalem.
The secretary announced his position on a European role after meeting Wednesday evening in Luxembourg with the 12 E.C. foreign ministers. Afterward he left for Israel, the first stop on his latest Middle East junket, which will include visits to several Arab countries, as well.
Baker explained that he used the term “associated” because “it covers a wide range of possibilities.”
But one possibility, an Israeli offer to the Europeans of “observer status” at the conference, has been rejected by the E.C. leaders.
According to well-informed sources, Baker has proposed that the European Community cosponsor the regional peace conference, along with the United States and the Soviet Union. E.C. sources said Baker would try to persuade Israel that Europe could be helpful at the conference.
The sources quoted him as saying he would tell the Israelis that “Europe can contribute to advance the Mideast peace process and should be involved in it.”
Israel has always been suspicious of a European role because of what it perceives as a “pro-Palestinian” position in the E.C. The offer of “observer status,” which Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir made to European leaders in London earlier this week, was a concession.
In Israel’s view, the regional conference can be no more than a brief, ceremonial opener for parallel direct talks between Israel and the Arab states and Israelis and Palestinians.
Nevertheless, “the European Community wants to be an integral part of an eventual Mideast peace conference,” the prime minister of Luxembourg, Jacques Santer, told the European Parliament this week in Strasbourg, France.
“It can bring an important contribution to the peace process,” he said.
Luxembourg currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the E.C. Council of Ministers.