Lieberman in Italy in first foreign visit


ROME (JTA) — Europe can play a major role in the Middle East peace process if Israel and the European Union strengthen ties, Italy’s foreign minister said.

Franco Frattini and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met Monday in Rome, the first stop on Lieberman’s first official trip abroad since taking up his Cabinet post.

Lieberman said after the foreign ministers’ meeting that Iran was the biggest problem for the Middle East.

Before Lieberman’s departure for Rome Sunday night, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told the French news agency AFP that Lieberman "will ask that the Europeans wait a bit until the government presents its new policy" on peacemaking.

Frattini told the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot that if Israel wanted continued Italian support in Europe, the hard-line Lieberman should "lower the tone of his statements and work for a climate of collaboration."

Italy is one of Israel’s closest allies in Europe. Left-wing and pro-Palestinian groups are planning sit-ins and other protests during Lieberman’s visit.

During his five-day trip Lieberman also will visit France, Germany and the Czech Republic, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union.

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