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Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 20:09 GMT
EU split on Middle East
Militants firing into the air in Palestine
There is consensus the US approach is failing

European Union Foreign ministers say it is too soon for the EU to come up with a unified plan for a new political initiative in the Middle East.

EU foreign ministers, currently meeting in the Spanish city of Caceres, spent several hours discussing the Middle East, and there was a consensus that the American approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not working.

Spain, the current president of the EU, is to draw up a series of proposals which will be presented to another meeting in Brussels later this month.

Washington agrees with Israel that security is the main issue, but the EU says it wants to put politics back at centre stage and provide a real alternative to violence.

Mixed opinion

A range of ideas are under discussion, including early recognition of a Palestinian state and an international conference on economic development.

Jack Straw
Straw is due to visit the Middle East in a few days

But Europe is not yet speaking with one voice - it rarely can.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said it was too early to agree on specific measures.

Both he and his German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, will be in the Middle East in a few days time to assess the situation there.

Others are eager for rapid progress, with one senior EU official saying "we can't wait for the door to open, we have to push it open ourselves".

But the Americans have already dismissed specific French proposals for political change as a distraction.

It will not be easy for the EU to come up with a viable plan which generates real change in the Middle East, but it is going to try.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Chris Morris in Caceres
"Europe is not yet speaking with one voice"
See also:

14 Jan 02 | Middle East
UN impotence over Mid-East crisis
14 Jan 02 | Middle East
Europe seeks elusive Mid-East peace
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