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Page last updated at 15:19 GMT, Monday, 4 May 2009 16:19 UK

Italy urges better EU-Israel ties

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (left) and his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini in Rome
Mr Lieberman's (left) European tour is his first such trip as foreign minister

Italy has said ties between Israel and the EU must be strengthened if the EU wants to play a "major role" in the Middle East peace process.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini was speaking after talks in Rome with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman.

Mr Lieberman's visit comes amid tense relations between the EU and Israel.

Israel's new government has resisted EU calls to endorse a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians

During his European tour, Mr Lieberman is also scheduled to visit France, Germany and the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

'Concrete results'

"What they call the upgrading between Europe and Israel must not stop because that way Europe can play a major role [in the Middle East peace process]," Mr Frattini said at a joint news conference with Mr Lieberman.

This government's goal is not [to] produce slogans or make pompous declarations, but to reach concrete results
Avigdor Lieberman
Israeli Foreign Minister

The Israeli minister also backed the call for better relations between his country and the 27-member strong bloc.

But Mr Lieberman said a rapprochement "should not be tied to other issues".

An ultra-nationalist Jewish settler in the occupied West Bank, Mr Lieberman skirted around the key issue of a Palestinian state.

"This government's goal is not [to] produce slogans or make pompous declarations, but to reach concrete results," he said after being asked if he would ever endorse a Palestinian state.

There have been mounting calls in Europe to suspend a planned upgrade in relations with Israel until its new cabinet publicly expresses support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If the suspension goes ahead, Israel's foreign ministry has warned the EU it could lose its role as a broker in Middle East peace efforts, the BBC's Katya Adler in Jerusalem says.

Avigdor Lieberman has sparked controversy at home and abroad, with his fiery rhetoric.

The focus of his trip to Europe is to emphasise Israel's message that a nuclear Iran would be dangerous for the world at large, not just Israel, our correspondent says.

She adds that he could well ruffle some feathers in Europe. But at the same time Israel's President Shimon Peres has been sent to the US - Israel's closest ally - to calm concerns.



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