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The BBC's Bill Hayton
"Jack Straw is less enthusiastic about joining the single currency"
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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Straw's Europe debut
Jack Straw, left, with EU commissioner Chris Patten
There was at least one familiar face for Jack Straw
Newly appointed Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has pledged to adopt an approach of "constructive engagement" in Europe.

He said: "I've learnt over the last four years as a justice and home affairs minister that we could do a huge amount for the interests of the United Kingdom as well as for the interests of the European Union by constructive engagement with the European Union and that is exactly what I'm going to be doing today."

We set out very clearly our position on the euro... the position remains unchanged

Jack Straw
Arriving for a meeting with his EU counterparts he sought to dampen down press speculation that he was more sceptical about Britain joining single currency than his predecessor Robin Cook

Mr Straw said: "We set out very clearly our position on the euro... the position remains unchanged."

Mr Straw, who replaced Mr Cook in Prime Minister Tony Blair's post-election cabinet reshuffle, is attending a meeting of 15 EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

The meeting will consider various issues facing member states, such as the ongoing conflict in Macedonia and Ireland's rejection of EU enlargement in a referendum.

Peace in the Middle East will also be high on the agenda, with both the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, and the Palestinian Minister for International Cooperation, Nabil Shaath, expected to attend.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Jack Straw took over from Robin Cook as foreign secretary
The meeting of ministers is due to discuss the fighting in Macedonia, where ethnic Albanian rebels are threatening to attack the capital, Skopje, unless the government meets their demands.

Ireland's rejection, in a referendum, of a treaty paving the way for enlargement of the EU, will also need to be addressed.

Mr Straw and his fellow foreign ministers will consider the legal and political implications of the Irish vote.

But the commission has already issued a statement insisting that EU enlargement remains on course.

"The member states and the commission will pursue the enlargement negotiations with undiminished vigour and determination, in line with our firm commitment given to the applicant countries," it said.

Renewed effort

Europe's focus on the Middle East comes as part of a renewed effort to ensure that the recent fragile truce between Israel and the Palestinians holds.

I think if all of us will coordinate in a positive manner we may bring the Middle East again to the port of negotiations

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres
It is not clear whether Mr Peres and Mr Shaath will hold face-to-face talks, or instead hold separate meetings with EU ministers.

The Swedish Prime Minister, Goran Persson, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, and the EU's Foreign Policy chief, Javier Solana, met both sides in Jerusalem on Sunday.

"I think if all of us will coordinate in a positive manner we may bring the Middle East again to the port of negotiations in order to attain a real and durable peace," said Mr Peres after meeting Mr Persson and Mr Solana.

During separate talks, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat told reporters he remained committed to the truce.

Following the meetings, Mr Persson called for the creation of an international coalition to bolster the truce between Israel and the Palestinians.

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See also:

10 Jun 01 | Middle East
Cautious welcome for US truce plan
08 Jun 01 | Europe
Ireland rejects EU expansion
30 Apr 01 | Euro-glossary
Nice Treaty
30 Apr 01 | Euro-glossary
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