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US, EU Leaders Encouraged by Middle East Developments - 2001-12-20

U.S. and European Union leaders meeting in Washington say they are encouraged by the latest developments in the Middle East, where Israeli-Palestinian violence has subsided. Secretary of State Colin Powell will meet U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni Thursday to discuss a resumption of his Israeli-Palestinian truce mission.

The United States and European Union have often differed on the tactics, if not the strategy, for achieving a Middle East peace.

But they have stepped up efforts to coordinate policy in recent weeks, capped by Wednesday's meeting here between Secretary Powell and a delegation led by Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt in his capacity as EU President.

Meeting reporters after the talks here, both Mr. Powell and the Belgian leader welcomed what they said were positive signs from the region in recent days, including the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian security talks.

Mr. Verhofstadt said the two sides have a common position on the Middle East situation, including the need for pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to fully carry out the crackdown on terrorism he promised in a speech Sunday. Mr. Verhofstadt said, "It is very important to us the speech, the intervention, of Mr. Arafat. And secondly also a few signs that it is going in a better direction, a few steps that are going in a good direction. I think what I have underlined here is the absolute necessity that we continue to pressure both parties, but certainly Chairman Arafat to go [ahead] in implementing everything he has said in his speech.

Secretary Powell said the two sides also agree that Israel should respond to moves against extremist elements by Mr. Arafat by easing restrictions on the everyday lives of the Palestinians, who he said are existing in "very, very difficult circumstances."

The Secretary said he would meet Thursday with U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni, who was recalled to Washington late last week after an unsuccessful effort to broker an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.

He said Mr. Zinni, a former commander of U.S. military forces in the Middle East, remains "on the case and on the job" despite his return and he looked forward to an opportunity to send him back to the area to resume the quest for a truce.