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US, EU Envoys Tour Middle East - 2002-05-30


U.S. Envoy William Burns and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana are on what they call "exploratory missions" in the Mideast in an effort to re-launch peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Both men met in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher.

The top foreign policy official in the European Union, Javier Solana, says peace in the Middle East will depend on developments on three fronts.

He says there must be a renewed effort to find a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. He says the Palestinians must also be supported in their efforts to build a strong infrastructure in preparation for statehood. Finally, the EU official says Palestinians must improve their performance on security issues.

Envoy William Burns says the months of fighting have had a devastating effect on Palestinians. "The humanitarian problems, the daily humiliations that ordinary Palestinians suffer under occupation, are getting worse every day," he said. "It is time for all of us to try very hard to restore a sense of hope in a political resolution and a sense of hope for both Israelis and Palestinians that they can gain the security and the hope for the future that they deserve."

Mr. Burns says he is attempting to coordinate efforts to promote simultaneous political negotiations throughout the region in anticipation of a possible peace conference sometime this summer.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher says he believes the biggest hurdle in the peace process will be convincing Israeli negotiators of the need for a two-state solution. "I think the most difficult issue may be in the minds of the Israeli negotiators that they finally recognize there is only one solution, which is a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel living in peace and cooperation," he said. "I still believe there are lingering rejections in some Israeli minds of this reality. Until they are convinced this is the only way out it will be difficult to negotiate."

But Mr. Maher says he believes all issues in the peace process can successfully be negotiated "as long as Israel fully recognizes Yasser Arafat as the legitimate, elected leader of the Palestinians."

Mr. Maher said the meetings are also intended to brief Egyptian President Mubarak on peace efforts in the region before his trip next week to Washington.

CIA chief George Tenet is expected to arrive in the region in the next few days for what has been described as "widespread consultations on the issue of security."

After their meeting with Egyptian officials, Mr. Burns and Mr. Solana left Cairo for talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Friday, they are to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

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