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European Leaders Welcome US Re-engagement in Mideast Peace - 2002-06-25

European leaders have welcomed U.S. President George W. Bush's speech on Israel and the Palestinians as a sign of American re-engagement in the Middle East peace process. But they do not agree with Mr. Bush's contention that the Palestinians must choose new leadership that is uncompromised by terrorism.

European politicians say it is up to the Palestinians to choose their own leadership. British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed with Mr. Bush that Yasser Arafat had let the Palestinian people down. But neither Mr. Blair nor any other European official was prepared to call for Mr. Arafat's removal.

Sweden's Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh, said Mr Bush's statement that Mr. Arafat has to go is unacceptable and politically unwise.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana did not mention the Palestinian leader in saying the EU shares Washington's vision of Israel and Palestine coexisting peacefully. And he called for an international peace conference to be held in the near future.

French Foreign Minister Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin said it is clear that the Palestinians must reform their administration, but added the choice of who will lead is up to them alone.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said his country welcomes the American willingness to recognize a Palestinian state if there are rapid reforms. And he praised President Bush for his commitment to peace. Like the others, Mr. Fischer said only the Palestinians can choose their legitimate leadership.