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EU Distances Itself From Poll on Israel - 2003-11-03

An opinion poll of citizens throughout the 15-nation European Union has found that more people believe Israel is a threat to world peace than any other country. The European Union has tried to disassociate itself from the poll, saying the results of the survey will not affect its policies toward the Middle East.

The poll, conducted by the Gallup Europe organization, was released in its entirety, although parts of it dealing with European attitudes toward the Iraq war and its aftermath were leaked last week to the Spanish daily El Pais.

Pollsters gave the 7,500 people whose answers they tallied a list of 15 countries and asked them which ones they thought represented a danger to world peace.

Fifty-nine percent put Israel in that category, followed by 53 percent who pointed to the United States, Iran and North Korea as being threats to peace. Fifty-two percent selected Iraq, and 50 percent cited Afghanistan as threats.

Israel has reacted to the findings of the poll with what a statement from its mission to the European Union calls sadness and outrage. The Israeli statement blames opinion molders for the results, saying the country's struggle for peace and security has been distorted by one-sided and emotionally charged coverage in the European news media.

The European Commission, which runs day-to-day EU affairs, and sponsored the poll as part of a series of surveys on European attitudes, sought to play down the significance of the results.

Commission spokesman Gerassimos Thomas, said Israel's anger was legitimate, but refused any further comment except to say that EU policies are not affected by poll findings. "It is not our task to interpret each and every survey or to draw up policy on the basis of surveys. The surveys are there, and you can use them as you feel fit," he said.

Italy, which holds the rotating EU presidency, has also tried to disassociate the European Union from the poll, saying the opinions of the citizens who selected Israel as a threat to world peace do not reflect the bloc's position.

Israel's ambassador to Italy, Ehud Gol, told the Rome newspaper Il Messaggero that the poll results could have significant diplomatic consequences. He says it will now be more difficult for the European Union to play a part in the Roadmap peace process, in which it is engaged along with the United States, the United Nations and Russia.

Commission spokesman Thomas brushed off that idea, saying the European Union has the trust of all of its partners.

Asked why the Palestinian Authority was not included among the 15 countries from which respondents chose those they view as threats to peace, Mr. Thomas answered that the Palestinian Authority is not a country.

The controversial poll also found that close to two-thirds of EU citizens believe the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was not justified, and that the United States should have to pay the bill for the country's reconstruction.