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EU Urges Israel to Allow Arafat to Attend Arab Summit - 2002-03-11

European Union foreign ministers have welcomed Israel's announcement that it will lift the travel ban on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, saying he should be allowed to travel to an Arab summit in Beirut later this month. The ministers are also calling on Iraq to allow United Nations weapons inspectors into the country as soon as possible, despite indications Baghdad is not prepared to do so.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique said the EU is pleased at Israel's decision to allow Mr. Arafat to move freely after keeping him under virtual house arrest for the past three months. "We welcome this decision, although we would say that as soon as he gets that freedom of movement, the better. Nor should it just be restricted to Palestinian territory," he said.

Mr. Pique, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, says it is especially important for Mr. Arafat to attend an Arab League summit this month in Beirut where a Saudi peace plan for the region will be discussed. That plan calls for Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from Arab land it occupied after 1967.

"I think we can also welcome the Israeli decision not to insist on the seven days of total calm condition in order to make progress on a possible cease-fire. That, of course, is more necessary than ever now," he said.

But the EU also insists that the Palestinian Authority must increase its efforts to combat violence, especially terrorist acts directed against Israelis. Mr. Pique says the EU will coordinate closely with the United States to at least achieve a cease-fire

The ministers also insist Iraq allow U.N. weapons inspectors into the country. Mr. Pique implies Baghdad should be given some time to do so, but not very much. And he admits there is not much the E.U. can do if Iraq refuses outright to comply with the U.N. resolutions mandating such inspections.