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Germany Prepares Mideast Peace Initiative - 2002-04-09

Germany has put the crisis in the Middle East at the top of its diplomatic agenda by preparing a peace initiative to present to the European Union next week and broaching the subject with the visiting presidents of both Russia and China.

In the past when Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited Berlin, they have commended Germany for its even-handed approach.

Now the Germans are trying to turn this goodwill to advantage by taking the initiative in trying to get the Middle East Peace process back on track.

In a speech to German military officers Tuesday, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he could envisage a United Nations-sanctioned military deployment to help solve the conflict, because the two sides no longer have the strength to solve the problem on their own. He also said the two sides should be separated.

The chancellor said this is a personal view, which still needs further discussion by the German government.

Mr. Schroeder afterwards discussed the situation in the Middle East with Chinese President Jiang Zemin who is visiting Berlin and was expected to speak of the matter again with visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin later in the day in the German city of Weimar.

A source in the chancellor's office said the two presidents are in Germany on unrelated state visits and are not scheduled to meet.

But the German and Chinese leaders agreed on the need for an early cease-fire in the Middle East and for talks in which the Israelis and Palestinians are equal partners.

In a separate meeting with Chinese Deputy premier Qian Qichen, the source said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer outlined a seven-point plan for the Middle East which he intends to put to European Union foreign ministers in Madrid as the basis for a common European position.

The plan has already been discussed with Secretary of State Colin Powell, the foreign ministers of Russia, Spain and France and the Secretary General of the United Nations.

According to a press report detailing the plan, the peace process would be supported and guaranteed by the European Union, the United States, the U.N. and Russia and involve Israel's withdrawal to lines close to the pre-1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Definitive borders would be agreed within two years, and Jerusalem would be established as the capital of both nations.

Israel would be responsible for defending itself against terror attacks inside the new borders. Along with full normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours, the press report says, the plan says Palestine would have to be established as a democratic state. That is because Fischer believes the two sides will only be able to live next to each other if they have similar political systems.