Denmark, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, is unveiling a new three-stage Middle East peace initiative that foresees creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. The proposal is being discussed at an EU foreign ministers meeting that begins Friday outside Copenhagen. Denmark's foreign minister plans to travel to the Middle East next week for further talks on the plan.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller says he will present a 'road map' for Middle East peace to his EU counterparts during a two-day meeting at the Elsinore Castle that was immortalized in William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet.
Speaking to reporters on the eve of the meeting, Mr. Moeller said, if the rest of the EU agrees, he will leave next week on a tour that will take him first to the Middle East, then to the United States.
"The EU has to agree on the road map," he said. "Then I have to go and talk to the Palestinians and the Israelis and the Americans to present our ideas. That's my road map. Then I know how much they agree or disagree. First of all, we have to agree among ourselves that these are the right elements, and this is the way to go."
Mr. Moeller said his plan, which includes elements already circulated by the United States, Germany and Arab states, calls for a three-stage process leading to establishment of a full-fledged Palestinian state by 2005. He said the third stage, creation of a provisional Palestinian state, could begin as early as August of next year.
Other European diplomats who have seen the Danish plan say it is an attempt to push forward President Bush's vision of a Palestinian state within three years.
The EU foreign ministers will also take up several other thorny issues at their Elsinore Castle meeting. Among them is a request by the United States to negotiate agreements with individual EU countries on granting U.S. citizens exemptions from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court.
A legal opinion by the European Commission concluded that member states would violate the treaty establishing the court if they sign bilateral treaties exempting U.S. personnel from prosecution.
The Danish foreign minister said a team of 15 top EU legal experts is looking for a solution that would avoid a confrontation with the United States over the exemptions. But he pointed out the answer remains elusive.
"We have to find a solution that will ensure that Americans keep participating in peacekeeping operations around the world, while ensuring that the court will work efficiently," he said. "I have no solution. If I had one, I could send home those 15 experts."
Mr. Moeller said the EU ministers will also take up another sensitive subject, Iraq. He said that, as with other issues, no decisions will be made at this informal meeting. But the Danish minister emphasized that there is general agreement among European governments that pressure must be kept on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to allow United Nations weapons inspectors back into his country.