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Israel FM Seeks 'More Balanced Attitude' from EU - 2003-11-17

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, in Brussels for talks with his counterparts from the European Union, says the 15-nation bloc must take what he calls a more balanced attitude in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if it wants to play a bigger role in Middle East peacemaking.

Israel has long maintained that the EU is too pro-Palestinian and that it should play only a limited role in the search for Middle East peace. Its concerns were heightened recently by an EU-sponsored public opinion poll showing that 59 percent of the bloc's citizens consider the Jewish state as the greatest threat to world peace.

Although EU officials have played down the poll results, calling them flawed, Mr. Shalom considers them to be an indication of rising anti-Jewish feeling in Europe.

Most European leaders publicly deny that there has been an upsurge in anti-Jewish sentiment. But French President Jacques Chirac summoned an urgent cabinet meeting Monday to discuss the problem following an arson attack on a Jewish school in a Paris suburb.

French authorities have linked a series of attacks in recent years on Jewish targets to televised images of Israel's crackdown on the Palestinians, a phenomenon they say enrages young Arabs living in France.

While Mr. Shalom was calling for a more balanced EU attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the EU was preparing to issue a statement criticizing Israel's policy of boycotting its Middle East envoy, Marc Otte, since he met in September with Mr. Arafat.

The statement, scheduled to be issued on Tuesday, was also likely to chide Israel for its plans to build a security barrier separating Israel from Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has flown to Rome to enlist Italy's help in fending off any EU statement critical of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch supporter of Israel, is at odds with most of his colleagues over EU policy toward the Jewish state. But his country holds the EU's rotating presidency and sets the agenda for EU meetings and, therefore, might be able to block, or at least tone down, any criticism of Israel.

The EU foreign ministers were also discussing Iran's nuclear program and security in Iraq and preparing for a meeting on Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The ministers welcomed plans to accelerate the handover of power in Iraq from the U.S.-led coalition to Iraqi citizens and stressed what they called the vital role of the United Nations in rebuilding the country.

On Iran, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says the Islamic Republic has been honest so far in its nuclear dealings with the international community but should now implement a deal it reached with three EU foreign ministers last month to halt uranium enrichment and open up its nuclear sites to snap inspections.

Mr. Solana told reporters before meeting Iran's top national security official, Hassan Rohani, that he hopes the International Atomic Energy Agency will not report Iran to the United Nations Security Council, where it could be exposed to sanctions.