EU ministers push for restart of Middle East talks


EU FOREIGN ministers have urged the bloc’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, to continue efforts to restart Middle East peace talks, amid fears that a debate on Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly this September could reveal EU divisions and add to international tensions.

“The EU reiterates its concern at the continuing stalemate in the peace process and calls on the parties to show the highest sense of responsibility and to resume direct and substantive talks,” the ministers said in a joint statement after a meeting in Brussels yesterday.

The discussion comes after the Quartet (EU, Russia, the UN and the US) met in Washington last week at foreign minister level, but failed to issue a final communique.

With ongoing differences also existing between EU member states, ministers appeared to buy time yesterday, saying greater clarity over the nature of the imminent Palestinian application for statehood was first needed.

“We don’t know what resolution there will be in September. We will have to wait and see what that is,” said Baroness Ashton.

In a recent interview, Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said he would submit the Palestinian bid in “the coming weeks”. Ireland is among European countries sympathetic to the application, with others including Belgium, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

“I would like, while I am Minister of Foreign Affairs, to have the privilege of recognising a Palestinian state,” Eamon Gilmore told journalists on the sidelines of the Brussels meeting. He said US elections towards the end of next year would increase the need for EU leadership on the subject.

“We are now into the run-up to the US election, which obviously makes United States involvement in the process more difficult and politically complicated. This is our burden now, our call. This is the role that the EU has to do. This is a very important function for European foreign policy.”

As well as discussing the ongoing turmoil in Syria and Libya, EU foreign ministers also debated proposals from the EU high representative, Baroness Ashton, for a greater sharing of resources in the area of common security and defence policy.

But plans for a single military operational headquarters were quickly rejected by the UK, despite strong support from Germany and France.

Those in favour of the idea felt “that each time you have the headquarters in a different country and then you finish the mission, maybe you lose the experience and expertise of that project,” Baroness Ashton said. “The alternative view is that actually it’s really important for member state assets to be used effectively, and having [several] headquarters … works really well.” The EU’s current anti-piracy operation for the Somali coast, Atalanta, is headquartered in the UK.

UK foreign secretary William Hague threatened to wield the country’s veto against any moves to create a single “operational military headquarters” that would “command and control” British troops.

“We will not agree to it now and we will not agree to it in the future. That is a red line,” he said.