Foreign Minister Cowen leaves for Middle East


The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen, leaves today for a five-day visit to the Middle East.

Mr Cowen travels from Brussels to Cairo today. He is expected to meet Egyptian President Mr Hosni Mubarak tomorrow, along with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mr Ahmen Maher and the secretary-general of the Arab League Mr Amr Moussa.

He is due to fly from Cairo to Tel Aviv tomorrow night, where he will be dining with Israeli Foreign Minister Mr Shimon Peres.

Mr Cowen is also expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Mr Shimon Peres, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Syrian Foreign Mnister Farouq Shara’a and Lebanese Foreign Minister Mr Mahmud Hammud over the course of his visit to the area.

Mr Cowen is expected to strongly encourage the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to engage directly in negotiations, to bring the violence to an end and to implement the report of the international committee chaired by Senator George Mitchell. The report calls for an immediate end to violence, followed by confidence-building measures such as a halt to the construction of Israeli settlements and the resumption of IsraeliPalestinian security co-operation.

It is understood that, while pressing the Palestinian leadership for a "major effort" to curb violence, the Minister will point out the need for parallel and simultaneous moves on the Israeli side, e.g., a freeze on settlements, restoration of revenues to the Palestinian Authority and other measures to ease the tension.