European ministers, Islamic leaders meet

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- European foreign ministers meeting with their counterparts from the Islamic world outlined a Mideast peace plan Tuesday that would call for the immediate recognition of a Palestinian state -- a position at odds with U.S. policy.

The United States maintains that a Palestinian crackdown on militants and a cease-fire must come before peace proposals can be seriously considered.

The European proposal would "consider a Palestinian state not as the end of the process but as the beginning of something," said Josep Pique i Camps, foreign minister of Spain which holds the rotating European Union presidency.

The summit of 72 countries from Europe and the Organization of the lslamic Conference aims to bridge gaps between the Muslim world and the West in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The two-day meeting began Tuesday and almost at once took on the contentious Mideast conflict.

"The Europeans think there is no solution in the current policies of the Israeli government," said French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, who formulated the Mideast plan.

During a White House visit last week, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he accepted Palestinian statehood in principle, but has cautioned the road to peace is likely to last years, or even a generation. He has said all attacks must stop before a cease-fire can be discussed.

Turning to the U.S. war on terrorism, many Islamic ministers, while expressing sympathy with Washington over the Sept. 11 attacks, said that U.S. policies after Sept. 11 were more likely to divide than unite.

Iraq and Iran, two countries branded part of an "axis of evil" by President Bush, sent their foreign ministers to the meeting.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said there was "global sympathy for the American nation" after Sept. 11, but he accused the U.S. administration of "trying to bank on this" to further its interests.

But Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah, who uses only one name, said the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan had shown that when terrorism "is fought with the will of the international community ... it can be defeated."

Arab leaders said that definitions of what constitutes terrorism made it harder to solve the region's problems.

There is a "need to differentiate between terrorism and the legitimate struggle of people against foreign occupation," said Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud, in a reference to the Palestinian uprising. He also condemned what he called "Israel's blatant state terrorism."

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