EU, Islamic nations want conflicts to end

Thursday, February 14, 2002

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- European and Islamic countries looking to improve relations after the Sept. 11 attacks agreed Wednesday that a settlement of the Mideast conflict was key to preventing Muslim resentment of the West. But the two groups split on whether Israel should be condemned.

In the first meeting of its kind, government ministers of 72 countries from Europe and the Organization of the Islamic Conference held a two-day summit here in a former Ottoman palace overlooking the Bosporus, the strait that divides Europe and Asia.

"History has taught us that the lack of mutual knowledge and respect among civilizations can greatly affect world stability and peace," the nations said in a final statement.

The summit addressed many topics, but the Israel-Palestinian conflict took center stage.

The countries "underlined that for peace, stability and harmony to prevail, the Middle East conflict must be settled in a just and comprehensive manner," the final statement said.

Increase in Muslim bias

But the statement did not include the condemnation of Israeli military action against Palestinian targets that most Islamic delegations wanted. European countries and host-nation Turkey were opposed to criticizing a country that was not present to defend itself, a European Union diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Islamic nations called for deeper EU involvement in efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On Tuesday, European officials outlined a French-drafted Mideast proposal that calls for the immediate recognition of a Palestinian state -- a plan at odds with the U.S. position.

Many Islamic countries voiced concerns that bias against Muslims had increased since the attacks in New York and Washington. They also criticized close U.S. ties with Israel, as well as President Bush's description of Iraq and Iran as forming part of an "axis of evil."

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