Europe remains cautious on endorsing Bush's Mideast peace plan

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European governments gave a guarded welcome Tuesday to President Bush's new Middle East peace plan, but did not endorse his call for a change at the top of the Palestine leadership.

"We will not demand that Arafat or any other leader in the region is removed," said Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who takes over the chairmanship of the European Union on July 1.

Other European leaders stressed that leadership changes could not be imposed upon the Palestinians.

"The Palestinian people alone must decide on its legitimate leadership," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said the EU was ready -- once again -- to help organize elections that would give the Palestinians "an opportunity to choose their leaders."

While diplomats said the EU continues to regard Arafat as the legitimate Palestinian leader, the Europeans have cooled toward him as suicide bombings continue Israel.

"I have the same opinion as the U.S president that Arafat has not done what he could do and should have done to stop the violence," said Denmark's Fogh Rasmussen.