EU's Ashton in Cairo for talks on Mideast peace

AP News
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Posted: Sep 12, 2011 5:33 PM
EU's Ashton in Cairo for talks on Mideast peace

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Monday urged a return to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, according to a statement, as Palestinians pressed ahead with an initiative to win recognition of statehood from the United Nations.

Ashton discussed the issue with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr and said European countries have differing views on the Palestinian U.N. initiative, according to Egyptian government spokesman Amr Rushdi.

Ashton said the EU has not formulated a position because there is no Palestinian resolution on the table, the statement said,

She added, "What we're very clear about from the European Union is that the way forward is negotiations."

Rushdi said Amr told Ashton that Arabs support the Palestinian drive because negotiations have not resulted in peace.

The Palestinian Authority is pushing for statehood recognition after years of fruitless peace talks. The most recent round of negotiations came to a standstill a year ago year in a dispute over Israeli settlement construction.

Arab League foreign ministers, scheduled to meet Tuesday, have long criticized what they see as unilateral steps taken by Israel to continue settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim told a late Monday night consultation session he hoped the gathering would support the Arab plan to take the Palestinian bid for statehood to the U.N. General Assembly. He did not mention the option of taking a resolution to the Security Council and forcing the U.S. to fulfill its pledge to cast a veto.

"We will review in this meeting the steps taken to go to the U.N., because this is an Arab demand," he said.

The EU chief is in Cairo meeting with Arab foreign ministers and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of the Arab League meeting. She is expected to urge Abbas to relaunch negotiations with Israel.

Earlier this month Ashton said the EU's 28 members were united "over the most critical issue, which is to try to get the talks moving," and reiterated the bloc's position that Israeli settlement building in the occupied territories is illegal under international law.

Israel and the U.S. oppose the Palestinian U.N. initiative, saying a state must be established through negotiations. The U.S. said it would veto a Palestinian membership request at the Security Council.

Without a Security Council recommendation to the General Assembly, Palestinians cannot be admitted as a member state in the U.N.

Palestinians, who hold observer status at the UN, may opt instead to submit a statehood recognition request to the U.N. General Assembly _ a largely symbolic move.

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Additional reporting from Sarah El Deeb.