German FM hopeful of 'fresh start' in Mideast peace

7th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

Steinmeier arrived in Israel early on Monday at the start of a two-day tour that will also take him to Syria and Lebanon.

Jerusalem -- Germany's foreign minister hopes for a "fresh start" in the Middle East peace process thanks to strong new US support for a two-state solution, he said on Monday as he kicked off a regional tour.

"I hope we are on the verge of a fresh start, a fresh start that has been made possible by the initiative of the US president -- a decisive, fervent call for a two-state solution made not only to Israel and the Palestinians but also to the Arab neighbours," Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters.

"We must work toward having the moderate Arab states participate in this task," he said ahead of talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

"I believe that is also the point of view behind the new initiative of the American president (Barack Obama). And we, from the German and of course European side, want to do everything we can to support this initiative."

Steinmeier also met senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and was due to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Peres told Steinmeier that Netanyahu's conditional endorsement of the creation of a Palestinian state last month signalled that the hawkish leader "wants peace and is ready to start negotiations with the Palestinians."

Steinmeier arrived in Israel early on Monday at the start of a two-day tour that will also take him to Syria and Lebanon.

His stop in Jerusalem comes the same day as a meeting in London between Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and US Middle East envoy George Mitchell amid friction between the two close allies over Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Steinmeier acknowledged the issue of settlements would be "the most difficult part" of talks with the Israelis but said there was no way around the subject.

"We all know that there can be no progress with a view to a two-state solution in the region without changes to settlement policy," he said.

Steinmeier said Europe and Germany had a crucial role to play in laying the groundwork for a Middle East peace backed by Arab neighbours, and that "Germany has a voice that is heard in the entire region".

"I will continue to press for Israel's difficult neighbours -- in Syria and in Lebanon -- to participate constructively in these efforts toward a two-state solution. If that is successful, it will be to the advantage of all in the region."

Social Democrat Steinmeier, who is also vice chancellor and is challenging Christian Democrat Chancellor Angela Merkel in a September general election, is on his 14th Middle East tour since taking office in November 2005 in a left-right government.

Berlin has described the absence of violence surrounding the Lebanese elections on June 7 and improved relations between Lebanon and Syria as factors that present a "window of opportunity" that Europe must help to seize.

Such steps include building roads, schools and power plants for the Palestinians and training local security forces to help prepare for eventual statehood.

Erakat said he had thanked Steinmeier for Europe's substantial assistance.

"Europe plays a major role in helping peace between Palestinians and Israelis and institution-building, reform, accountability and transparency in the Palestinian Authority," he said.

During his stop in Damascus Tuesday, Steinmeier is to hold talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem and President Bashar al-Assad, before meeting Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and prime minister designate Saad Hariri in Beirut.

Deborah Cole/AFP/Expatica

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