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EU Chief Blasts Israel Policy of Boycotting Arafat

Solana Blasts Israel’s Policy of Boycotting Arafat


‘Brussels, not Rome, sets EU-Israel policy’

European Union’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Tuesday sharply criticized Israel’s policy of boycotting officials who have met with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, saying it contravened the rules of diplomacy.

“When you have somebody there whose main task is to go back and forth between the two sides and he is not received by one of the sides, it’s rather bizarre,” Solano told journalists in Rome where he was attending an EU troika meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

"It's not a good diplomatic act to say to a country whom you can see and whom you can't see," he added.

Solana’s own special envoy Marc Otte has been cold-shouldered by Israeli officials since a meeting last month with the Palestinian leader who they insist is the main obstacle to peace.

"Israel might not want to see Arafat, and that's their prerogative, but they have to know that this is not the rules of diplomacy."

Nevertheless, Solana said he believed the problem could be “overcome” when Prime Minister Sharon and his Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom visit Europe early next week for talks with EU officials.

Separately on Tuesday, Solana said Brussels, not Rome, sets the bloc’s agenda and denied Israel could be getting a mixed message because of dissonant noises from current EU president Italy, Reuters reported from Rome.

Italy’s recent contrasting foreign policy comments have highlighted the sometimes difficult relationship between Brussels and the rotating EU presidency, which will be held by Italy until January.

"The official message is the message given by me, by the European Union," Solana said during an interview with two news agencies in Rome.

"No third country has any doubt about the European Union position... since most of the positions are written beforehand," he added.

Last week, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini called Israel’s construction of its Apartheid Wall through occupied territory an act of self-defense even though the EU has consistently opposed it, raising questions about who influences policy.

"Our position is clear," Solana said. "We do not think this (the wall) is the appropriate thing to do ... considering that this is dividing cities and people".

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