'Step by step'
EUROPEAN and American envoys were in Cairo this week to discuss the additional steps needed for greater progress to be made on the roadmap for Palestinian-Israeli peace. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns met separately with President Hosni Mubarak, as well as Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, on Tuesday. The US and the European Union are partners, along with Russia and the UN, in the diplomatic Quartet that drafted the roadmap initiative for the Palestinians and Israelis.
Fischer told reporters that Europe should play an "important role" in the implementation and monitoring of the roadmap, which would conclude with the creation of a Palestinian state by the year 2005.
For his part, Burns restated what he described as US President George W Bush's "strong personal determination to move ahead to implement the roadmap". Speaking to reporters after meeting with Mubarak, Burns added that Washington shares -- with Egypt -- a "sense of urgency about moving ahead". As a result, both countries will be working together "to take advantage of the opportunities that were opened up" at recent summ its in Egypt and Jordan.
US National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice will be arriving in the region this weekend for talks with the Palestinians and Israelis, hot on the heels of US Secretary of State Colin Powell's Middle East tour.
According to Burns, the Palestinians have already taken "some significant steps on reform", and Israel has moved towards dismantling some illegal Jewish settlements. Cairo has been playing a key role in trying to negotiate a truce by Palestinian factions, in order to further facilitate the Palestinian leadership's work in honouring its part of the roadmap.
All players agree that violence by both sides needs to stop in order to clear the air for negotiations. "We should combine our efforts within the Quartet with moderate Arab states to implement the roadmap," noted Fischer. "Implementation step by step will lead us to find a settlement."
As an incentive for regional players to come on board the latest peace initiative, the US has promised to establish a Free Trade Area between the US and the Middle East within 10 years. "It's going to require some very difficult choices and effort," Burns said. "First and foremost from the peoples and leaderships in the region -- in their own self-interest and not as a favour to the US." He stressed his country's determination to "work hard" with interested governments in the region.