NEWS

FM plans Middle East peace bid

Foreign Minister George Papandreou said yesterday he proposes to visit several Middle Eastern countries in a bid by the European Union presidency to bolster regional peace. The visit, which is expected to seek greater Arab involvement in mediating between Iraq and the USA, will probably take place in early February. Papandreou’s announcement came one week after Greece assumed the six-month, rotating EU presidency. «We want to promote peace, democracy, economic cooperation,» the minister said in a statement. «So I think it only appropriate that at the beginning of the six months I (should) make the tour.» The trip is expected to include Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian entity. «We very much want to see that… we can have a positive development with Iraq, that is the full implementation of the UN resolutions, and I think this is what will guarantee that we will have peace,» he said. European Affairs Minister Tassos Yiannitsis said the initiative was dictated by the Greek presidency’s «intention to investigate the situation in the region and coordinate European Union efforts to formulate a common position.» Today, Papandreou will meet in Athens with Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. A leading advocate of peace, friendship and multiculturalism in strife-ridden areas such as the former Yugoslavia, Papandreou has been credited with improving the tone of Greece’s relations with Turkey, and enjoyed a high-profile friendship with his former Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem. In an effort to cajole Israelis and Palestinians into settling their differences, Papandreou and Cem staged a joint visit to the Holy Land last April, meeting with Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.