BRUSSELS  — The European Union said it will not participate in the US-backed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority due to start on Thursday in Washington.

A spokesman for the bloc's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she will be in Beijing meeting with Chinese leaders at that time. Spokesman Darren Ennis also said "for the EU as a whole, the focus is on a successful outcome of the talks (and not) on the choreography or who goes to Washington."

Ennis was responding to a statement Friday by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who said it would be "too bad" if the EU were locked out of the peace process.

Ennis said "the spotlight should be firmly focused on the talks themselves."

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