Solana close 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is no stranger to the region, but his discussions with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem on Wednesday are particularly timely, coming a few weeks before he is set to brief the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany on contacts with Iran aimed at halting the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.
Solana's conclusions, together with a separate report by UN atomic energy agency head Mohamed Elbaradei, will be crucial to deciding whether new sanctions are slapped on Iran, which the West fears is trying to covertly develop a nuclear weapon.
Solana is pressing for another meeting with Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili, a close ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, before he briefs the UN ambassadors of the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany.
Unlike ElBaradei, Solana is not expected to write a detailed report. He is likely to either send a letter or phone the six envoys.
Israeli officials have been issuing outspoken attacks over the last few weeks on Elbaradei, whom they see as soft on the Iranians and allowing them to play for time. But European diplomats expect Solana to take a tougher position, and to highlight Teheran's public refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
Solana has been trying since June 2006, without success, to convince Iran to resume talks on suspending uranium enrichment in exchange for a package of political and economic incentives.
Despite the importance Jerusalem attaches to the Iranian question, Solana's main purpose in visiting now is to let the parties in the region know that Europe is 100 percent behind Annapolis and efforts to breathe new life into the diplomatic process.
Speaking at a news conference with Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Ahmed Qurei in Ramallah on Tuesday, Solana said a positive outcome to the conference in Annapolis, expected to convene this month, was vital.
"It has to be a success," Solana said. "I don't want to say that it's not difficult, it will be difficult, but I think it's doable, it is possible."
"Syria will be invited, Egypt will be invited," Solana said. "We hope that that all those who are invited will come."
On December 17 the EU will host a donors conference in Paris to boost financial support for the PA. Above and beyond political support, the EU and EU member states are by far the largest financial contributors to the Palestinians. Over recent years, the EU has also had a presence on the ground, via the EU COPPS program to train the PA police force, and the EUBAM border monitors at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, although this program was suspended after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June.
Also on the agenda during Solana's talks will be the UNIFIL 2 peacekeeping mission in South Lebanon. Although the force is under the auspices of the UN, EU member states including Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands contribute a majority of the soldiers.
EU officials denied Israeli media reports on Tuesday that the UNIFIL mandate may not be extended if the political instability in Lebanon continues. Javier Solana's spokeswoman Christina Gallach told The Jerusalem Post that nobody was considering any such thing.
"The EU considers UNIFIL 2 an operation that is successful and necessary. The member states will continue to contribute as long as the Lebanese want it," Gallach said.
Israeli officials also expressed doubt over the accuracy of the media reports.
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