EU to conduct talks with Israel, Arab countries

Against the backdrop of the brittle Gaza Strip cease-fire, the EU will open two days of talks with Israel and its Arab neighbors on Monday to preserve what remains of the Middle East peace process and push ahead with broad economic assistance to boost chances for peace. Given the bleak situation in the Middle East, diplomats said the gathering of foreign ministers may not produce a joint statement, leaving it to Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, the meeting's chairman, to sum up his impressions afterward. Finland, which holds the EU presidency, has pushed hard for a declaration "but it has been impossible to agree on common language," said an Israeli diplomat, who asked not to be identified because the issue is politically very sensitive.