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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Debates Assigning Mideast Envoy

LUXEMBOURG -- Despite misgivings in Israel and the United States, as well as in their own ranks, the European Union foreign ministers Monday debated whether to appoint a special EU envoy to the Middle East.

The move reflected a sentiment in many European capitals that since the EU is the biggest Palestinian aid donor -- $630 million from 1994 to 1998 -- it must have a bigger say in the U.S.-run peace process.

Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes said Spain would propose its ambassador to Israel, Miguel Angel Moratinos, as the EU's Mideast envoy.

But first, the EU must assess if there is enough support in its 15 capitals to raise Europe's profile in the region in support of the brittle peace process there, officials said.

Last week, French President Jacques Chirac toured several Middle Eastern countries, pressing above all French views on achieving peace.

Britain wants a more comprehensive EU Mideast policy blueprint before sending a special envoy

"We must not just appoint a special representative and then try and work out what he's going to do," British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said before Monday's meeting.

Last week he said Chirac was not advancing peace by competing with the United States but backed Chirac's view the onus to move the peace process ahead lay with Israel.

Matutes said that by sending a special envoy, the EU did not intend "to be against somebody, but to be there just for peace, in a complementary role of the United States."

"Europe has a great interest in the region and it should have a real say in the region," said Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen.

The EU debate came a day after talks on withdrawing Israeli troops from the West Bank town of Hebron collapsed, raising questions about the future of overall the peace process.

The Hebron talks deal with security for 450 Jewish settlers living amid 94,000 Palestinians. Israel's previous government had agreed to a troop redeployment but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks a renegotiation.

The foreign ministers were to meet here with Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa.

Israel is not keen on the EU carving out a role for itself in the peace process. It has long seen the EU as too pro-Arab.

Chirac reinforced that view when he praised Syrian President Hafez Assad, called Iraq a "great country," snubbed Israel by not addressing the Knesset, called for a Palestinian state and urged Israel to return of the Golan Heights to Syria.

The United States, too, has its misgivings. Secretary of State Warren Christopher has written to EU leaders with the request not to expand their political role in the peace process.

But the EU wants to see its massive aid to the Palestinians reflected in more political clout.

In the words of Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring, it was "the EU's intention to make an`enhanced commitment to the search for progress in the Middle East commensurate with the Union's economic contribution and involvement in the peace process."

"The idea of appointing an EU envoy to the Middle East reflects a strong willingness on the union's par to become more actively involved," he said.

Since the Palestinians took their first steps to self-government last year, the EU has already given or committed some 350 million European currency units ($300 million) to the Palestinians.

Underscoring their support for the Palestinians during the recent crisis, the EU agreed to provide an extra $22 million to cover the running costs of Arafat's administration.