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EU to push for Mid-East peace talks

Source: Reuters - Fri 22th Jan 2010

The Spanish EU presidency pledged Thursday to make every effort to ensure that Middle East peace negotiations resume "as soon as possible."

"Our aim as the rotating EU presidency in these important times ... is to make efforts so that the negotiations and a return to the table can come about as soon as possible," Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

"It's important that the parties meet" but it is up to the two sides to decide "when and how," he told a joint news conference with visiting Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad ahead of talks between the two.

"Spain has always had a important role to play in the Middle East as far as the process is concerned," and "it is important for Spain to continue to play a role," said Fayad.

"It should not be forgotten that this is where the peace process began. Madrid is and must continue to be an integral part of the terms of reference of the peace process, if that peace process is capable of delivering what needs to be delivered."

Middle East peace efforts are currently at a standstill.

The talks, which resumed in 2007 after a seven-year hiatus, came to a halt again when Israel launched a military offensive against the Gaza Strip in late 2008.

The Palestinians insist they will not return to the negotiating table unless there is a complete freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.

The EU is the world's biggest aid donor to the Palestinians but holds limited influence over the Israeli government.

Moratinos, a former EU envoy to the Middle East, said Spain would provide 75-80 million euros (105-112 million dollars) in aid to the Palestinians in 2010, a similar amount to that granted by Madrid last year.

He said said he saw in Fayad "a desire to use the diplomatic way as the unique instrument for the Palestinians ... to properly defend their aspirations and their rights, and of course Spain as the rotating president of the European Union will do all it can to push forward and accelerate this negotiation process."

Fayad is also scheduled to hold talks Thursday with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

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