Minister Cowen comments on latest developments in the Middle East
Commenting upon the decision by EU Presidency Foreign Minister Pique and High Representative Solana to abandon their visit to the Middle East following Prime Minister Sharon's refusal to allow them to meet with President Arafat , the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr.Brian Cowen TD, said it was a matter of grave concern and regret that the Israeli Government had prevented this meeting from taking place and continued to keep the elected Palestinian leader in isolation.
The Minister warmly welcomed the decision by President Bush to send Secretary of State Powell to the region, as well as his call for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1402 which requires a complete cease-fire and Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian towns.
Speaking earlier today following the special meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg on 3 April at which EU Ministers decided to despatch a high-level EU delegation to the region, the Minister said there was a need to send a delegation to confront the Israeli Government with the present situation and to insist upon the primacy of UN Security Council resolutions.
The Minister condemned the suicide bombings in Israel. However, he said that the EU was concerned that the Israeli response is not going to bring security to Israel and that the Israeli Government cannot expect President Arafat to fight terrorism successfully, while at the same time effectively seeking to dismantle the security and political apparatus of the Palestinian Authority.
The Minister emphasised that the only solution lies through political negotiation. He called for a cease-fire, a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, implementation of the Tenet security plan, and for all parties to implement the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1402 with immediate effect.
The Minister said it was time for everyone to pay attention to the moral imperative of the Security Council Resolutions, and that the EU would make contact with all parties, including the United States, to bring every pressure to bear on all sides to make sure that the Resolutions are implemented.
The Minister confirmed that the Government would continue to do its utmost - nationally, as a member of the European Union, and as a member of the UN Security Council - to help the parties and the region to find a way out of the current tragic conflict.
The Minister also expressed concern at the news that members of the UN Truce Supervision Organisation in southern Lebanon, including an Irish officer, had been assaulted ( although none of the injuries were life-threatening ).