Schroeder due in Egypt to Kick off Middle East Tour
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was due to arrive in Egypt Saturday for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the start of a six-stage tour of the Middle East.
Schroeder's talks with Mubarak are expected to touch on last weekend's Arab summit in Cairo, which pledged financial and moral support for the Palestinian uprising against Israel, as well the clashes, themselves, officials said.
German officials have admitted that the trip, which has been planned for a year, constitutes a "diplomatic minefield," which is going ahead as scheduled despite a month of troubles that have left close to 150 people dead.
"We want to show solidarity with the peace-oriented forces in the region," said one official closely involved in planning the tour from Berlin, adding that call the trip off would have "given the wrong signal."
Schroeder will travel on to Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian territories for top-level talks, returning to Berlin Wednesday evening, with the aim of contributing to European Union peace efforts.
German officials say they believe the EU role in the Middle East, where the United States dominates peace efforts, is becoming more important.
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Wednesday that the rise of violence in the Middle East was a great tragedy, since a peace settlement had been "so close." He was referring to talks at the US-sponsored Camp David summit in July that broke down over the fate of the disputed city of Jerusalem.
But other officials in Berlin said there is no question of condemning one side or the other for the violence that erupted on September 28 after Israel's hardline opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited a disputed holy site in east Jerusalem.
"We agree with the forces of reason in the region that a victory for the radicals would be fatal," one official said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said, in remarks published by the German magazine Stern on Thursday, that he expects Schroeder to put pressure on Yasser Arafat to try to stop Palestinian violence.
During talks and a dinner Saturday evening, Schroeder and Mubarak are expected to discuss the general situation in the region as well as bilateral trade ties.
The German chancellor is also due to meet the secretary general of the Cairo-based Arab League, Esmat Abdel Meguid, before leaving Egypt Sunday – CAIRO (AFP)
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