Iraq's children cling on for a grim life

Cook initiative to push Europe into Middle East process peace process
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The Independent Online
BRITAIN is launching what looks an uphill attempt to propel Europe to centre stage in the Middle East, with initiatives to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and to speed up the expanded United Nations oil-for-food programme for Iraq.

In a speech to the Anglo-Arab Association, Robin Cook set out the six steps Britain believes essential if the peace process is to be revived. They include a halt to new Israeli settlements, a fresh commitment to security by the Palestinians, "substantial, credible and urgent" troop redeployments by Israel, and measures to boost the Palestinian economy.

Although the Foreign Office denies it, the onus is placed clearly on the Israeli side, and the settlements demand in particular has already been flatly rejected by the Government of Benjamin Netanyahu. "Europeans know nothing about the Middle East," Mr Netanyahu was quoted as saying on the eve of his arrival in Spain yesterday, to start a four day European tour to win support for his uncompromising stance.

In his own coded criticism of Mr Netanyahu - who meets Tony Blair in London at the weekend - the Foreign Secretary last night invoked not the Israeli Prime Minister but the Israeli people. They knew that lasting security without peace was impossible, Mr Cook declared, "They want the peace process to go forward, they share the world's concern about the current stalemate."

Mr Cook pays his first visit to the region later this month, visiting the six countries most closely involved in the Arab-Israeli dispute, including Israel, Syria, Jordan and the Occupied Territories while in April Mr Blair will make a trip to the Middle East.

Foreign Office officials last night stressed the speech contained "no anti-Israeli elements whatsoever," but in tone it seemed designed to redress the balance after Britain's threats to use force against Iraq.

Mr Cook laid explicit stress on the "light at the end of the tunnel" for the Iraqi people, if Saddam complied with UN resolutions. He said Britain was convening an EU conference to help direct proceeds of the oil-for-food programme quickly and efficiently to the intended recipients.

n JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's attorney-general, Elyakim Rubinstein, said he had met officials in Switzerland yesterday to seek the release of a Mossad agent caught in an alleged bugging attempt that embarrassed the spy service.