Monday, September 06, 2004
by Lorne Cook
BERLIN, Sept 6 (AFP) - German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned Monday that Europe was at a crossroads in the fight against terrorism and must engage in the Middle East or risk having conflict exported to its doorstep.
"Will the Mediterranean turn into a sea of cooperation or confrontation between us?" Fischer asked some 220 German ambassadors and officials at the start of a four-day conference focused on the so-called broader Middle East.
"The broader Middle East will be vital to fighting terrorism at its root cause," he said.
In an hour-long speech that began after he led a moment of silence for the victims of the school hostage taking in Beslan, North Ossetia, Fischer laid out Germany`s Middle East policy aims, and emphasised the importance of a US role.
A key to resolving the region`s conflicts, he said, was ending the long and bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. "There is no way around a functioning two-state solution with both countries involved."
He renewed Germany`s support for a plan developed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to accelerate the withdrawal of troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, provided it includes security guarantees for the Palestinians.
But Fischer, long a mediator in the region, voiced concern about Israel`s relations with Iran and criticised Tehran for its controversial nuclear programme, which has raised fears that it may be developing atomic weapons.
"Iran ... is in a position which could prove tremendously positive. It has created every condition for a democracy. But we are deeply concerned about the erosion of human rights and tensions with Israel."
He said it would be a "nightmare scenario" if Iran had nuclear weapons.
"If they were to be developed, if it were to trigger an arms race in the Middle East, we would all be affected."
Turning to Afghanistan, the foreign minister acknowledged that diplomats were struggling to meet their obligations to the fragile government in Kabul, and called for more funds.
"It is important to stand by our commitments particularly in terms of security and that we remain on the ground in the run up to the election," he said, in reference to vote for president on October 9.
Germany has some 2,000 peacekeepers in Afghanistan and has led efforts to rebuild the conflict-shattered country since the Taliban regime was ousted by a US-led coalition in 2001.
To resolve the conflicts, Fischer said it was vital for the European Union and the United States to work closely together, regardless of who is in power in Washington after the presidential election there in November.
"Once the election is over we must continue the transatlantic dialogue and try to achieve a strategic consensus" based on multilateralism, he told the ambassadors.
He also urged the EU to assess favourably the candidature of US ally Turkey to join the bloc, as the European Commission prepares to hand down a report next month on Ankara`s progress on democratic and social reforms.
"We are facing a strategic challenge here. We`ve been making offers to Turkey for four decades, you can`t just go back on them.
"To reject and refuse Turkey here and now ... would be a very negative and damaging development," he said. "I favour a positive decision."
Turkey has been an EU candidate since 1999 and argues that it has met most of the criteria to begin membership talks.
In another keynote speech, the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, urged the German ambassadors to try to stay one step ahead of developments in the Muslim world if they want to help prevent further conflict.
"Predictability is probably the most serious thing the West has to deal with in the Islamic world today. If you do not understand the forces at play you cannot predict what is going to happen," he said.
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