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Catherine Ashton wants to make EU voice heard in Mideast talks

European Jewish Press (Link) - AFP (October 6, 2010)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, on a one-day visit to South Africa, criticized for her lack of visibility in Middle East talks, said Wednesday she wanted to add the EU�s voice to the process but would do so �carefully.�

US envoy George Mitchell and Ashton converged on Israel and the Palestinian territories last week in a bid to stave off the breakdown of peace negotiations, which only restarted last month.

�I went from Washington to the Middle East in order to support what George Mitchell is doing on the ground. It became clear to me that in order to support what George Mitchell does on the ground, the EU�s voice should be added,� she told reporters in Johannesburg.

�I am careful about when I add it.�

�What I was interested in was whether our voice (should be) added to others to try to persuade Israel to extend the moratorium, but also to find if there were other ways in which the talks could keep going, to try to deal with this issue differently,� Ashton said.

�I don�t have any great solution to that. The discussions are still going on,� she added.

�I went to see (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud) Abbas,� she said.

�What I came away from is a very clear sense that there is much to talk about and that they are both thinking very seriously about the prospects and possibilities for these talks.�

The British baroness was named last year as the EU�s high representative for foreign affairs, a new position that was created to give the 27-nation bloc a single voice on the world stage.

However she has come under fire for not attending the start of the Israeli-Palestinian talks last month in Washington. She has defended herself, saying her decision in no way reflected a priority shift for the EU. �

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