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Two Men with a Mission


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Two Men with a Mission

Long-time foes Turkey and Greece are clubbing together to launch their own Middle East peace mission. It's hoped the visit may bring a new perspective to the impasse and inspire Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks. The Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem are to hold talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. They're also expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mr Papandreou and Mr Cem are the architects of the three-year-old Turkish-Greek rapprochement that has ended decades of animosity. Now, the two men are embarking on an equally difficult mission; trying to bring a new perspective to the Middle East impasse that has so far frustrated US and European Union diplomatic efforts.

Before touching down at Tel Aviv airport on separate flights on Wednesday, the two foreign ministers played down expectation, saying they merely hope to show Palestinians and Israelis of how two nations that used to be at one another's throats for many years and come close to war on several occasions, have finally been able to start resolving their differences.

Honest Broker

In a recent television interview, Mr Cem said that the mission of EU member Greece and EU membership candidate Turkey "will in a sense take the European Union back to the Middle East."

He was referring to a failed attempt by senior EU officials in early April to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian leader Arafat, who has been under an Israeli siege in his devastated headquarters in Ramallah for four weeks now.

Turkey has the advantage of being viewed as an honest broker by both parties to the Middle East conflict. The government in Ankara has developed close ties with Israel, which considers Turkey as a friend. At the same time, Turkey has maintained strong ties with the Palestinians. It now hopes to use this unique position to help defuse the growing escalation of the conflict.

The mission follows close consultations with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has given Mr Cem a detailed update on the situation on the ground. Washington has thrown its weight behind the initiative and will be watching it closely. The two NATO-members will maintain close contact with the US.

Our correspondent Dorian Jones adds that the two foreign ministers see eye to eye on the Middle East issue. "Mr Papandreou and Mr Cem have a very close personal relationship as well as a political one. It was the Greek foreign minister who first suggested meeting Chairman Arafat as a first step in a new initiative and the two men have been working closely together over the last few days and weeks building up on the plan."

Given current levels of animosity and hatred in the Middle East, the mission runs the risk of being little more than symbolic gesture. Dorian Jones says that "analysts agree that its success depends on developments on the ground as well as a willingness on both sides to find a way out of the crisis. On the other hand, it could also be a case of being at the right place at the right time."

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