EU Still Optimistic Over Mideast Peace

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said yesterday that the recent visit by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was not necessarily a failure.

"It's too early to judge the visit or the readiness to implement the road map," said Papandreou, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.

In a conversation with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Papandreou said the EU expects Israel to help the new Palestinian leadership promote a regional peace plan.

Sharon met Papandreou despite the European official's decision to go ahead with a meeting later in the day with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Before meeting Arafat, Papandreou held talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

"We are waiting for Israel to contribute and help the new Palestinian leadership under Abu Mazen," Papandreou said after meeting Sharon. He said Sharon "spoke about necessary sacrifices, but is waiting for measures on the security of Israel." Sharon did not comment after the talks, a possible sign of his irritation with Papandreou's decision to meet Arafat.

Israeli officials said earlier that Sharon might not meet foreign ministers who see Arafat. Papandreou arrived Monday for two days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders about the "road map," unveiled on April 30 by the Quartet of Mideast mediators - the United States, EU, Russia and the United Nations.

His trip followed a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who left after failing to extract a commitment from Israel to accept the plan. The Palestinians have called for international pressure on Israel to implement the three-stage road map, which calls for an end to 31 months of violence in its first phase and eventually leads to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Unlike Israel and the United States, European leaders do not think that Arafat should be ignored. Papandreou told a May 2 meeting of the 15 EU foreign ministers that Arafat is still a player in the peace process, and debate over his future should not derail the road map.