Hungarian FM Tells Haaretz: We Want a Role in Mideast Peace

Once it enters the European Union, Hungary is determined to play an active role in the Middle East peace process, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs told Haaretz yesterday during a visit to Israel.

"Once Hungary enters the EU, it will have more weight in shaping the organization's relations and policy. We are determined to conduct an active policy regarding every problem that Hungary has a political or historic tie to, and the conflict in the Middle East is among these," Kovacs said.

Kovacs, who was visiting Israel with Gunther Verheugen, the official in charge of expanding the EU, said that joining the union would bring only positive changes in his country's relations with Israel.

"The Palestinians' terror attacks and Israel's military retaliations cannot lead to a solution, the only possibility is a political solution," he said. "In my talks with President Moshe Katsav, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, I stressed that Israel, too, must exercise restraint and would be wise to support [Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen. He appears quite decisive in his objection to terror, but still lacks sufficient authority."

Asked whether he would have wanted to meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat if he had the time, Kovacs did not reply directly. "Initially, we planned to meet Palestinian representatives, as well, but had to give it up because ... I am due back in Budapest for an important parliamentary debate," he said.

Asked if he supported UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's suggestion to post an international force between the Israelis and Palestinians, Kovacs said, "I support every move that may reduce the violence. This suggestion could serve this purpose and, therefore, I support it."