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Friday, 17 November 2006

'Intensify' Mid - East efforts, says Australian PM

Prime Minister John Howard is calling on the US and the international community to "intensify" efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian settlement - as part of an overall exit strategy from the conflict in Iraq.
In a speech to the American Australian Association in Sydney on Tuesday, Howard was sceptical about suggestions that Iran and Syria could play a positive role in an Iraqi settlement, saying one should "maintain a realistic mindset about the motivations and behaviour of such countries".
"[But] far more importantly, and notwithstanding the difficulties and setbacks of recent times, let us intensify our efforts towards a sustainable and just solution to the Palestinian issue.
Wherever one goes in the Muslim world, and whenever one talks to moderate Islamic leaders so vital to the struggle against Islamic extremism, there is a legitimate yearning for a lasting settlement to this issue."
Howard's emphasis on a "link" between Middle East extremism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - long resisted by Israeli policymakers - echoed a similar message by British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week.

"We should start with Israel-Palestine. That is the core," Blair said in a major foreign-policy address in London on Monday.

"A major part of the answer to Iraq," Blair said, "lies not in Iraq itself but outside it ... That is what I call a 'whole Middle East' strategy.'"

Coupled with last week's victory by the Democratic Party in the US Congress, Blair's speech - now bolstered by Howard - is raising concern in Israel that US President George W Bush will push for an Israeli-Palestinian resolution as part of an exit strategy from Iraq.

Some Israeli analysts suspect that a thrust for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could feature in the expected report by former US secretary of state James Baker.

The Israelis are concerned that such initiatives would undermine the international boycott of the Hamas government.

BB: We've really screwed up in Iraq by not having enough soldiers in the first place, so let's connect this screw up with Israel....No Thanks!

AJN:‘Intensify’ Mid-East efforts, says Howard

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