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Italian finance minister says Israel, EU must seek stronger ties

Latest update : 2009-05-05

Israel and the EU should pursue stronger ties, Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said after meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, who is on a regional tour to reassure EU nations of Israel's commitment to peace.

AFP - Ties between Israel and the European Union must be strengthened, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Monday after meeting with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman.

"What they call the upgrading between Europe and Isreal must not stop because that way Europe can play a major role" in the Middle East peace process, Frattini told a joint news conference with the ultra-nationalist Lieberman.

Tensions have simmered between the EU and Israel since EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner warned last month that a planned upgrade of bilateral relations could not come about until the Israeli government commits to the peace talks with the Palestinians.

Lieberman is known for controversial statements and has been called a racist by critics over his anti-Arab comments.

Lieberman said the "main problem" in the region was "Iran, which is going nuclear and is a destabilising factor for the region and the entire world."

He came under fire for saying that the new Israeli cabinet was not bound by the decision that the previous government took at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in November 2007 to restart negotiations with the Palestinians.

The firebrand foreign minister is making his first trip abroad since he took office in late March.

Date created : 2009-05-04