VENICE, Italy – The president of the European Commission insisted Saturday that Europeans be a part of negotiations to end the crisis in the Middle East.
President Romano Prodi also said it was important "not to change interlocutor in the middle of this crisis," referring to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Before Bush said Thursday that Secretary of State Colin Powell would be sent to the Middle East, European leaders had suggested the United States step aside and let other nations take the lead in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But the Europeans were rebuffed Wednesday when Israel refused to allow Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, to meet with Arafat. The Palestinian leader has been in virtual isolation for more than a week as Israeli troops and tanks surround his complex.
"I was sad to hear that the European envoy would not meet with Chairman Arafat," Prodi said at a Venice conference of the Italian branch of the Aspen Institute think tank.
The European Union has demanded a greater role in cease-fire efforts, saying the United States has not done enough to stop the violence.
In the region on Friday, U.S. mediator Anthony Zinni met with Arafat. But two days before his departure, Powell still had no plans to meet with Arafat, though the possibility was not ruled out.
Prodi said he was comforted that Europeans have taken a united stand and he appealed for a "real and immediate cease-fire."
On his way to the Middle East, Powell plans a stop Wednesday in Madrid, Spain, to meet with foreign ministers from the European Union and Russia.
Prodi also defended an EU donation of about $50 million to the Palestinian Authority a few days ago, saying it was a contribution to solve some of the immediate needs of the Palestinians.
Turning to the outbreak of scattered anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, he said, "We must be very vigilant against anti-Semitism, a monster which regenerates itself."