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US seeks EU backing on Mid-East plan

The United States is negotiating with its European allies to win their support for its plans to promote democracy across the Middle East.

US officials were encouraged by Mr Fischer's comments Reports in two American papers, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, say the Bush administration is planning to unveil the final proposal at a series of international summits this June.

This comes a year after the US clashed with leading European nations over its plans to invade Iraq.

The details are still being worked on, but it's thought the initiative will call on Arab governments to carry out big political reforms, improve the rights of its citizens - especially women - and introduce economic reforms.

In return, they would form partnerships with Western nations in a number of areas, including aid, trade and security, with Nato possibly playing a prominent role.

Helsinki model

But with transatlantic relations still bruised after the Iraq war, the Bush administration is going to have a hard time winning over European sceptics about its multilateral approach.

This is especially the case because its peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has failed to stop the bloodshed there - and US troops in Iraq are coming under daily attacks.

And it will have an even harder time winning over the Arab world - where there is widespread suspicion about America's intentions.

However, US officials say they were encouraged by comments made by the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, at the weekend.

He said both the US and the European Union would lose if they didn't act together to modernise and stabilise the Middle East.

But he also insisted he'd been right to oppose the war in Iraq last year.

The American plan is loosely modelled on the 1975 Helsinki accords, which were used to press for freedom in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.


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