EU foreign policy chief Solana to observe Palestinian poll

By Nathan Gutman

Haaretz

Tevet 27, 5765

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana will observe elections for the Palestinian Authority chairmanship from Ramallah, as part of a five-day trip to the Middle East that will end in Israel, his office said on Friday.

"The visit will underscore the EU's political engagement in the region," the statement said, adding that Solana is due to meet several Palestinian leaders, including PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Solana's trip is scheduled to begin in Amman, Jordan on Sunday, where he will meet King Abdullah II, before continuing to the West Bank city of Ramallah that evening. He will remain there on Monday.

On Tuesday Solana visits Cairo, where he will be received by President Hosni Mubarak, and then returns to Gaza on Wednesday before the trip ends in Israel on Thursday, where he will meet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

An official U.S. team, headed by senators John Sununu and Joe Biden, is also expected to monitor the Janary 9 elections. Biden is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Sununu, a relatively new Republican senator, is considered a Middle East expert; his family originated in Lebanon.

The delegation will also include a number of Congressmen and American public figures of Palestinian origin such as George Salem and Ziad Assali. Its members would be accompanied by the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, David Pearce, the U.S. State Department said.

At the same time, former American President Jimmy Carter arrived in the area Thursday on behalf of the National Democratic Institute and the Carter Center.