Vienna, 19 October 2006 - "The long-term commitment in the Middle East is a clear constant of Austrian and European foreign policy. Austria’s active contributions during its EU Presidency, but also within the framework of the International Middle East Quartet and in direct talks with political representatives from all sides, have strengthened the profile of Austria’s Middle East policy. Today we have a solid basis for talks based on trust with both Israel and the countries of the Arab world," said Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik at today’s meeting of the Council for Questions of Austrian Integration and Foreign Policy at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The Council for Integration and Foreign Policy, which convenes every six months, is attended by representatives of all parliamentary factions, the provincial parliaments, the Provincial Governors’ Conference and the social partners.
The Foreign Minister referred to her proposal reiterated before the UN General Assembly to convene an international Middle East conference similar to the 1991 Madrid Conference. "For this we need patience and persistent step-by-step work. The first task is to help create conditions which ensure a meaningful conference, and this requires the constructive commitment of all regional partners. We provide support and help in the region, but we are no substitute for the necessary political will required for a peaceful solution," said Plassnik.
Plassnik also reported to the Council on the results of the investigations concerning the attack on the UN base at Khiam. "From the very beginning it has been of special concern to me to fully investigate the circumstances of the tragic death of Major Hans-Peter Lang and to draw the relevant lessons for the future. Moreover, we, like the United Nations, are above all interested in specific proposals as to how to prevent such incidents ever recurring. In this effort we are in contact with our colleagues from Finland, Canada and China, who also had casualties," said Plassnik, emphasising once again that Israel had taken full responsibility for the bombardment and had also submitted a formal apology to Austria.
The Foreign Minister also informed the Council about her intention to organise a follow-up to the successful Conference on Islam next year. "We want to further develop the dialogue between cultures and religions and in the next stage deal with the central role of women in conflict situations and in the reconstruction of societies, particularly in the Middle East. In view of the great interest in past conferences on Islam, we should also like to enable a broader public to participate this time," said Plassnik.
With regard to the EU’s relations with Russia and the forthcoming meeting with President Putin at the informal EU summit in Lahti, the Foreign Minister stressed the special responsibility assumed by Russia as an important international partner but also as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and as a G8 member. "The abominable murder of the committed journalist Anna Politkovskaya has demonstrated the precarious situation of freedom of opinion and the press in Russia. The ever growing climate of violence gives cause for concern. The Russian leadership owes it to itself and the Russian population to lastingly counter this development and ensure clarity and confidence. Neither will we cease being watchful as far as the developments in Chechnya are concerned," emphasised Plassnik.
The Council for Integration and Foreign Policy is also examining the experiences gathered in connection with the election card procedure for Austrians abroad implemented at the recent national elections. "Casting one’s vote abroad is currently too complicated. In order to enable Austrians to exercise their democratic rights abroad in the most comprehensive manner possible, we have to simplify the procedure. My first goal is the introduction of a genuine postal vote. Future-oriented models such as e-voting will also be examined," said the Foreign Minister. As a reform would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament, the Foreign Minister called upon the representatives of the parliamentary factions present to help simplify the exercise of democratic rights for Austrians living abroad.
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