CAIRO: EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana met President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday, at the start of his Middle East tour meant to revive the drive for peace in the region.
Before leaving Brussels on Wednesday, Solana said that the time was right for a new push for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
After Egypt, Solana was expected to visit the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Israel, before returning to brief EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.
His trip follows a tour of the region by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as international powers search for a way to breathe new life into the battered peace process.
Solana also said he was still hopeful Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be able to form a government of national unity, despite repeated setbacks in efforts to forge an agreement between Abbas moderate Fatah movement and its Hamas rivals.
Tensions have been high for the past year since the militant Hamas defeated Fatah in Palestinian legislative elections. Abbas favors peace talks with Israel, while Hamas remains committed to Israel s destruction, despite an international boycott against the Hamas-led government.
Abbas has been pushing Hamas to join him in a more moderate coalition. Those talks broke down in November, leading to a month of political violence that killed 35 people in the Gaza Strip. But recently, negotiations have been taking place in Damascus, Syria, aimed at ending the infighting and renewing coalition government talks.
During his tour, Solana was also to expected to underscore EU s commitment to the region, express the bloc s support for Abbas efforts and push for direct talks between the Palestinian leader and Hamas.
After talks over the weekend in Israel and the West Bank, Rice had said she would convene a three-way confidence-building session with Abbas and Israel s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
She said the Israeli and Palestinian leaders would prefer an informal session rather than a larger regional or international peace conference as suggested by some European and Arab capitals.