With the start of the German Presidency of the EU coinciding with a worsening situation in the Middle East, Angela Merkel and George Bush put up a united transatlantic front during the German chancellor's visit to Washington on 4 January. The US president agreed to a forthcoming meeting of the Quartet (EU, United States, Russia and the UN) in the hope of reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as suggested by Merkel. He also reacted positively to her plans for strengthening transatlantic economic relations. "The United States needs good relations with Europe in order to achieve our important objectives, whether on trade, peace or security," said George Bush after the meeting. Closer transatlantic ties should also be a key theme of the visit to Washington by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on 8 January.

Enhancing cooperation with the United States on the Middle East by breathing new life into the Quartet is one of the priorities of Chancellor Merkel, who wishes to use Germany's Presidency of the EU to complete transatlantic reconciliation by healing the scars left by the Iraqi crisis. At her request, the Quartet will be meeting again soon, said Bush although he did not give a date for the meeting. Bush also announced that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would be travelling to the Middle East very soon. "On her return, she will be reporting to me and to the Chancellor on how to take forward the process," said the US president. The EU's top diplomat, Javier Solana, also in Washington, is poised to follow in Rice's footsteps.

The aim is to encourage a resumption of dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians by counting on President Mahmoud Abbas in the face of Hamas. "Once we have solved that problem, a lot of others will be easier to resolve," noted George Bush, who is being urged by the Europeans to put the peace process at the heart of his priorities. Solana did not mask the complexity of the situation, calling for "realism" rather than optimism at the conclusion of...

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