Barnier meets Arafat, pledges support for Palestinian state

29th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

RAMALLAH, West Bank, June 29 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier pledged Paris's help to build an independent and democratic Palestinian state as he began controversial talks with Yasser Arafat in the Palestinian leader's battered headquarters late Tuesday.

RAMALLAH, West Bank, June 29 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier pledged Paris's help to build an independent and democratic Palestinian state as he began controversial talks with Yasser Arafat in the Palestinian leader's battered headquarters late Tuesday.

"Our objective is to help you build an independent democratic and prosperous Palestinian state," Barnier told reporters after a meeting with his Palestinian counterpart Nabil Shaath and before entering Arafat's Muqataa compound for dinner.

"I have come to deliver the cordial greetings of the president of the French republic (Jacques Chirac) in these very different times.

"There is an active need to resume dialogue (with Israel) to revive the peace process with the well-known roadmap and that's what I want to talk about with President Arafat tonight."

Barnier and Shaath had earlier signed an agreement on technical and scientific cooperation which the chief French diplomat said represented a "concrete sign of trust and solidarity."

Shaath said that both sides wanted to advance the troubled roadmap peace plan which envisages the creation of a Palestinian state next year but has made next to no progress since its launch last year.

The Palestinian Authority wanted "to go forward with the peace process, to put an end to the violence and to work towards the creation of an independent Palestinian state which will be a force for stability in the region and an ally for France," he added.

He praised Barnier for pushing ahead with his visit despite pressure from Israel on the European Union to boycott the veteran leader.

"France is a proud country" for not giving into "straight Israeli blackmail," Shaath earlier told AFP.

"France is sometimes ahead of European policy. France is willing to stick its neck out, to do more than wait, and try to directly push peace forward."

Barnier's visit to Ramallah comes after he held talks with Egyptian and Jordanian leaders in Cairo and Amman last week over Israel's planned pullout from Gaza and from another four settlements in the northern West Bank.

He gave his strong support for Egyptian efforts to ensure security in Gaza after the evacuation and said that France was prepared to take part in "an international presence" in the territory.

Egypt has offered to send up to 200 personnel to the Gaza Strip to train a 30,000-strong police force to maintain security in the territory during and after the promised Israeli pullout.

The visit to the diplomatically isolated Arafat has been slammed by Israel, with a senior official branding it a "serious mistake" Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's government, having declared Arafat an obstacle to peace, has been trying to persuade European Union governments to follow the United States' lead and cut off all contacts with him.

Sharon and his entourage systematically refuse to meet any foreign official whose schedule includes a visit to Arafat.

Israel has prevented the ageing Palestinian leader from moving freely outside his Ramallah compound since December 2001.

Barnier is slated to meet prime minister Qorei Wednesday morning, also in Ramallah, and Latin Church Patriarch Michel Sabbah in Jerusalem later in the day.

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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