Chirac, Prodi to push for Mideast peace initiative

24th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

LUCCA, Italy, Nov 24, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi agreed Friday to ask Britain, Germany and other EU countries to join a Middle East peace initiative, a French diplomat said.

LUCCA, Italy, Nov 24, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi agreed Friday to ask Britain, Germany and other EU countries to join a Middle East peace initiative, a French diplomat said.

The two leaders also reached "very broad agreement in analyses and views" on Lebanon where the murder of anti-Syrian minister Pierre Gemayel threatens to plunge the country deeper into political turmoil, the diplomat said.

But harmony on the diplomatic front was not matched in the economic arena as Chirac said a merger between Air France-KLM and Italy's struggling flagship Alitalia would be "desirable" — after Prodi voiced "many doubts" about such a deal.

The Middle East peace initiative launched earlier this month by France, Italy and Spain was announced 10 days ago by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez after talks with Chirac.

The initiative calls for an international conference, a ceasefire, an exchange of Israeli and Palestinian prisoners, a Palestinian "government of national unity" and the dispatch of a fact-finding mission to the Palestinian territories.

The proposal, to be presented at the next European Union summit in Riga, Latvia, in December, was welcomed by the Palestinian Authority but promptly rejected by Israel.

Prodi and Chirac told a joint news conference they would continue deliberations with Israel over the initiative.

Meanwhile the French leader said the possible merger between Air France and Alitalia "is a problem that concerns two private companies, but they are discussing a rapprochement that is desirable in my opinion."

Prodi said merely that the subject was not raised in the talks between the two leaders.

He told Thursday's Le Figaro that he had "many doubts" about a deal between the two airlines, adding that he wanted to know "the true intentions of Air France".

He asked in the interview: "Does it want to create a great European air transport group in which Italy has a place, or simply grab the Italian air transport market, which is large and rich?"

Air France-KLM and Alitalia said Thursday they had begun tentative talks on a possible alliance.

There has long been talk of such a link, but the French company has laid down restructuring of the Italian carrier as a condition.

Air France-KLM chief executive Jean-Cyril Spinetta said Thursday in Paris that contacts were taking place at the request of Alitalia, which recently forecast a net loss this year that would exceed the 167 million euro (216 million dollar) shortfall recorded in 2005.

Air France and Alitalia have had commercial links since July 2001, and Spinetta said relations with Alitalia had always included the prospect of an eventual merger.

The traditional Franco-Italian summit, held at Lucca's Ducal Palace, is the first since Prodi took power following April elections.

Chirac told Friday's Corriere della Sera that Franco-Italian ties had been "less productive than one would have liked" under Prodi's predecessor Silvio Berlusconi.

"Judging from my first contacts with Prime Minister Prodi, a friend and longtime partner, things are changing, and the summit in Lucca is a chance to give new momentum to our cooperation," Chirac told the Italian daily.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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