France, Italy, Spain join forces for Mideast peace

16th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

GERONA, Spain, Nov 16, 2006 (AFP) - France, Spain and Italy are working on a joint initiative for Middle East peace, French President Jacques Chirac said in Spain Thursday.

GERONA, Spain, Nov 16, 2006 (AFP) - France, Spain and Italy are working on a joint initiative for Middle East peace, French President Jacques Chirac said in Spain Thursday.

Speaking at a Franco-Spanish summit, Chirac said he would hold a three-way phone conference later in the day with Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Italian leader Romano Prodi "to come to an agreement on an initiative" seeking "a solution to the Palestinian problem."

Chirac said Zapatero had proposed earlier Thursday to adopt a joint initiative on the question, given that the three countries shared "the same vision of the problems and preoccupations concerning the Middle East, and especially Palestine."

The two leaders, each with a half-dozen ministers in tow, began the summit in the Catalan town of Gerona by discussing a contested Franco-Spanish high-speed rail line.

Stiff resistance to the project by local inhabitants along the route of the proposed line between the French town of Perpignan and Barcelona was on visible display in the form of banners draped from balconies as the two leaders reviewed a military guard in front of the town hall.

The 19th annual bilateral meet was not slated to produce any major agreements — billed instead as a get-together of close neighbors — so Chirac's statement on the Middle East came as something of a surprise.

He and Zapatero are expected to inaugurate a Franco-Spanish defence council and formalize the mutual recognition of university degrees.

Flanked by their respective ministers of defense, foreign affairs, European affairs, transport, industry and education, Chirac and Zapatero will also preside at the first Franco-Spanish civil society council, bringing together leading figures from the realms of business, culture and science.

The defence council is based on an existing Franco-German equivalent and reinforces links between the countries' armed forces under respective defence ministers Michèle Alliot-Marie of France and Spain's Jose Antonio Alonso as well as their general chiefs of staff.

Both countries have troops serving on a range of missions under UN supervision, including Lebanon and Afghanistan while Spain agreed to send a contingent to the Democratic Republic of Congo to aid stability in the run-up to last month's elections.

The two statesmen are expected to use this occasion to renew their common plea for a united European policy on the problem of illegal immigration.

Spain, in particular, has been hit over the last year by a wave of clandestine migration from north and west Africa.

Chirac has also indicated that he will voice support for the Basque Country peace process initiated by Zapatero, who has encountered fierce resistance from conservatives and groups representing the victims of political violence in the region.

France has previously said it would cooperate with Spanish police in hunting down wanted members of ETA, the Basque separatist organization — held responsible for some 850 deaths over four decades — that declared a permanent ceasefire earlier this year.

One point of disagreement between Spain and France is whether, and under what conditions, Turkey might enter the European Union. Madrid has expressed its unambiguous support of Ankara's candidacy, while Paris has said it is opposed.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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