French FM Barnier on first Middle East trip

18th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 18 (AFP) - France's recently-appointed Foreign Minister Michel Barnier makes his first official visit to the Middle East Sunday, with stops in Egypt and Jordan and a trip to the Palestinian territories planned for the following week.

PARIS, June 18 (AFP) - France's recently-appointed Foreign Minister Michel Barnier makes his first official visit to the Middle East Sunday, with stops in Egypt and Jordan and a trip to the Palestinian territories planned for the following week.   

"The purpose is to make a first contact. The minister will reiterate France's desire -- and that of the EU -- to look for ways out of the impasse in which the Israel-Palestinian peace process now finds itself," said ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous.  

"He will emphasise our attachment to the roadmap (the peace plan drawn up by the US, EU, UN and Russia), and focus on the opportunity that the proposed Israel withdrawal from Gaza offers -- with Egypt prepared to make an important contribution," he said.  

Egypt has said it is ready to send 150 police officers to Gaza for a six month period in order to train a Palestinian force, in the event of an Israeli withdrawal. France has suggested a multinational force to police the zone.  

Barnier was due to see his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Maher and the secretary-general of the Arab League Amr Moussa. A meeting with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak had not been confirmed.  

Mubarak turned down an invitation from the US to take part in last week's G8 summit in Georgia, as a sign of its opposition to Washington's proposals for a democratic "Greater Middle East."  

France was also initially hostile to the initiative, arguing that it is impossible for outsiders to impose reforms on the region and wrong to ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a source of many of its problems.   

But the G8 meeting produced a compromise, with the US now agreeing that the initiative must be undertaken in partnership with Middle East countries, and that the roadmap remains a priority.  

The "Greater Middle East" project will be the main subject of discussions between Barnier and the Jordanian authorities, according to the French foreign ministry. The minister will see King Abdullah II and his counterpart Marwan Moasher.  

Barnier returns to France Tuesday, but is back in the Middle East on June 29 and 30 for meetings with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath.  

In line with long-standing policy, Israel has said it is opposed to Barnier's meeting Arafat. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has made clear he will not receive any foreign visitor who also sees the Palestinian leader.  

However the foreign ministry in Paris said that Barnier hopes to visit Israel after the summer break.  


© AFP


Subject: French news

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