French Mideast conference plan sows confusion

24th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Europe's leaders Friday backed a French plan for a Palestinian donor conference as President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted it had a wider goal of gathering Palestinians and Israelis together for peace talks.

Confusion surfaced when EU leaders issued a summit statement backing "a conference in Paris to provide economic support for the construction of the Palestinian state in the framework of a re-launched peace process."

The wording of the European Union statement stopped short of endorsing efforts by Paris to transform its plan for July donor talks into a wider Middle East peace conference, but left the door open to this possibility should the peace process resume any time soon.

Sarkozy said at a news conference following the summit that "there is an agreement to back the French initiative."

But he described that initiative as "a Paris conference, a peace initiative between Palestinians and Israelis, and this initiative will enable Europe to have a joint position."

The French offer of a conference has so far met with resistance from the United States as well as parties to the talks.

The EU's statement also said its leaders backed a call by foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for the re-launch of the peace process "as a matter of urgency."

Ashton on June 10 sent a letter to her fellow principals in the Middle East Quartet -- Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- saying a gesture was critical before the summer in order to calm "a volatile situation" should the UN vote on backing a Palestinian state in September.

"Fundamental changes across the Arab world highlight the need for progress on the Middle East peace process and to overcome the current stalemate," the statement said.

An EU diplomat said the bloc hoped to see a high-level meeting of the diplomatic Quartet "in the next two or three weeks" -- a move that would signal movement on the negotiation front.

Envoys from the Quartet met in Brussels on Friday to look at the possibility of calling a meeting of principals, or ministerial-level talks, but there was no immediate word on a date for further talks.

The EU statement also welcomed US President Barack Obama's proposal for talks to be based on Israel's 1967 borders and warned "all parties to abstain from unilateral actions that are not conducive to a comprehensive solution."

And it expressed "grave concern" on the fate of Gilad Shalit, on the fifth anniversary of the Israeli soldier's capture by Gaza-based militants.

© 2011 AFP

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