Mideast peace a 'test' of US-France ties

16th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier met Wednesday with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and said efforts to revive Middle East peace talks would be a "test" of their trans-Atlantic relationship.

WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier met Wednesday with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and said efforts to revive Middle East peace talks would be a "test" of their trans-Atlantic relationship.

But the two men ended a short meeting with no sign of agreement on France's call for the rapid convening of an international conference on the conflict to kick-start the process following the death of Palestinian patriarch Yasser Arafat.

Barnier flew in from Paris for a lightning round of talks with Powell and his designated successor, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, before turning around and heading to Brussels for a European Union summit.

While both Paris and Washington pledged efforts to repair relations strained by the US invasion of Iraq last year, differences were still clear over the next steps in resolving the Middle East impasse.

"We want to look to the future of relations between French and Americans and Europeans and Americans," Barnier told reporters after a brief discussion with Powell at the State Department.

"And I think the test at the heart of this relationship... is our ability to launch the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis."

Barnier called this week for an early international conference on the Middle East to take advantage of what he termed a "window of opportunity" created after Arafat's death last month.

But Powell remained non-committal. He said the two had spoken of British plans to hold a meeting bringing in the Palestinians but did not take up the question of a broader international gathering.

"We did not talk about (it) at this meeting but we talked previously about the utility of a conference at some point in the future," Powell said.

US officials have made it clear their priority is to ensure smooth Palestinian elections next month that would produce a leader who could rein in Islamic militants and rekindle talks with Israel.

"We'll see the (Palestinian) elections take place in January, watch how the Palestinians form their government, make sure that Israel shows flexibility and cooperation with the Palestinians during this election," Powell said.

Barnier, who has had ample occasion to see Powell at a flurry of international conferences in recent weeks, was making his first bilateral visit to the United States since becoming foreign minister on March 31.

Neither side expected any new ground to be broken. French officials had described his mission as delivering another farewell message to Powell and holding his first talks with Rice to get acquainted.

With President George W. Bush due to visit Europe in February on a high-profile fence-mending tour, the French press has been rife with speculation that Barnier might be carrying an invitation from President Jacques Chirac to come to Paris.

But French officials said they had no knowledge of any such invitation, although they did not specifically rule out the possibility.

The French foreign minister said the Bush administration still remained "sceptical" about negotiations between France, Britain and Germany and Iran about ways to curb its nuclear program.

But he said France continued to believe that "political methods are a good way" to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions and urged Washington to back the European initiative.

"We need US attention and support," Barnier said. "We need the United States to be with us."

The United States believes the International Atomic Energy Agency should refer the Iranian case to the UN Security Council that could impose international sanctions against the Islamic republic.

© AFP

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article