President Chirac makes first visit to Egypt in four years

18th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 18, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac heads to Egypt on Wednesday for a two-day visit set to be dominated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and rising tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

PARIS, April 18, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac heads to Egypt on Wednesday for a two-day visit set to be dominated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and rising tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Travelling with an 80-strong delegation including Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and top business leaders, Chirac is to head straight into talks Wednesday afternoon with his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak.

Chirac's visit to Egypt, his first since 2002, is a chance "to take stock of the situation, after four years which have seen many changes in Egypt and across the region," a French diplomat told AFP.

As Israel reels from a deadly suicide bombing in Tel-Aviv, the presidency said Chirac was counting on Mubarak — as a "respected and influential figure" in the region — to help draw the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas into the peace process.

France "is convinced Egypt has a very special role to play in persuading Hamas to reform its positions," by recognising Israel and renouncing violence to join the peace process, said Chirac's spokesman Jérome Bonnafont.

Mubarak — whose country has often been a key mediator in the Middle East — said recently that he and Chirac held close views on most regional issues.
  
Chirac's spokesman repeated that they enjoyed "very strong personal ties", and a “convergence of views" on such issues as multilateralism and the fight against terrorism and weapons proliferation.

The two leaders are set to discuss "in detail" Iran's defiance of  international demands for it to suspend sensitive nuclear work, Bonnafont said.

"We hope Iran will be able to understand the message of the international community, and will suspend its (uranium) enrichment activities and return to the path of respecting its obligations," he said.

Chirac and Mubarak are also set to address the political crisis in Lebanon, thrown into turmoil by the murder last year of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, as well as the continuing bloodshed in Sudan's western Darfur region.
  
They are to give joint news conference Wednesday evening, before heading into an official dinner.  
Rights campaigners have urged Chirac to use his trip to press Mubarak for the release of opposition leader Ayman Nur, who was sentenced to five years' forced labour in December on forgery charges he claims were fabricated.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses Cairo of leading a campaign of political persecution against Nur, who mounted an aggressive challenge to Mubarak in the September 2005 presidential election.
  
"President Chirac should tell him that this persecution undermines Egypt's professed commitment to democratic reforms, and threatens improved relations with France," said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy director for the region.
  
Chirac's visit is also aimed at boosting French business ties with Egypt, with the president and Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif jointly to launch a new Franco-Egyptian business council on Thursday.
  
Modelled on existing arrangements linking Egypt with the United States or Britain, the body aims to facilitate trade, cooperation and investment.
  
No new contracts are expected to be signed during the trip, but the French delegation is set to defend a French bid to build Cairo's third underground train line.
  
French exports to Egypt were up 40 percent in 2005 compared to the previous year, with France the third supplier and the fourth investor in the country.
  
Chirac is also to attend the official opening of the French university in Cairo, followed by a meeting with students and teachers.
  
The president will also briefly visit the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to pay tribute to the 148 people — including 134 French nationals — who died in the crash of a Flash Airline plane in January 2004.

Copyrights: AFP 

Subject: French news

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