US cool to French call for Mideast summit

16th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (AFP) - The US State Department reacted coolly Wednesday to a French call for an early international conference on the Middle East, saying the priority was to make progress with the Palestinians and Israelis on the ground.

WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (AFP) - The US State Department reacted coolly Wednesday to a French call for an early international conference on the Middle East, saying the priority was to make progress with the Palestinians and Israelis on the ground.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher did not rule out an international gathering on the conflict but said it "could be an element of moving forward at a time and in a way that would be useful."

"Our emphasis right now, though, is on the work on the ground, getting through the Palestinian election, and trying to see what we can put together in terms of real progress between the parties," Boucher told reporters here.

He made his remarks as French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was flying in for talks with outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell and his designated successor, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

In an interview published Monday in Paris, Barnier called for the rapid convening of an international conference on the Middle East to take advantage of what he called a "window of opportunity" created after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death last month.

He also urged an acceleration of efforts to implement the internationally drafted peace "road map" and resolve final status issues between the Israeli and Palestinians.

Mahmud Abbas, who replaced Arafat at the head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and was the front-runner in next month's election for Palestinian president, joined in calls for an international conference in remarks published Wednesday by the Arab-language daily Al Hayat.

But Boucher said the United States was focusing on efforts to organise the elections and replace Arafat with a leader able to rein in Palestinian militants and resume peace talks with Israel.

"First goal is to try to help them with that election, see an elected Palestinian leader emerge who can carry them forward. And then to work very closely with them and the Israelis and see what can be done."

President George W. Bush discussed the possibility of a Middle East conference last month with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But Bush responded cautiously to prospects for convening such a meeting anytime soon.

"I'm all for conferences, just so long as the conferences produce something," he said.

The State Department, meanwhile, joined the White House in welcoming Abbas' call for an end to the armed uprising against Israel. "We welcome that sort of recognition on the Palestinian side, wherever it comes from," Boucher said.

He said the United States was working with the Israelis and Palestinians to tone down the rhetoric in the conflict and avoid incitement to violence. "I think we're starting to see some action on that front as well," Boucher said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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