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Palestinian prime minister begins France visit

PARIS, March 11 (AFP) – Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qorei began a visit to France on Thursday, during which he was to meet President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

The visit came amid speculation over a possible first meeting between Qorei and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The Palestinian leader, who was accompanied by his foreign and finance ministers Nabil Shaath and Salam Fayyad as well as Saeb Erakat, the minister in charge of negotiations, arrived in Paris Wednesday evening from Oslo.

“We are concerned by the delays facing the implementation of the quartet’s roadmap,” French foreign ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous said Tuesday, referring to the Middle East peace plan brokered by the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States.

France believes “there is no other path but the implementation of this plan to arrive at a just and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The pursuit of violence by either side cannot but lead to more tragedies and put back hopes for a settlement of the confict,” Ladsous said.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaoul Mofaz said in Paris Wednesday that Sharon was “prepared to meet” Qorei for the first time as long as no preconditions were attached.

Qorei became prime minister last October but he has not yet met with Sharon.

According to Israeli news reports on Wednesday, the summit has been pencilled in for next Tuesday, with the agenda to be finalised at a meeting of the two prime ministers’ cabinet chiefs on Sunday.

Israel broke off top-level contacts with the Palestinians in August after a massive suicide bomb in Jerusalem.

The talks between Qorei and Sharon are expected to focus on Sharon’s plan to evacuate 17 of 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

“Is this proposal a step (toward) implementing the roadmap, or is it an attempt to put it to death?” Qorei asked in Oslo on Wednesday during a speech at the Nobel Institute.

“We will not object to the withdrawal, but we will not be held responsible or make any commitments” unless the withdrawal is part of a broader agreement, Qorei said.

The Palestinian prime minister also fired a salvo at Washington, accusing the United States of being preoccupied with the “so-called international war against terrorism” instead of trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He said that that conflict needed to be resolved before the US administration could carry out any of its planned reforms in the Arab world.


                                                              Subject: France news