France upgrades Palestinian Paris rep to ambassador status

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France has upgraded the position of the top Palestinian representative in Paris to ambassadorial status, in a small but symbolic step closer to France recognising Palestinian statehood

The Palestinian mission here will still not be regarded as an embassy, but its top official will be acknowledged as an ambassador by President Nicolas Sarkozy at a presentation of credentials ceremony, the foreign minister said.

"France supports the creation of a viable, independent, democratic Palestinian State living in peace and security alongside Israel by the first quarter of 2012," Bernard Kouchner said in a statement issued Monday.

He noted that this goal was in accordance with an objective established by the Middle East Quartet -- a diplomatic contact group comprising Russia, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.

Kouchner said the decision to upgrade Palestinian representation in Paris was "to help achieve this objective and guarantee its credibility".

Henceforth, the former "General Delegation of Palestine" in Paris will be called the "Palestinian Mission", his statement said.

Foreign ministry officials, however, underlined that the change was largely symbolic as the Palestinian mission has long been officially recognised by France and already enjoys police protection.

The United States upgraded the protocol for the Palestinian mission in Washington on Friday, in another symbolic show of confidence in president Mahmud Abbas.

President Barack Obama's administration will allow the mission to call itself the "General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation", a protocol level above its unofficial current status.

The step brings the United States, Israel's main ally, in line with the way most European nations, Australia and Canada treat Palestinian missions, although the level is still short of being a full-fledged embassy.

© 2010 AFP

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