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Peres Endorses French Plan for Mideast Conference - 2002-07-29


Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres Monday endorsed a French plan for an international conference on the Middle East that is also backed by some Arab countries. Mr. Peres was holding talks with political leaders in France, before flying to the United States.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told reporters in Paris that an international conference should be held on the Middle East as soon as feasible. Proposed by France, the plan was also backed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last week as a way to help end the spiraling violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Peres also offered fresh details of a new Israeli agreement to lift certain restrictions against Palestinians, including unblocking millions of dollars in frozen Palestinian assets, increasing the numbers of Palestinian workers in Israel, and expanding fishing zones for Gaza fisherman. "On top of all those gestures or decisions - and they are already being achieved, implemented - we told the Palestinians in every zone where they will be able to calm the situation, tranquilize it, we shall move out and let life come to normalcy," he said.

Foreign Minister Peres held talks with French President Jacques Chirac, and also met with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

Relations are prickly between France and Israel. Paris has generally adopted a stance sympathetic to the plight of ordinary Palestinians, and in accordance with moderate Arab leaders like President Mubarak. Meanwhile, members of Sharon's government accused France earlier this year of anti-Semitism, following a series of attacks on Jewish institutions in France.

But Mr. Peres appeared confident relations between the two countries would improve. He said Paris was a critical player in the new international quartet made up of the United Nations, Russia and Western countries that is searching for peace in the Middle East. "Let's face it, President Chirac may have the strongest voice in Europe, and the voice of Europe is extremely important," he said, "because the quartet, with all its problems, is a source of new hope. It's an attempt to harmonize the policies of the United States, of a united Europe, of Russia."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the French president said Mr. Chirac told Mr. Peres he hoped a conference on the Middle East would take place as rapidly as possible.

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