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Israel, Qatar Foreign Ministers Hold Historic Meeting in France - 2003-05-14


The foreign ministers of Israel and Qatar held a landmark meeting in Paris Wednesday, amid new efforts to rekindle the Middle East peace process.

The meeting was the first ever between foreign ministers from Israel and Qatar, and suggests a nearly three-year diplomatic freeze between Israel and the Arab world may be beginning to thaw.

At a news conference in Paris, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom described the talks as an important step toward bringing peace to the Middle East. Diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab nations have been suspended or cut off, since a new round of Palestinian-Israeli violence began in September, 2000.

But new efforts to restart peace talks are now in progress.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met in recent days with both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, in a push to begin implementation of the new international road map for Middle East peace.

And in Paris, Foreign Minister Shalom confirmed that Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas will meet Saturday night, in the first top-level Israeli-Palestinian meeting in three years.

Mr. Shalom also said he hopes the talks with his Qatari counterpart will lead to similar discussions with other Arab diplomats.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad al-Thani hailed the effort to restart the peace talks. Mr. Al Thani had earlier suggested Qatar might consider a peace treaty with Israel. But in Paris he said that is not an immediate priority.

Neither foreign minister gave reporters details of their hour-long talks at a Paris hotel.

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