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No Major Changes to Mideast 'Road Map' Says Powell - 2003-05-23


U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday a new Middle East peace plan should not be open to major changes by Israelis or Palestinians. Mr. Powell spoke in Paris, at the end of a G8 foreign ministers' meeting marked by conciliatory statements between top U.S. and French diplomats.

Secretary Powell said the United States is open to comments from Israel regarding the so-called "road map" to Middle East peace, and would treat them "fully and seriously."

"But this does not require us to change the 'road map'. It is a good document that leads to the president's vision of two states living in peace, side by side. The vision that I think all of us here hold," he said.

Mr. Powell spoke during a news conference of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations in a Paris hotel. During their two-day gathering, the eight ministers discussed terrorism, Iraq's reconstruction, and concerns about Iran and North Korea. They also focused on the sluggish world economy, and poverty in Africa.

The meeting was designed to prepare the way for the G8 summit in the French Alps, in early June.

But most of the diplomats' comments dealt with kick starting peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is due in the region Sunday for talks with officials from both sides. Unlike Mr. Powell, who reiterated the Bush administration's decision not to deal with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Mr. de Villepin said he would talk with both Mr. Arafat and the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

"It is our policy, the French policy, and it is our position, the European position, on this matter to meet and to speak with everybody. We respect perfectly the other's position," Mr. de Villepin said. " But we'll have just one language. We need to work for peace. We need to push forward the peace process. And I think that it is our goal, and we very much share the same views that Colin has expressed."

Mr. de Villepin's remarks on Middle East cooperation, along with those by Mr. Powell, indicated new efforts to patch up relations between Paris and Washington, following months of sharp disagreement over the Iraq war. Mr. Powell sat beside Mr. de Villepin at the news conference.

The two men laughed when asked about relations between the two countries and answered they are excellent. Mr. Powell reiterated his previous remarks that the two countries had had a serious disagreement, but are ultimately bound by long-standing ties.

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