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Peres Praises 'Important' Saudi Normalization Offer - 2002-02-26

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has Tuesday welcomed a new peace initiative by Saudi Arabia. Mr. Peres, on a visit to France, said new hope exists for the Middle East, despite the spiraling violence.

During a joint press conference in Paris with French President Jacques Chirac, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres described a recent Saudi offer to normalize relations with Israel as "extraordinarily important."

Mr. Peres said the proposal, recently made by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, was significant because it offered an example for other Arab countries and helped create a positive climate for negotiations with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The Saudi crown prince has suggested normalizing his and other Arab countries' relations with Israel, if it makes peace with the Palestinians and withdraws from all lands it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. But Mr. Peres said permanent boundaries should be based on existing U.N. resolutions and not on the borders that existed before the 1967 war.

Mr. Chirac also praised the Saudi normalization offer as a strong and courageous suggestion, and said his position is also shared by President Bush and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Mr. Chirac hailed, as well, a joint proposal recently made by Mr. Peres and Palestinian Council President Abou Alaa for a Palestinian state within territory already controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

The one-day visit to France by Mr. Peres also included meetings with the Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and Jewish leaders.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has expressed concern about a wave of attacks on Jewish schools and institutions in France. Last month, an Israeli official called France Europe's most anti-Semitic country, and there are new Israeli efforts to get French Jews to emigrate.

French officials have strongly denied the Israeli charges. And President Chirac said Tuesday he was shocked and hurt by the accusations.

Mr. Chirac said French authorities were quick to crack down on any acts against the Jewish community. Mr. Peres said he agreed that France is not anti-Semitic adding that is also the official position of Israel.