Saturday

27th May 2017

France keen to muscle in on Middle East peace process

  • Mr Sarkozy (r) on Monday also criticised Israel for its settlements policy. 'The colonisation must end,' he said (Photo: elysee.fr)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called a Middle East summit in Paris and criticised Barack Obama's and Catherine Ashton's handling of the peace process so far.

Speaking at a press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Elysee palace on Monday (26 September), the French leader invited Mr Abbas, Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to come to the French capital in late October.

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He said the Paris summit will prepare for a larger meeting of the EU-sponsored multilateral club, the Union for the Mediterranean, in November and noted that US domination of the process has yielded no results so far.

"There is a problem of method ... Nothing will be solved without the strong engagement of the Americans. This is my belief as you perfectly well know. I've always thought his. But does this strong engagement, which we need, have to be exclusive? This question has been asked for the past 10 years, since Camp David. If an exclusive engagement was enough, why is there no peace?" he said.

"We don't want to be spectators who just watch as time goes by," he added.

"It is not viable to continue like this - and President Abbas agrees with me - for Europe to finance everything but to stay outside the political process. These things must go together. I am profoundly European and I want Europe to take back ownership of important political dossiers such as this."

The EU is the largest aid donor to the Palestinian authorities. But EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton has stayed away from the first three rounds of recent peace talks in Washington, Sharm el Sheikh and Jerusalem.

Mr Sarkozy did not name Ms Ashton on Monday. But a French diplomat told EUobserver that his remarks should be understood in the same way as French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner's earlier criticism of her absenteeism.

"This is the same logic. The EU should definitely be be at the table and we were surprised that the EU was not there at the table these last few times," the diplomatic contact said.

A source in the EU institutions compared the October summit in Paris to Mr Sarkozy's peace mission to the Middle East in the 2008/2009 Gaza war, when France competed with the then Czech EU presidency to play the biggest role in the crisis.

"It is well-known that France wants to be present in this process. It is not just about the EU. France wants a role for itself," the EU official said.

Ms Ashton's office declined to comment on Mr Sarkozy's latest intervention but highlighted instead her co-operation with the US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, Senator George J. Mitchell, in preparing a joint statement calling for a new freeze on Israeli settlements.

US diplomats on Monday also underlined that the EU is being taken seriously as a partner in the process.

"The Secretary [Hilary Clinton], this afternoon here in New York, will have meetings with Foreign Minister Hague of Great Britain, Foreign Minister Kouchner of France, Foreign Minister Cannon of Canada, Foreign Minister Mualem of Syria, where we expect the Middle East will be a key topic of conversation. And later this week back in Washington, she'll have meetings with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and German Foreign Minister Westerwelle. So we are maintaining close contact with European leaders to encourage ongoing support to the process," US State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said.

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