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Posts Tagged ‘Sarkozy’

Sarkozy appoints right-wing cabinet with eye on 2012

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2010 at 6:54 am

Sarkozy clears decks for French government reshuffle

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2010 at 4:23 am

Sarkozy hopes end in sight for French pension protest

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2010 at 9:36 am

President Nicolas Sarkozy hopes to put his titanic battle to raise France’s retirement age behind him this week by signing the measure into law despite a new wave of strikes, rallies and fuel blockades.

With thousands of families heading off for school half-term holidays, and lawmakers expected to give the pensions bill their formal final approval on Wednesday, Sarkozy hopes the mass protest movement will die away.

But, with Sunday newspaper opinion polls showing the embattled president more unpopular than ever, trade unions and student bodies have declared at least two more days of action, and strikes continue in the key fuel sector.

A motorcyclist queues up with drivers at a gas station in Nantes, western France

A poll by the IFOP institute for the weekly JDD found Sarkozy’s approval rating had dropped below 30 percent for the first time, clouding his hopes that passing the pensions law could kick start a political comeback.

French university students are planning to march on Tuesday to defend the right to retire at 60, and trade unions have called their campaign’s seventh one-day nationwide strike and day of rallies on Thursday.

Meanwhile, one petrol station in four around the country has run dry, amid strikes at refineries and blockades of fuel depots by strikers playing a cat and mouse game with riot police sent to disperse them.

Government supporters were putting a brave face on things, however, betting that on Wednesday — when the National Assembly rubber stamps the pensions law already approved by both houses of parliament — the movement will fizzle.

“In France we have a sort of ritual from another century. Strikes, protests, yes, but taking the economy hostage is intolerable,” said Jean-Francois Cope, leader of the right-wing UMP in parliament, in an interview with Le Parisien.

The pensions reform bill was approved by the Senate on Friday, and on Monday the text will be reconciled with the draft passed earlier by the lower house.

Following its adoption, France’s constitutional court may be asked to sign off on its legality and Sarkozy expects to be able to put it into the official gazette on November 15, advisor Raymond Soubie told Europe 1 radio.

“This reform will pass. It’s a victory for France and the French,” he said, noting that recent protests against the reform had failed to paralyse public services and that labour leaders had been “quite reasonable”.

Government expects the merged text will then receive final approval by the National Assembly on Wednesday, raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018 and increasing the period of salary contributions to 41 years.

Sarkozy defends the measure as “inevitable” in the face of France’s rapidly growing population and burgeoning budget deficit, but opponents accuse him of making workers pay while protecting the rich and the world of finance.

The president is due to face re-election in 2012, and the Socialist party has vowed that if its candidate wins, he or she will restore retirement at 60.

While most voters polled say they support the strikes, and each protest day has so far drawn more than a million marchers, Sarkozy is gambling that if he forces the law through he will be hailed as a strong leader by the right.

Strikes continue, however, particularly in the oil industry and around 70 ships are waiting at anchor off the southern port of Marseille unable to dock and unload.

“In the Paris region we have 35 percent of filling stations that have run dry or are out of at least one fuel product, and in the west of the country a third are in real difficulty,” said a spokeswoman for the transport ministry.

An advisor of Sarkozy said in a television interview that one in four pumps were dry nationwide, but said the situation would improve.

Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo warned drivers to expect shortages on Monday, echoing a warning from the association representing retail petrol stations of shortages as many tanker drivers took their traditional Sunday day off, despite the government having exceptionally allowed them to work.

Meanwhile MEDEF, the organisation representing French business, warned about the serious impact the protest was having on its members, citing in particular road and rail disruption.

Source: SGGP

Sarkozy sends police to open fuel depots blocked by strikes

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2010 at 10:26 am

PARIS, Oct 15, 2010 (AFP) – President Nicolas Sarkozy sent in police Friday to reopen fuel depots blocked by strikers, as France’s bitter battle over the right to retire at 60 escalated.

But even as police forced open the gates of some depots, strikers threw up new pickets at other distribution centres across the country to fight against moves to hike the retirement age to 62.

A tanker truck drives pas French gendarmes securing the oil terminal in Fos-sur-Mer on October 15, 2010 after police moved in to reopen three fuel storage depots blocked by striking workers. AFP

Sarkozy took the decision to send in the police in order to prevent fuel shortages amid reports of panic buying after eight of France’s 12 refineries shut down operations because of the strikes, his office said.

Workers at a depot in Fos-sur-Mer, near the Mediterranean city of Marseille, did not resist when police intervened to reopen a facility that had had been shut since Thursday, unions said.

Police also reopened depots at Bassens and Lespinasse in the southwest and Cournon d’Auvergne in the centre of the country.

But strikers threw up fresh pickets in at least five fuel depots on Friday, at Caen and Ouistreham in the north, Le Mans and Vern-sur-Seiche in the northwest, and La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast.

France’s main unions have upped the ante in their fight against pension reform, calling for their members and supporters to hold the fifth in a series street rallies on Saturday and another one next Tuesday.

A nationwide day of strikes and demonstrations last Tuesday brought more than a million people on to the streets, and workers in some sectors have kept up their stoppages since then.

High school pupils have also demonstrated in several cities in what is traditionally interpreted in France as a sign of hardening resistance.

Pupils threw stones at police at two schools north of Paris on Thursday and officers clashed with youths and made arrests in the northern city of Lens.

On Friday more than 300 schools were affected by student protests, officials said, and in the Riviera city of Cannes a police officer was injured by a stone thrown during a student protest.

“There have never since 1995 been as many protestors … from both the public and private sectors, and now from all generations,” Bernard Thibault, the head of the powerful CGT union, told LCI television.

In 1995 then president Jacques Chirac backed down over pension reform after a three-week transport strike that paralysed France.

But despite the ongoing strikes and protests, the current government shows no sign of backing down on what is a cornerstone of the Sarkozy’s reform agenda as he prepares for his likely re-election battle in 2012.

Key parts of the reform, part of efforts to rein in France’s public deficit, have been definitively passed by the upper house Senate and the government hopes for it to be passed in its entirety by the end of the month.

Unions and the Socialist opposition say the right-wing president is making workers pay an unfair share of the bill for the financial crisis and have made alternative proposals for funding the deficit.

Source: SGGP

Sarkozy vows revenge after Al-Qaeda kills French hostage

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 at 7:18 am

President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed Monday to avenge the murder of a 78-year-old French aid worker killed in the Sahara desert by Al-Qaeda’s North African wing.

Sarkozy spoke after Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) declared it had killed hostage Michel Germaneau as revenge after French and Mauritanian soldiers stormed one of the group’s camps in Mali and killed six militants.

“Dear compatriots, this crime committed against Michel Germaneau will not go unpunished,” Sarkozy said, warning French nationals to avoid the arid Sahel region running through Mauritania, Mali, Niger and southern Algeria.

Sarkozy did not reveal what France planned to do in response to the killing, but experts and military officers told AFP to expect an increased use of spies and special forces to target militant groups in the Sahel.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks to the presse at the Elysee Palace in Paris

Defence Minister Herve Morin cut short an Asian tour to fly back to France and help prepare the military response, aides said.

“We’re faced with a totally determined group, a phalanx waging a holy war that refused to negotiate with us by direct or indirect means,” Morin said.

“The Mauritanians were informed about an imminent attack by 150 Al-Qaeda fighters based in Mali,” he told France Inter radio.

“We decided to help out in part of their operation, which was to intervene in one Al-Qaeda camp.”

Morin said Al-Qaeda has around 500 militants in armed groups scattered around the Sahel.

Mauritanian and French forces killed at least six AQIM fighters on Thursday, but failed to find any trace of Germaneau.

In Mali, a local elected official told AFP that Germaneau had been beheaded after the raid, in the presence of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, the leader of an AQIM cell that has been blamed for killing a Briton in 2009.

“He was still alive when the raid took place, but hidden in a mountainous region in Kidal, near the Algerian border,” the local official said.

“The area is an impregnable fortress, where Islamists have planted mines and constructed bomb shelters,” he warned.

Morin was speaking after an emergency meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris between Sarkozy, Fillon, key ministers, military top brass and the heads of France’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies.

Later Monday Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who attended the same meeting, flew to Mauritania for talks with President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

Afterwards he said that the two countries would continue their joint fight against the insurgents.

“The Sahel-Saharan strip will not be left to bands of terrorists, to arms arms and drugs traffickers,” he said.

France already has military cooperation agreements with its former West African colonies, and helps to train and coordinate local anti-terror forces, in an area which receives around 30,000 French tourists per year.

Spain, which has two of its nationals held in Mali by a different AQIM cell, condemned the killing of Germaneau as a “brutal crime.”

It said it would continue its efforts to negotiate the freedom of aid workers Albert Vilalta, 35, and 50-year-old Roque Pascual, kidnapped eight months ago.

Privately, Spanish officials expressed concern that the more robust French tactics might have endangered the Spanish captives.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned Germaneau’s killing as a “reprehensible act”, and European Union foreign ministers denounced the “foul assassination.”

In Washington, the US State Department described the killing as a “heinous and cowardly act… We stand ready to assist the French government in any way that we can.”

AQIM took responsibility for the killing in an audio message broadcast by the Arab satellite TV network Al-Jazeera at the weekend.

Some French officials have suggested that contrary to what the group had claimed, the hostage might have been killed several weeks ago.

Germaneau was seized on April 19 in Niger where he had been building a school. On May 14 his abductors issued a photo of an exhausted-looking hostage and a taped message in which he appealed to Sarkozy to work for his release.

Source: SGGP

Sarkozy caught up in L’Oreal heiress cash scandal

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2010 at 4:14 am

Allegations of illegal donations from France’s richest woman plunged Nicolas Sarkozy into the biggest crisis of his presidency Tuesday, despite protests he is the victim of a smear campaign.

The French government reacted angrily to reports police had interviewed a witness over claims his presidential campaign received an illegal contribution of 150,000 euros in cash from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

Sarkozy faces mounting pressure to address the allegations directly and calls for a clear-out of tainted ministers, including embattled Labour Minister Eric Woerth, who is at the centre of the scandal.

“I would love it so much if the country could excite itself over the big problems … rather than to get wrapped up in the first horror, a slander with only one goal, to smear with no basis in reality,” Sarkozy said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy gives a press conference during his visit at the Brie-Comte-Robert hospital, some 30 km east of Paris.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon was more direct.

“This is slander, this is a systematic destabilisation campaign,” Fillon told a news conference at the European parliament in Strasbourg.

“We will not be intimidated by these methods and I want to say that those who are involved in this manhunt, or slanderous accusations, should ask themselves if they still have a conscience,” he said.

In Paris, a parliamentary debate turned ugly when Budget Minister Francois Baroin accused the opposition of doing the work of the far right in pursuing the scandal, prompting a walk-out by Socialist deputies.

Sarkozy’s approval ratings are at their lowest levels since his 2007 election and he faces an uphill battle to get reforms back on track before seeking reelection in 2012.

On Tuesday, an opinion poll by the Ifop agency found 69 percent of French voters would like to see an immediate cabinet reshuffle.

Already at the weekend two junior ministers were forced to step down over reports that they had spent public money on private jet rentals and cigars.

The new claim is that Woerth, treasurer of the ruling UMP as well as a key minister, received 150,000 euros (188,000 dollars) in cash from Bettencourt. Donations to politicians and their parties are strictly limited in France.

The investigative website Mediapart interviewed a former Bettencourt accountant, identified as Claire T., who alleged the heiress often gave cash to right-wing politicians.

The accountant’s lawyer, Antoine Gillot, confirmed to AFP that his client had told police about the alleged payments.

According to Mediapart, the accountant also alleges that Sarkozy personally received envelopes of cash after dinners at Bettencourt’s mansion when he was mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly.

Woerth denied any wrongdoing and said he would not resign: “My party has not received a single illegal euro. That’s enough! I have been treasurer for eight years. No one can say I did anything wrong.”

Last week, Sarkozy defended Woerth after it was revealed that his wife worked for a firm managing Bettencourt’s 17-billion-euro personal fortune.

But, with the head of state now personally implicated, key right-wing allies, including the UMP leader in parliament, Jean-Francois Cope, called on the president to “speak to the French people” about the scandal.

Presidential aides confirmed he was considering making a televised address.

Benoit Hamon, spokesman for the opposition Socialists, called for a reshuffle and said that the allegations meant Woerth no longer had the “legitimacy” to be the government’s architect of pension reform.

Claire T. alleged that Woerth received the cash donation in March 2007, ahead of Sarkozy’s election in May.

Woerth has served as Sarkozy’s budget minister charged with fighting tax evasion by personalities like Bettencourt, before serving as labour minister.

Mediapart quoted Claire T. as saying she had been asked for 150,000 euros by Bettencourt’s financial adviser Patrice de Maistre, who told her he would give it “discreetly” to Woerth at a dinner.

The accountant, who worked for Bettencourt for 12 years until 2008, said she believed Sarkozy had also received envelopes in person while he was mayor between 1983 and 2002.

“Everyone in the house knew that Sarkozy went to see the Bettencourts to collect money,” Mediapart quoted her as saying.

The scandal implicating the heiress started with secret tapes recorded by the 87-year-old billionaire’s butler and leaked to media last month.

Woerth’s name came up in the conversations, in which she and Maistre — who denies all the allegations — allegedly plotted to evade taxes.

He added Tuesday that he would not resign.

“Every day I hear torrents of insults… I have nothing to reproach myself for,” he told the TF1 television channel.

Source: SGGP

Sarkozy rival to launch new French political party

In Uncategorized on June 19, 2010 at 8:41 am

Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin was set to launch a new political party on Saturday, setting his sights on challenging long-time rival Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency in 2012.

Organisers expected some 3,000 supporters to turn up for the founding congress in Paris of the new centre-right party called “Republique solidaire” (United Republic).

The 56-year-old ex-prime minister, who also served as foreign and interior minister under ex-president Jacques Chirac, has emerged as Sarkozy’s fiercest critic within his right-wing camp.

In an interview to Le Monde published Friday, Villepin again took aim at Sarkozy, saying his government’s “dominant trait was that it was developing policies with pollsters who every day look at the surveys and ask what publicity stunt they can score.”

Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin (C) was set to launch a new political party on Saturday, setting his sights on challenging long-time rival Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency in 2012.

Polls show Villepin would pick up no more than 7 or 8 percent of the vote in 2012, but his approval ratings stand at 49 percent — higher than those registered by Sarkozy, which have hit rock-bottom over the past months.

The latest polls put Sarkozy’s approval rating at around 33 percent.

Villepin is a member of Sarkozy’s UMP party and while they both served under Chirac, they fell out spectacularly over who should succeed him.

Chirac openly campaigned for Villepin but Sarkozy turned out to be the more skillful politician by winning the UMP nomination.

A showdown took place last year when Villepin went on trial for allegedly taking part in a smear campaign to ruin Sarkozy’s presidential bid, but the ex-prime minister was cleared of all charges.

Prosecutors however have appealed the verdict and he is expected to be back in court again next year, just as the campaign for the Elysee gets into full swing.

A career diplomat who speaks flawless English, Villepin won global fame for leading the charge against the US invasion of Iraq at the United Nations in 2003.

His smooth, patrician some would say arrogant style contrasts sharply with Sarkozy’s more brash approach. A published poet, novelist and essayist, he cuts a very different figure to the more populist Sarkozy.

His candidacy however could divide the right at a time when Sarkozy’s party is facing a challenge from the far-right.

Marine Le Pen, vice president of the far-right National Front, said she was “very happy” about the prospect of Villepin running in 2012 and suggested it could weaken Sarkozy.

“He will be Sarkozy’s Chevenement,” she said.

Former interior minister Jean-Paul Chevenement is seen as having drained away left-wing votes in the 2002 election that allowed far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, to make it into the run-off against Chirac.

Source: SGGP

Sarkozy meets Obama after chiding US on dominance

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2010 at 9:17 am

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2010 (AFP) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned the United States that it cannot “run the world alone” as he warmed up for a summit Tuesday with Barack Obama by echoing Franco-American spats of the past.

Delivering some self-styled “home truths” to his hosts, the French leader used a visit to New York ahead of his meeting with the US president to query the dollar’s dominance and pushed for a tightening of economic regulations.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks during a press conference at the European Union summit at the European Council headquarters on March 26, 2010 in Brussels. AFP photo

Saying “there is no single country in the 21st century that can run the world alone,” he urged the United States to join Europe in “inventing the rules for the economy of tomorrow.”

Sarkozy, accompanied on the visit by his wife Carla Bruni, a former supermodel, said he would discuss with Obama ways to stabilize commodities markets and to define “a new international monetary order.”

“The dollar is not the only currency in the world,” he said.

The talks in the Oval Office between the US president and his French counterpart are also expected to focus on hot button foreign policy issues such as the war in Afghanistan and Iran’s nuclear drive.

Obama will renew a US request to Sarkozy to send more French military and police trainers to Afghanistan and discuss his new push for nuclear disarmament ahead of the Washington summit next month.

One bone of contention to be discussed by the leaders is a huge US military contract to supply 179 tanker planes. France has accused Washington of protectionism by seeking to favour Boeing over Europe’s Airbus.

Sarkozy has generally worked hard to rebuild ties with Washington, but his comments to Columbia University students on Monday recalled a more prickly past.

Reiterating traditional European skepticism of US economic free markets, he said: “We need the great American people to understand that the absence of rules kills liberty.”

“The world economic regulations cannot go on as they are. We can’t accept a capitalist system without rules any more,” he added. Lack of rules, he said, “will be the death of capitalism.”

With his popularity diving at home and his party reeling from defeat in regional elections, the US visit is seen as a chance for Sarkozy to regain momentum.

While he was careful to praise Obama, he appeared to have a less upbeat view of ordinary US citizens, pleading with them “not to lag behind” behind their president on financial regulations, defense and the environment.

Even his congratulations for Obama’s hard-fought victory in pushing health care reform through a divided Congress came laced with criticism.

“Welcome to the club of countries that does not dump its sick people,” Sarkozy said.

“But if you want me to be sincere, seen from Europe, when we see the US debate on health care reform, we find it hard to believe.”

France, he noted, had “resolved” the health care problem half a century ago.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy urged worldwide support for Russia following the deaths of 38 people in two suicide bombings in the Moscow metro.

The French president said the attacks were no different to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which killed nearly 3,000 people, most of them in New York.

“Do you think there’s a fundamental difference between the lunatics who blew up innocent victims in the Moscow metro and the insane people who flew planes into the Twin Towers of New York?” he asked.

“When New York was attacked, all the world’s democracies were attacked. And when Moscow is attacked, we are all attacked,” Sarkozy said.

In New York he also met with UN chief Ban Ki-moon and discussed Wednesday’s planned aid conference on Haiti, international climate change talks and reform of the UN Security Council, where France is one of the five permanent members, the UN press office said.

Source: SGGP

Embattled Sarkozy cozies up to successful Obama

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2010 at 5:01 am

PARIS, March 28, 2010 (AFP) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy takes a break from a sea of troubles at home this week to sit down in Washington with Barack Obama, who looks more of a winner after his health care reform success.

Obama and his wife Michelle will welcome the French president and glamorous first lady, supermodel-turned-singer Carla Bruni, to the White House for a private dinner on Tuesday evening.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks during a press conference at the European Union summit at the European Council headquarters on March 26, 2010 in Brussels. AFP file

The honour extended to the Sarkozys is seen as a fence-mending exercise after Obama bowed out of a European summit and reports of bad chemistry between the French and American leaders.

The political fortunes of the two leaders could not be more different as they meet in Washington to compare notes on world problems, from global finance reform to the war in Afghanistan.

Sarkozy has fallen on hard times, forced to backtrack on some of his signature reforms as his popularity sinks and his party reels from defeat in regional elections.

By contrast, Obama last week signed into law a reform bill that has become the centrepiece of his presidency, providing health coverage to 30 million Americans and the most far-reaching US social legislation in decades.

“Obama has this victory and Sarkozy, well, doesn’t really have anything to show,” commented analyst Philippe Moraud-Desfarges from the French Institute of International Relations.

The White House visit will seek to dispel talk of a rift between Sarkozy — once considered the most pro-American French president in decades — and Obama, who will hold one-on-one talks at the Oval Office ahead of the dinner.

“The dinner is an intimate thing,” said a western diplomat. “You invite an important statesman at a state dinner, but you invite a friend into your home.”

Much has been written in the French press about Sarkozy’s supposed bitterness at not being Obama’s go-to man in Europe and his dashed hopes of forging a special relationship to supplant the London-Washington axis.

The visit follows months of whispers from the Elysee aired in the French press and directed at Obama, who is dismissed as an indecisive leader who most notably failed to push for a deal at the Copenhagen climate change summit.

“Sarkozy has been disappointed by his ‘buddy’ Obama,” wrote Le Parisien daily. The French leader “believes that world opinion is way too soft toward Obama, who has not accomplished much, in his eyes.”

French officials lament that Obama has little interest in Europe, citing his decision to skip a US-EU summit in Madrid in May, and say he is focused too narrowly on Asia.

“What this shows is that Franco-American relations are still difficult and complicated and the big rapprochement that Sarkozy wanted has turned to dust,” said Moraud-Desfarges.

One bone of contention to be discussed by the leaders is a huge US military contract to supply 179 tanker planes. France has accused Washington of protectionism by seeking to favour Boeing over Europe’s Airbus.

After angrily dropping out of the competition, Airbus’ parent company EADS has opened talks with the Pentagon on extending the deadline for bids for the 35-billion-dollar (26-billion-euro) contract.

Obama will renew a US request to Sarkozy to send more French military and police trainers to Afghanistan and discuss his new push for nuclear disarmament ahead of the Washington summit next month.

Obama’s political success — possibly short-lived as he heads for mid-term elections in November — has led to questions about whether Sarkozy should stick to a single reform project instead of a multi-pronged approach.

As polls show Sarkozy’s approval ratings hitting an all-time low, the president has spoken of a “pause” in his reform drive and singled out pensions as the key problem to be addressed in the second half of his mandate.

Source: SGGP

Israel hints at Syria opening after Sarkozy meet

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2009 at 10:27 am

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met French President Nicolas Sarkozy for talks on the crisis in the Middle East peace process and appeared to open the door to talks with Syria.

Neither leader spoke to reporters after their two-hour meeting in the Elysee Palace, and Netanyahu set off for the airport immediately afterwards. The pair had addressed the media after both their previous Paris meetings.

A short statement from Sarkozy’s office said that the talks had included only the leaders and one senior advisor each. They discussed “international issues and notably ways to restart the Middle East peace process.”

But, while the mood surrounding the meeting was downbeat, afterwards an Israeli official did hold open the chance of progress in one of the overlapping negotiating tracks that make up the stalled regional peace plan.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) shakes hands with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Elysee Palace in Paris

“Mr Sarkozy raised the issue of the Syrian track,” the senior aide said.

“The prime minister said he is willing to meet with the Syrian president at any time and anywhere to move on the peace negotiations on the basis of no pre-conditions,” he added.

Earlier, in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a meeting of Arab politicians that Syria would not “put forward conditions on making peace” but warned it had “rights that we will not renounce,” according to the SANA news agency.

Assad is due in Paris on Friday for talks with Sarkozy.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and unilaterally annexed it in 1981. Damascus has repeatedly demanded the strategic plateau’s return as a non-negotiable condition for peace.

Telephone talks arranged by Turkish mediators between the arch foes were broken off last year during Israel’s offensive in Gaza, closing a promising diplomatic channel towards a broader Middle East settlement.

Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in Paris that he was ready to resume his role as mediator of three-way telephone conversations between Israeli and Syrian leaders at any time.

There was no sign, however, that the Paris meeting had made much progress on the issue of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

On the eve of the visit, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said a “real political difference” separates Sarkozy and Netanyahu on the issue of Israel’s continued building of settlements on Palestinian land.

“We think that a freeze on settlements, that’s to say no more colonisation while talks are ongoing, would be absolutely indispensable,” Kouchner told France Inter radio. “We need talks and the peace process to restart.”

French fears for the peace process have been exacerbated by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’ threat to resign in protest at Israel’s refusal to stop building on Palestinian land in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“The return to negotiations depends on Israel adhering to the terms of reference of peace and that means halting all settlements,” Abbas told Palestinian supporters on Wednesday in Ramallah.

Abbas is seen by many as the only Palestinian leader with the power and credibility to lead meaningful negotiations, and his departure could even trigger the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

Sarkozy called Abbas on Tuesday to urge him to reconsider a decision not to seek re-election next year, and was expected to pressure Netanyahu during his meeting Wednesday to halt settlement building.

The Israeli leader arrived in Paris late Tuesday after flying in from Washington, where he had held similarly tense discussions with US President Barack Obama, who has also called for a construction freeze.

Netanyahu insists he has limited settlement activity and has called for immediate peace talks with the Palestinians, but his Washington trip ended without the usual friendly joint appearance with the US leader.

The lack of a press conference was widely interpreted as a snub by Obama.

Speaking in Jerusalem, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday said the meeting had helped pave the way for the possible restarting of Israeli-Palestinian talks.

“This meeting was good, important and constructive. It lifted a number of obstacles and created a decisive base for the resumption of negotiations that will allow us to reach an agreement with our neighbours, the Palestinians,” he said.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share