Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak urged Europe on Monday to throw its weight behind U.S.-led efforts to secure a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis.
Mubarak, whose country in 1979 became the first Arab state to strike a peace deal with Israel, discussed the matter with French President Nicolas Sarkozy before heading to Washington this week for the first direct negotiations in 20 months.
"The American administration needs strong backing from the European Union for the peace process to continue," Mubarak said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are due to meet President Barack Obama on Sept. 1, according to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and launch direct negotiations the following day.
Sarkozy said Europe planned to further promote the push for peace at a Euro-Mediterranean summit planned for Nov. 20 in Barcelona, Spain, where key leaders from the Middle East would be present.
"We have proposed, with President Mubarak, that a Mediterranean Union summit could take place in mid-November, at which all the parties necessary for obtaining peace in the Mideast would participate," Sarkozy said following a meeting with Mubarak.
For his part, the Egyptian president said such a summit would "reinforce the relaunch" of the peace process and help U.S. negotiators tackle complex issues such as the highly controversial construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.
France and Egypt co-chair the Mediterranean Union, which was founded in 2008, but has not held a single summit since then because of the frozen Mideast peace process.
"After months of stalemate, a hope exists. This chance must be seized," Sarkozy said. "I believe the U.S. role is very important but cannot be the only one."
Mubarak expressed concerns that Israeli building of further settlements would not help the peace process.
"We agreed that a peace deal should be reached within one year to end occupation and establish the Palestinian state," the 82-year-old president said.
"There is a hesitation among Israelis to stop settlements and that needs more effort and European support."
After their hour-long meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Sarkozy expressed a similar view.
"Firstly, every person in Israel should understand one thing. When there is hope for peace, everything should be done to bolster that," he said.
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