France to Pursue Mideast Conference Despite U.S. Reservations

French Foreign Minister Juppe tells reporters he believes there will be positive developments in the following weeks; Clinton says a conference is useless unless sides willing to negotiate.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe says France will pursue efforts to organize a Middle East peace conference despite reservations expressed by the United States and Israel, AFP reported on Wednesday.

"I have the feeling that our initiative has moved things" in the peace process, Juppe told reporters at the United Nations headquarters in New York. "I think there will be positive developments in the next weeks."


Juppe said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has "responded favorably" to the French proposal and "the Israeli government is to give its response in the coming days."

The French proposal calls for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to meet this month or by early July with an eye to reviving talks which broke off last year in a dispute on Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

The Palestinians plan to unilaterally seek UN recognition of statehood in September -- a step Israel strongly opposes fearing it could end up isolated internationally.

Juppe was in Washington on Monday to discuss his countrys plan with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But at a joint press conference afterward, Clinton said there was no point in holding a peace conference in France if the parties themselves hadnt agreed to resume negotiations.

"We strongly support a return to negotiations," Clinton said in a joint press conference with her French counterpart. "But we do not think that it would be productive for there to be a conference about returning to negotiations. There has to be a return to negotiations, which will take a lot of persuasion, a lot of preliminary work, in order to set up a productive meeting between the parties."

Juppe strengthened Clinton's statements, saying that "the Palestinians reacted positively and the Israelis didnt say no. We will only have this conference if there is sufficient work done," he said, adding that "our main concern is what we are heading [for] in September.

This situation will be difficult for everybody and the only way to avoid it is to boost the re-launch of the negotiations."