U.S. and France: Mideast Peace Conference Useless if Sides Unwilling to Negotiate

Clinton, Juppe agree that return to talks is crucial ahead of UN vote in September, but there is no agreement among Israelis and Palestinians about the terms of negotiations.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Monday agreed that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks must resume, but stressed that there was no point in setting up a peace conference before the parties showed a willingness to negotiate.

"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."

Clinton Juppe June 6, 2011.

"Right now we are still in a wait-and-see attitude, because we don’t yet have any assurance from either party that they are willing to return to negotiations," Clinton added.

Juppe strengthened Clinton's statements, saying that "the Palestinians reacted positively and the Israelis didn’t 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."

Israeli and Palestinian delegates are in Washington holding separate talks with White house officials regarding a French initiative to resume talks. The U.S. initiated the talks following the French proposal which 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.

"There is an agreement between us that we have to convince the parties it's not a good idea to go to the UN. I didn’t expect during my recent Mideast visit an enthusiastic response from the parties," Juppe added.

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

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Monday denied that the Palestinian delegation to Washington exchanged messages with the Israelis, who are also in the United States for meetings with the White House, saying that he did not know the Israelis would be there.

Erekat told Haaretz he learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's aide Yithak Molcho was also holding talks with the White House only after he arrived in Washington and there was no direct or indirect exchange of messages between them.