Sarkozy Offers to Host Summit to Break Mideast Deadlock

French President first raised proposal last week with Netanyahu, then with Abbas and Assad.

PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy offered last week to host an international summit in Paris to break the deadlock in the Middle East peace process. Sarkozy first raised the proposal in his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, then with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Neither Netanyahu nor Abbas rejected the offer, though the U.S. administration's position remains unclear.

Netanyahu did, however, express anger at French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's remarks on Tuesday that Israelis' desire for peace had waned.

French officials said that during the meeting with Netanyahu, Sarkozy had several ideas for restarting the stalled negotiations. One proposal was to hold a summit on the Mideast peace process attended by Netanyahu, Abbas, Assad, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. Representatives of the Quartet of Mideast negotiators - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia - would also take part.

At his meeting with Sarkozy, Netanyahu did not reject the possibility of attending the summit, and on Thursday the French president discussed the proposal in a telephone conversation with Abbas. A day later, Sarkozy presented the idea to Assad during the Syrian leader's visit to Paris.

Netanyahu found a warmer welcome in Paris after his reportedly tense visit to Washington, and the Prime Minister's Bureau was eager to ensure reporters that the latest encounter went smoothly.

Nonetheless, French diplomats at the meeting said that there were a few ripples at the Elysee Palace. Whereas during their last meeting, Sarkozy complained to Netanyahu over Avigdor Lieberman's allegedly inappropriate remarks and urged him to oust the foreign minister, this time it was Netanyahu criticizing Kouchner.

A day before Netanyahu's arrival in Paris, Kouchner told the radio station France Inter that it seemed that the Israeli public's desire for peace "has completely vanished, as though people no longer believe in it."

Netanyahu and his associates perceived the remarks as personal slights of the prime minister. The French diplomats said Netanyahu protested bitterly over Kouchner's comments, and Israeli officials said National Security Advisor Uzi Arad asked his French counterpart Jean-David Levitte that Kouchner not participate in the meeting with Netanyahu. The Prime Minister's Bureau played down the reports, saying that Netanyahu merely sought a private audience with Sarkozy.