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Sarkozy offers in Israel to broker peace

23/06/2008 - 13:12

By Francois Murphy

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozypositioned himself on Monday as a possible Middle East peacebroker, offering in a speech to Israel's parliament to helpreach agreement and mobilise French troops if necessary.

"I ask you to trust us because we want to help you," saidSarkozy, the first French president to address the Knessetsince Francois Mitterrand in 1982.

"France is ready to provide its guarantee, ready tomobilise its diplomatic service, its resources, its soldiers.You can trust France," he said, without specifying what roleFrench soldiers could play.

Since taking office a year ago, Sarkozy has broken rankwith his predecessors by repeatedly branding himself a "friendof Israel", fostering closer ties with the Jewish state andrepeatedly saying there can be no compromise on its security.

Sarkozy said in the speech that peace with the Palestinianswas possible if Israel stopped all settlement activity andaccepted Jerusalem as capital of two states.

"Create the conditions for movement," Sarkozy toldlawmakers, urging them to back a proposal for settlers to leavethe West Bank for compensation and rehousing in Israel.

"There can be no peace without a halt to settlementactivity," he said, while also condemning "terrorism" andtelling Israel it was not alone in the face of what he said wasa military Iranian nuclear programme.

Israel has said it would press ahead with construction insettlement blocs it intends to keep in any final peace dealwith the Palestinians. Palestinians fear such settlements willdeny them a viable state in the West Bank.

In a welcoming address, Olmert praised Sarkozy's role inbolstering Franco-Israeli ties but, in an apparent allusion tothe dispute over settlement expansion, added: "Not always do wesee eye to eye on every detail."

OPENING

During his three-day state visit to Israel, which began onSunday, Sarkozy has said an Israeli-Palestinian deal could bereached soon, striking a far more optimistic note than mostobservers, who highlight Olmert's weakness at home anddivisions among the Palestinians.

Amid deep public scepticism, the United States, the mainbroker in talks between Olmert and Palestinian PresidentMahmoud Abbas, hopes that a framework statehood deal can beachieved before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office inJanuary.

An official close to Sarkozy told reporters thatpreoccupation with the presidential election campaign in theUnited States had created "a sort of an opening for anyone whowants to head into it" in efforts to move negotiations along.

"The president's visit could give an indication of whocould, in the coming months, say 'why not create a bigger rolefor the European Union under France's presidency?'," theofficial added, referring to the rotating six-month EUpresidency which France takes over on July 1.

Israel has also opened indirect peace talks with Syria, butofficials say not enough progress has been made for Olmert andSyrian President Bashar al-Assad to meet at the launch summitof Sarkozy's Mediterranean Union project in Paris next month.

(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry and Dan Williams)


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