Mideast Peace Process Tops Agenda Of Sarkozy’s Talks

RIYADH: The Middle East peace process will top the agenda of talks between Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and French President Nicolas Sarkozy here on Tuesday.

Sarkozy’s visit, though primarily political in nature, coincides with the announcement by Thales, a French firm, that it won a SR168 million contract on Monday to set up a new civil aviation academy in Jeddah.

“The visit of the French president is rich in overtones of political diplomacy with Middle East peace process on the top of the agenda besides regional questions like Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan,” said a Western diplomat, adding that Sarkozy would be flying into Riyadh on board a special aircraft with a small delegation.

“Moreover, the visit will provide an opportunity for the two heads of state to discuss issues in a one-to-one meeting at the king’s ranch in Janadriya.”

He said Sarkozy’s entourage would not include any minister or French businessmen, as speculated by the press earlier. “The French president will leave on Wednesday after spending one night in Riyadh,” said the diplomat.

The presidential visit, however, will coincide with the trip of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to the Middle East, with hopes he will convince Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to engage in talks.

Kouchner will visit Israel and the West Bank on Tuesday and Wednesday to back up Sarkozy, who has been trying to revive the faltering peace effort with high-level talks. The French foreign minister will exert more efforts to convince the two sides to come to the negotiating table. During his trip, Kouchner will also suggest Abbas reverse his decision not to seek re-election in January. The visit of Sarkozy to Saudi Arabia and Kouchner to Israel and West Bank is significant keeping in view the high-level talks with Israeli and Syrian leaders last week.

According to reports, French President Sarkozy has offered to host a Middle East peace summit in Paris to defuse the crisis. In fact, Sarkozy met both Netanyahu and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Paris last week and spoke by phone with Abbas, and then the French leader proposed “important suggestions” to restart the stalled peace process.

“If a summit takes place it would likely include heads of state from Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as the EU, the UN, Russia, and the US — members of the Middle East Quartet,” said the reports.

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