France Weighs EU Peacekeeping Offer for Mideast
Sunday, June 15, 2003; 9:41 AM
PARIS (Reuters) - France said Sunday it would discuss with Europe the possibility of sending peacekeeping forces to the Middle East if they could help to halt Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed.
Speaking after a week of violence that threatens a U.S.-backed "road map" for peace, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said peacekeepers would only be sent with the backing of the international community.
"Let's see what such a force could contribute on the ground," Villepin told French radio station Radio J.
"If it appears that all the parties want it and that a peacekeeping force would halt movements of terrorists or act in such a way as to avoid raising the stakes, then let's do it."
Villepin, who is due to meet fellow European Union foreign ministers Monday, said he would ask EU countries to start looking at the feasibility of sending a peacekeeping force.
Last week U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told an Israeli newspaper he thought dispatching an armed peacekeeping force to the Middle East would help calm the troubled region, but Secretary of State Colin Powell last week ruled out sending international peacekeepers.
The idea, first put forward by Annan more than three years ago, was again embraced by the Palestinians and rejected by Israel.
In an interview with Haaretz, Annan said Israelis and Palestinians "are going to need help from a third party, and given the environment on the ground, I think it is eventually going to take a force."
Palestinian U.N. envoy Nasser al-Kidwa said the idea of armed international observers was gaining support "and we hope at some point this would be something to implement."
But Israeli Deputy Ambassador Arye Mekel told reporters the only way to move the peace process forward was for Israelis and Palestinians "to talk to each other."
"We certainly do not need any foreign forces there of any nature. This is not a good idea," Mekel said.