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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 22:07 GMT 23:07 UK
US-France divide continues
Colin Powell and Dominique de Villepin arrive for meeting
The meeting was "friendly and frank"
The US and France, divided over Iraq, pursued different tacks at G8 talks over the Middle East.

The talks between foreign ministers, ahead of next weekend's G8 summit in Evian, also covered the crisis over North Korea's nuclear programme.

The French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, said real progress towards peace was needed and confirmed he would meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat when he went to the region on Monday - as well, he hoped, as the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

But his US counterpart Colin Powell made clear the US would continue to refuse contact with Mr Arafat, who the administration says cannot bring peace nearer.

Talks between Mr Powell and Mr de Villepin on Friday were the first since the diplomatic fallout over war with Iraq.

President George W Bush hinted on Friday he may hold his first Middle East summit after Evian, possibly with Mr Sharon and new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Divergent points of view were expressed
Dominique de Villepin
French foreign minister

"If a meeting advances progress toward two states living side-by-side in peace, I will strongly consider such a meeting," he said at his Texas ranch after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Much of the discussion by the G8 members - the world's seven richest nations plus Russia - centred on the peace roadmap and was followed by a joint statement.

"[It] offers a historic opportunity to solve the conflict... within the framework of two viable states living side by side with secure and recognised borders and to bring decades of human suffering to an end."

Other talks focused on North Korea, Afghanistan, India-Pakistan relations and the reconstruction of Iraq.

French officials said the meeting between Mr de Villepin and Mr Powell, which lasted just 45 minutes, was "friendly and frank".

Relations among G8 countries were badly damaged by the Iraq crisis, when Canada, France, Germany and Russia opposed the US drive to attack Iraq - a policy supported by the UK, Italy and Japan.

Resolution vote

But Mr Powell said on Friday that the US would not punish France for its opposition to the war, promising to "work out any sharp edges... that are still there as a result of this disagreement".

He described France's vote in favour of the US-backed UN resolution on Iraq as "a step in the right direction".

"If it is appropriate to draw some conclusions and consequences follow those conclusions, then that's the way it is," he said.

Mr de Villepin said relations with the US were "excellent".

"Divergent points of view were expressed, we have taken them on board and we want to look confidently to the future," he added.

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