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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 June, 2003, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
France mulls Mid-East peace force

By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent in Paris

France has said it will discuss with the European Union the possibility of sending peacekeeping forces to the Middle East if they could help halt the bloodshed there.

Speaking after a week of Palestinian and Israeli violence, the French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, said peacekeepers would only be sent with the backing of the international community.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin
De Villepin: International community should not turn its back on Mid East

In an interview on French radio, Mr de Villepin said that if a peacekeeping force were to help on the ground in the Middle East it would be worth sending.

"[The international community] cannot turn its back on those who today believe in peace," he said.

"If it appears that all parties want it and that action of an international force would help check terrorist movements ... let's decide to do it."

An international force, he said, would be better to ensure security than troops from one nation alone.

US 'monopoly'

The idea itself is not new.

It was first floated by the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, some three years ago and he repeated it last week.

But Israel and the US have both firmly rejected the idea, even though the Palestinians say they would welcome such a force.

The French foreign minister's comments echo concerns in France that the peace process in the Middle East risks being monopolised by the US.

His latest comments may well irritate Washington, which is already annoyed that Mr de Villepin met the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, last month despite US and Israeli efforts to sideline him in favour of the new Palestinian prime minister.

Relations between France and the US have remained distinctly chilly since the two countries fell out over Iraq.

And although Mr de Villepin insists that relations with Washington are back to normal, the US seems unlikely to welcome such alternative views on how best to make progress in the Middle East.

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