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EDITIONS
Monday, 16 December, 2002, 17:24 GMT
Palestinian leaders invited to UK
Yasser Arafat
Arafat will nominate senior Palestinian figures
Tony Blair is to invite Palestinian leaders to London in the New Year in an effort to boost the Middle East peace process.

The talks will run parallel to efforts by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia to draw up a blueprint for peace in the region and lay the groundwork for a Palestinian state.

Representatives from this so-called "quartet" of mediators, together with other countries from the region, will be invited to attend the London conference, Mr Blair told MPs.

The aim is to make progress on reforming Palestinian institutions and on security issues.

Senior figures

The conference will be attended by the prime minister and chaired by the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Yasser Arafat has been asked to nominate senior figures from within the Palestinian authority.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have also been asked to send representatives.

Mr Blair has written to President Arafat and Ariel Sharon.

Tensions

He told MPs the conference would "discuss progress on reform and look at how the international community can help".

He added: "It is in the interests of both the Palestinians and Israelis that these reform efforts succeed, so that we can make a reality of President Bush's vision of two states - Israel and Palestine - living side by side in peace and security".

Tensions in the Gulf and Israel's 28 January election have also been delaying progress on peace talks.

Mr Blair said: "In the short term, progress on the Israeli side will be limited by the general election campaign."

Assad talks

Earlier, Mr Blair held talks in Downing Street with Syria's President Bashar Assad, which was described by the Syrian leader as "positive".

After the meeting, Mr Blair told reporters the leaders had held "a very good and interesting discussion."

President Assad said the "realistic and constructive talks" had focused on Iraq, the Middle East peace process and terrorism.

But the Syrian leader did not agree to restrain Palestinian extremist groups - a key British goal.

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The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"(Some) Palestinian leaders...will be invited to Britain for talks"

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16 Dec 02 | Politics
12 Dec 02 | Politics
21 Nov 02 | Europe
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