France regrets delay of Mideast meeting

AP News
Posted: Apr 13, 2011 4:22 PM
France regrets delay of Mideast meeting

France regrets the delay of a meeting expected this week of the Quartet of mediators seeking peace in the Middle East, officials said Wednesday.

Diplomats have said the U.S. blocked an initiative by France, Britain and Germany to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks by proposing the outlines of a final settlement at the meeting.

The French Foreign Ministry said "we regret the postponement" of the meeting, which had been expected to take place in Berlin on Friday. Germany insisted that lower-ranking diplomats were in talks to find a new date.

"We believe that a meeting as soon as possible would give the Mideast process a much needed impetus," said German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke in Berlin.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. would be open to a future meeting of the Quartet when the time is right. But he would not confirm claims that the U.S. had blocked a meeting planned for the coming days, saying one was never announced.

"We're open to a meeting of the Quartet when that meeting has value," Toner told reporters.

France called on the Quartet _ made up of the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia _ to "adopt as fast as possible a declaration specifying the parameters of the final status _ notably regarding borders and security _ so that direct negotiations can resume on this basis."

The Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to President Barack Obama's target date of September 2011 for an agreement, but negotiations collapsed weeks after they restarted last September following the expiry of an Israeli settlement construction slowdown.

The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel halts settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war which the Palestinians want for their future state. Israel maintains that the Palestinians should not be setting conditions for talks.

Diplomats say the three European powers, fed up by the stalemate, are trying a new approach in pressing for a substantial declaration from the Quartet that would outline a peace solution, including borders, in hopes of breaking the deadlock.