Chirac: Middle East peace deal urgent

French President Jacques Chirac has called on the United States and Europe to join forces to revive the Middle East peace process, declaring the matter urgent following the death of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat.

    The crisis needs to be resolved urgently, President Chirac said

    "Reviving the Middle East peace process is an absolute priority, which should rally Americans and Europeans together with their Quartet partners," he said on Thursday, referring to Russia and the United Nations, co-sponsors of the road map for peace in the region.

    "The resolution of the Middle East conflict can no longer wait," Chirac said in a speech hosted by the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies in east London.

    The death of Arafat, he said, had "made the resolution of this crisis even more urgent.

    "Faced with a risk of chaos, the Palestinian leaders have opted for democracy. Let us support them in this."

    Annual summit

    Chirac and Blair (R) have clashed
    in the past over the Iraq invasion

    The French president arrived on Thursday on a two-day official visit to Britain for an annual summit with Prime Minister Tony Blair and the final celebrations of the centenary of their countries' Entente Cordiale alliance.

    Earlier in the day, Chirac and Blair reiterated the need for a relaunch of negotiations, while the British leader stressed that "steps" back to the road map included Palestinian elections and the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

    The British prime minister also said Chirac "essentially agreed (with) the components" of a five-step plan laid out by Blair and US President George W. Bush in Washington last week.

    Blair has called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the most pressing political challenge in the world today and pledged to make it a priority as his country takes leadership of the G8 group of nations and European Union in 2005.



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