Chirac Supports Concept of an International Mideast Peace Conclave

Prime Minister Jacques Chirac of France told the General Assembly Wednesday that France approves of the concept of an international peace conference on the Middle East and is ready to play a role in such a forum. In his address to the Assembly he also said France welcomed as “favorable” signs that dialogue is becoming an increasingly popular method of resolving the Mideast conflict.

Chirac said peace in the Middle East requires “mutual recognition of the parties concerned” and the recognition of both Israel’s right to exist and the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

Dealing with the problems facing the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), he said the continued attacks against it will leave no alternative other than to “retrench” to insure its own safety. He stated that France does not intend to withdraw its troops from UNIFIL but that it might have to reduce its size. French troops have been under heavy fire from Shiite extremists. In recent weeks four French soldiers were killed and 33 wounded.

Chirac refrained from placing responsibility on Israel for these attacks although France, in a special Security Council debate earlier this week on UNIFIL, contended that UNIFIL was made vulnerable because Israel refuses to allow it to deploy southward to the international border–the security zone in south Lebanon.

Recalling France’s historically intimate ties to Lebanon, Chirac said, “Side by side with other national contingents of UNIFIL, French soldiers have too often paid for a peace mission with their lives. But of late, the situation has become intolerable.”

Chirac continued, “The United Nations force is no longer just being caught in the sporadic clashes between the enemies it is supposed to keep apart; it has become the target of methodically prepared attacks which soon will leave it no alternative other than to retrench in order to insure its own safety.”

Speaking to reporters at a press conference later in the day, Chirac reiterated that France has no intention of withdrawing its contingent from UNIFIL, the single largest contingent with about one quarter of UNIFIL’s total 5,827 soldiers. Chirac said UNIFIL provides “an element of security for Israel” and Israel has manifested its approval for UNIFIL.

The attacks on Nepalese soldiers Wednesday who had replaced French soldiers in the most volatile UNIFIL positions demonstrated that the attacks on the French contingent were not aimed specifically at the French, Chirac said. He also contended that there is no link between the wave of bombings in Paris recently and the attacks on French UNIFIL soldiers.

Chirac devoted a large part of his General Assembly address to the problem of terrorism, which has hit home in a series of bombing attacks in Paris this month. He called for international cooperation “in strengthening air and maritime security” and in using all other international channels to eradicate terrorism.

Chirac also suggested striking at the cause of terrorism and cited “the complicity of states that are willing to close their eyes to terrorist organizations’ activities…”

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