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France seeks to revive Israel-Palestinian talks by August

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s foreign minister sought support from Arab states in Cairo on Wednesday for an initiative to relaunch talks between Palestinians and Israelis by the summer and prevent what one diplomat called the risk of a “powder keg” exploding.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault attends a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (not pictured) in Cairo, Egypt, March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

With U.S. efforts to broker a two-state solution in tatters since in April 2014 and Washington focused on this year’s election, Paris has begun lobbying countries to commit to a conference before May that would outline incentives and give guarantees for Israelis and Palestinians to get them back to negotiations.

That would pave the way for face-to-face talks between the two sides before August.

“It is a powder keg waiting to explode,” said a senior French diplomat ahead of a visit by Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to Egypt to discuss the issue with Arab ministers, referring to rising violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“Everybody sees it, and yet nobody is doing anything. We know this isn’t going to be resolved in three months, but it’s imperative to give a new political horizon to the process.”

Last year France failed to get the United States on board for a U.N. Security Council resolution to set parameters for talks between the two sides and set a deadline for a deal.

Since then, the stance of former foreign minister Laurent Fabius to recognize a Palestinian state automatically if the new initiative fails has been toned down.

“It won’t be automatic,” Ayrault told Reuters on Feb. 29. “We can’t set conclusions before we’ve started something.”

With a former ambassador to Washington, Pierre Vimont, heading France’s diplomatic push, the initiative has not been dismissed by Washington.

“We’ve started to talk to them (France) about it and to hear from them, but we need to hear more and I think we’ll be having conversations in the days and weeks ahead,” Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Reuters on March 4.

“We need to see that the parties themselves are ready to make peace and if they are we will strongly support those efforts.”

Citing U.S. officials, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the White House was working on plans for reviving the negotiations before President Barack Obama leaves office, including a possible Security Council resolution that would outline steps toward a deal.

The French diplomat said: “We’ve not seen this, but what we want is the U.S. to be on board so if this is a genuine effort that converges with what we want too, so much the better.”

Editing by Robin Pomeroy