World News

French FM presses Israel for settlement freeze

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Saturday Israel must stop settlement activity in order to make progress in U.S.-backed peace talks with the Palestinians.

“We are totally against the settlement policy. There can’t be a trust between the two sides while settlement activity is going on,” Kouchner said after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched the first formal peace talks in seven years in November with the goal of reaching an agreement on Palestinian statehood before U.S. President George W. Bush steps down next January.

Palestinian leaders have voiced frustration at what they call Israel’s failure to keep its commitments under a 2003 “road map” peace plan, which calls for halting all Jewish settlement activity and uprooting outposts built without government authorization in the occupied West Bank.

The Israelis say the Palestinians have yet to fulfill their own road map commitments, including reining in militants.

Kouchner said he will discuss the settlement activity on Sunday during a series of meetings with Israeli leaders.

Abbas told reporters negotiations with the Israelis “have started on all issues of all final status talks” -- including borders, the future of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.

Earlier on Saturday while visiting the city of Bethlehem, Kouchner said the establishment of a Palestinian state was “the only way for Israel to be secure”.

Reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Richard Williams