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Monday, July 31, 2006

France urges contacts with Iran over Lebanon

BEIRUT, July 31 (Reuters) - France said on Monday that Iran was crucial to the stability of the Middle East and it was important to maintain contacts with Tehran as part of efforts to resolve the crisis in Lebanon.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy described Iran as a significant, respected player in the Middle East which is playing a stabilising role.

The United States accuses Iran and Syria of destabilising the Middle East by backing Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon who have been battling Israeli forces for nearly three weeks.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki had been due to overlap briefly with Douste-Blazy in Beirut on Monday, but Lebanese officials said Mottaki had been delayed and would now arrive after the French minister was due to leave.

Asked earlier in Beirut whether he would meet his Iranian counterpart, Douste-Blazy said: "It's normal that politicians who want a political agreement can meet each other."

On Sunday, before leaving for the Lebanese capital, he had ruled out talks with Syria.

"It was clear that we could never accept a destabilisation of Lebanon, which could lead to a destabilisation of the region," Douste-Blazy told a news conference in Beirut.

"In the region there is of course a country such as Iran -- a great country, a great people and a great civilisation which is respected and which plays a stabilising role in the region," he told a news conference.

Douste-Blazy was speaking after meeting his Lebanese counterpart, Fawzi Salloukh. He was due to meet Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbollah ally.

The French foreign minister repeated his country's call for an immediate ceasefire, saying the military situation was at an "impasse" so a political solution was needed.

"We can see clearly today, since July 12, that Israel will not reach its goals by a purely military solution," he said.

"What happened in Qana a few hours ago confirms to me the importance of the immediate end to hostilities and confirms to me also that an immediate end to hostilities is a condition for everyone to talk to each other, to negotiate and reach a political agreement," he said.

An Israeli air strike on a building in the southern Lebanon village of Qana on Sunday killed at least 54 civilians, raising a storm of protest around the world.
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