March 14, 2008 / 5:43 PM / 12 years ago

Merkel and Blair set for Mideast talks

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and peace envoy Tony Blair will jointly organise a Middle East peace conference to be held at the beginning of June in Berlin, German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported on Friday.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) welcomes Tony Blair at the start of a EU heads of state summit in Brussels, in this June 21, 2007 file photo. Merkel and Blair will jointly organise a Middle East peace conference at the beginning of June in Berlin, German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Friday. REUTERS/Thierry Roge /Files

All European Union members, several Arab states, the Middle East quartet of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, and Palestinian and Israeli officials will be invited to the talks, the paper said, without identifying the source of its information.

The aim of the meeting, which will be at the level of foreign ministers, will be to push forward the peace process and prepare Palestinians to take over responsibility for their own state, the paper added, in a preview of its Saturday edition.

German government officials could not immediately be contacted for comment.

U.S.-backed peace talks launched in November have been bogged down by tensions over Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Israel’s reluctance to remove checkpoints and an upsurge in violence between the two sides.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung said officials meeting in Berlin will discuss building up the Palestinian police force and the development of the legal system and justice apparatus.

Nations including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates would play an important role at the talks and Israeli and Palestinian officials had already pledged to attend.

Merkel becomes the first German chancellor to address Israel’s parliament next week.

Her three-day trip, starting on Sunday, marks the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Jewish state in 1948.

She will be accompanied by several cabinet ministers and will hold talks on Monday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Reporting by Iain Rogers and Sylvia Westall

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