PARIS, Feb 22 (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy backed the creation of a viable Palestinian state on Monday but was cautious about repeating his foreign minister's support for possible recognition of a state before its borders were set.
Speaking at a news conference in Paris with visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Sarkozy repeated France's support for statehood for Palstinians but added: We have always said a viable Palestinian state.
What we want when we argue for a Palestinian state is a real state, which can give hope and a future for millions of Palestinians. It's not just an idea, he told reporters.
In a newspaper interview at the weekend, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that to break a stalemate in Middle East peacemaking, some countries might recognise a Palestinian state before its borders were fixed.
One can imagine a Palestinian state being rapidly declared and immediately recognised by the international community, even before negotiating its borders. I would be tempted by that, he told the Journal du Dimanche.
Sarkozy said that Kouchner was thinking of possible ways to bring momentum to the peace process but that France's goal remained a functioning Palestinian state in clearly set borders.
In Bernard's comments, there was the thought that if we don't manage that, then when the time comes, in accord with our Palestinian friends, we might underline the idea of this state politically, to lift it up a notch in a way, he said.
But the objective is the idea of a Palestinian state in the frontiers of 1967, with an exchange of territory, just as we have said all along.
The Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership said last year it would seek U.N. Security Council backing for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip borders as they were on the eve of the 1967 Middle East war.
It said the initiative would not be a unilateral declaration of statehood but would aim to secure international support for the eventual creation of a state based on the 1967 borders.
Sarkozy said that if any such initiative were launched, we would see what we would do but that it was up to the Palestinians to decide how they wished to proceed.
Israel has sharply criticised the idea of any unilateral initiative and says only negotiations can produce results.
But there has been growing speculation in Israel that the Palestinians are looking for ways around direct talks which have been suspended for over a year.
A think-tank close to the Israeli government says the Palestinians have largely abandoned a negotiated settlement and instead are actively pursuing a unilateral approach to statehood with serious implications for Israel.
Palestinian unilateralism is modeled after Kosovo's February 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, said a recent paper by Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.
The EU and the United States recognised the independence of Kosovo without the support of a Security Council resolution. Palestinian leaders now believe geopolitical conditions are ripe to follow that path, Diker said.