Disagreeing with US officials, France’s foreign minister reiterated his country’s stance, that no progress can be made in the Middle East peace process by marginalizing or not negotiating with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

‘There are a number of political authorities who say that nothing can be done with Yasser Arafat,’ Michel Barnier said Wednesday while answering a question on whether he was concerned that recent calls by US President George W. Bush for a change in Palestinian leadership would further undermine the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

‘I believe that nothing can be done without Arafat, or against Arafat,’ Barnier said. ‘He is the legitimate and chosen leader of the Palestinian people, and we must have a dialogue with him because he represents his people.’

In his speech before the U.N. General Assembly’s ministerial meeting, The American Presendet George W. Bush, without naming Arafat, said Palestinians deserve ‘true leaders capable of creating and governing a free and peaceful Palestinian state.’ Later, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell took it a step further, declaring Arafat unable to do the job.

Barnier said it is ‘a matter of urgency for me that Israelis and Palestinians sit around the same table.’ France and the European Union are also interested in nurturing relationships with future Palestinian leaders, as well as the current leadership, he said.