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Australian Foreign Minister meets French Foreign Minister and French Prime Minister to continue discussions over Australia's concerns about inclusion of a human rights clause in trade and investment treaty with the European Union

REBECCA GORMAN: Well, at talks in Paris, France and Australia say they've turned a page in their relationship following the difficult episode over nuclear testing. Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has held talks with his counterpart, French Foreign Minister, Herve de Charette, and the French Prime Minister, Alaine Juppe, who described Australia as being in a good mood with France. It's the highest level talks between the countries since the nuclear campaign was concluded in the South Pacific. The talks also touched on the proposed agreement between Australia and the European Union, which has run into trouble over the inclusion of a human rights clause. From Paris, senior Europe correspondent, Majella Anning.

MAJELLA ANNING: In the diplomatic world, Foreign Ministers usually meet other Foreign Ministers, but in order to emphasise the new relationship with France, the French Prime Minister, Alaine Juppe himself found time for a meeting with Alexander Downer and was keen to comment afterwards.

ALAINE JUPPE: Our relations are far better than last year, of course, and since the end of our nuclear tests, France has implemented its commitments as far as the Rarotonga Treaty is concerned, and also we have closed our first site in the Pacific. So I think we have now a new basis for new relations between Australia and France, and I'm very happy to see that also the mood of the Australian Government.

MAJELLA ANNING: When you say about the mood of the Australian Government, do you think this new Australian Government is taking a different approach?

ALAINE JUPPE: No, I think circumstances are different now and the mood is very good.

MAJELLA ANNING: There was similarly warm words at the French Foreign Ministry where Mr Downer issued an invitation to his counterpart, Herve de Charette, to visit Australia. These high-level contacts reflect a desire on both sides for a more normal co-existence. Mr Downer is keen to underline his efforts for a better relationship with Europe, but it's clear that on the issue of Australia's objections to the inclusion of a human rights clause in a proposed agreement with the European Union, the French see the matter as non-negotiable. Senior officials close to Mr Downer claim Australia's concern at the proposed human rights clause could allow the EU to cancel the agreement if it saw problems with human rights in Australia. But Mr Downer downplays the issue.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I know this is a topic that you seem particularly interested in, having listened to the ABC here from time to time during the course of the last week, but I would say that this is a very early stage of the negotiations. We're having more discussions about this issue with the European Commission, not with the member states, but with the European Commission, over the next few weeks, and we'll take it forward from there. Obviously, Australia is a country and we are a government very committed to human rights, and we've had good cooperation in the six months we've been in Government with the European Union in a number of areas on human rights, not least in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. It's not an argument about whether we, or the Europeans for that matter, are concerned about human rights, it's a technical issue and it's a subject of technical negotiation. And I've heard one or two people talk publicly about it, but I think that perhaps it's best if we leave these negotiations at the private level for the time being.

MAJELLA ANNING: But you can understand there is puzzlement amongst some people when they see Australia raising objections about a basic clause on human rights that's in every agreement with the EU.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, you know, you're trying to draw me out here with language which is, if I may say so, a gross overstatement of this so-called 'standard clause' in commission agreements, not in all European agreements but in formal commission agreements of the type that we're talking about, a framework agreement, has only existed since May or so of last year. This isn't something that goes back 20 years, it's a very new development. The language that has been used varies a fair bit in the very few agreements that have been negotiated since May, or whenever - I think it was May last year - and it is just something we're talking through with the European Commission. We don't really feel that negotiating these matters in public is the best way of taking the matter forward, but obviously what seems to be getting one or two people excited, who aren't involved in the negotiations, is just the reference to the phrase 'human rights'. It's nothing to do with our shared commitment to human rights, it's to do with the technicality of this type of agreement, and that's being discussed.

REBECCA GORMAN: Alexander Downer with Majella Anning in Paris.