June 9, 2008 / 1:58 PM / 10 years ago

Arabs to discuss Israel's role in Med Union - Libya

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Leaders from Arab Mediterranean states will meet in Tripoli on Tuesday to seek a common stance on a proposed union of Mediterranean countries due to be launched next month, Libyan officials said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will attend the mini summit, which will discuss Israel’s role in the new union proposed by France and endorsed by European Union leaders.

Arab states fear joining the union alongside Israel might imply a normalisation of their relations with the Jewish state.

“They will forge a common stand on participation,” an Arab diplomat said. “The only worry is the idea that Israel might join without needing to make any tangible concessions in peace talks with the Palestinians and Syrians.”

The union was originally proposed by France as a way of boosting ties with the European Union’s southern neighbours and improving trade and security cooperation.

Algeria said last week clarification was still needed on the union’s institutions, financing and decision making, as well as Israel’s role.

Any normalisation of ties with Israel should be based on the 2002 Arab peace initiative calling for Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied in 1967, said Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci

France’s staunch ally Morocco has shown the most willingness to take part in the union and French President Nicolas Sarkozy chose the Moroccan port city of Tangier for his speech last year in which he appealed for a Mediterranean Union.

Officials in Tripoli said Morocco’s king would not be attending Tuesday’s gathering and the country would be represented by lower-level officials.

Some foreign dignitaries were due to start arriving later on Monday, they said.

The plan on the table is a scaled-back version of France’s original proposal which would have grouped only states with a Mediterranean coastline and involved nine new agencies and a bank.

The latest proposal would see a regular summit of EU and Mediterranean countries with a presidency and a small secretariat. The project is due to be unveiled in Paris on July 13.

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