|Euro-Med leaders meet to tackle terror
|Absence of mideast HEads of State blamed on domestic and regional issues
Europe pressed its mostly Muslim southern neighbors to take a clearer stand against terrorism Sunday, but efforts to agree an anti-terror pact hung in the balance in Barcelona, shortly before start of a summit meeting between the regions. The two-day summit was also clouded by the absence of most Arab heads of state.
Those who attended, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey, used the occasion to press their respective agendas of breathing new life into the Mideast peace process and paving the way for EU membership.
Summit co-host, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, arriving in Barcelona, sought to focus the gathering on immigration and the fight against terrorism.
He said he had had fruitful talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who joined him in saluting the opening of the Rafah border crossing.
Leaders from Egypt, Algeria, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco were all expected not to attend.
"Some of the leaders will not come for very important reasons but the representation will be very high. I have no doubt that the summit will be a success," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak dropped out on Saturday citing Egypt's tense parliamentary election.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was flown to hospital in Paris on Saturday for urgent medical tests following problems in his digestive system, his office said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pulled out after his coalition collapsed. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will attend instead.
Last-minute negotiations continued over a code of conduct in the fight against terrorism, with familiar differences over the definition of terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict holding up agreement.
Syria and other Arab partners want the EU to distinguish between terrorism and the right to resist occupation, while the Europeans and Israel opposed any qualification of terrorism.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso urged Arab states to sign up to the first joint Euro-Mediterranean statement on terrorism to combat perceptions in Europe of a link between Islam and terrorism.
"The best way is to ask our Muslim partners for a clear and unequivocal condemnation and distancing from terrorism. It would be a good contribution to help stop prejudices against Islam in some sectors of society," he told the daily La Vanguardia.
Solana voiced optimism that differences could be resolved in time for the documents to be issued on Monday, along with a five-year work program.
He called the Syrian stance outdated, saying: "Their decisions are a little more in 1995 than 2005. A lot of things have taken place and we have to accommodate our language to the reality of today not of 1995."
The three-page anti-terror code of conduct pledges that "the countries of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership are united against terrorism."
"The threat that terrorism poses to the lives of our citizens remains serious," the draft declaration added.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa warned the world community not to isolate Syria over allegations that Damascus had a hand in the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Referring to the war in Iraq, he said a distinction should be made between "terrorism" and "resistance to foreign occupation," although he described terrorism in general as "a plague that must be defeated."
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was cautious on hopes for a terrorism accord.
"I hope we will reach agreement on the code," he said in Palma de Mallorca during the opening meeting of a UN "alliance of civilizations", an initiative meant to encourage dialogue between Islamic and Western societies.
The 18-member alliance includes former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
"The alliance of civilizations is an effort to fight against all those who, in any part of the world and using all kinds of distorted arguments, promote hatred and intolerance," Zapatero said.
Zapatero was notably accompanied by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the alliance would have an impact on the drive toward peace and stability in the world.
The Daily Star