French foreign minister upbeat after Mediterranean Union talks
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday he had held "very promising" discussions with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on the creation of a Mediterranean Union, the AFP reported.
"We clarified a number of directions which, I think, from France's perspective, are very promising and I hope that President Bouteflika shares my feelings," Kouchner said after the two met in Algiers.
Bouteflika "not only asked questions but brought answers to questions and problems between" Algeria and France, he added.
Press reports here said Algeria was seeking clarification of the Mediterranean Union project to be announced officially on July 13 by France's President Nicolas Sarkozy at a summit of Mediterranean candidates eligible to join the proposed new bloc.
The European Union project, which has met with a cool welcome from some of France's EU partners, aims to improve trade, transport and energy links between southern European countries and nations around the Mediterranean including Morocco, Syria, Israel and Turkey.
Algeria has particular reservations about Sarkozy's attitude to Iran and policy on Israel, the independent newspaper Al Watan said.
"Mr Kouchner's talks in Algiers aim primarily to overcome Algerian reservations," it said, describing the Kouchner mission as a "difficult gamble."
The independent newspaper Djazair News said Algeria would impose three conditions for joining the Mediterranean Union: France's acknowledgement of crimes it committed during its colonial rule in Algeria, a lasting and equitable solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara, and a just solution to the Palestinian question.
It was not logical that Israel should be a member of a Mediterranean Union "while it is the cause of Middle East problems," the newspaper said.
Kouchner said the new union should and would be different from the Barcelona Process, an existing EU framework for political, economic and social ties around the Mediterranean basin, which has regularly been thwarted by confrontation between Israel and Arab countries.
Sarkozy is determined to advance the new union when he takes over the rotating EU presidency in July.
Kouchner also met Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci during his one-day visit.