‘5+5 Forum’ discusses relaunch of Med Union

Senior officials from 10 countries meet in Cordoba to discuss relaunch of Mediterranean Union.

Middle East Online, 21 avril 2009

CORDOBA - Senior officials from 10 western Mediterranean countries met here Tuesday to discuss the relaunch of the Mediterranean Union, which has been stalled over the recent war in Gaza.

The one-day meeting in the southern city of Cordoba brought together foreign ministers or representatives from Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.

France was represented by Pierre Sellal, secretary general of the foreign ministry, instead of Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini was also absent, his place taken by Secretary of State Stefania Craxi.

Launched at a Paris summit in July, the Mediterranean Union groups EU member states with countries in North Africa, the Balkans, the Arab world as well as Israel in a bid to foster cooperation in one of the world's most volatile regions.

But the project has been the victim of the 22-day war in the Gaza Strip that ended on January 18 as Arab countries have refused to sit next to Israel.

EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana has also called an informal meeting for Thursday in Brussels to try and revive the project, a European source in Cairo said Monday.

The ministers at the "5+5 Forum" in Cordoba will also discuss the issue of the Western Sahara.

"We are looking, in the name of the Arab Maghreb Union, for the support of France and Spain to contribute to a narrowing of positions... to reach a solution on the issue," Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi-Fihri, who is co-chairing Tuesday's meeting with Spain, told Arab media.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month that Morocco and the independence movement Polisario remain far apart on how to settle the Western Sahara dispute and a resumption of stalled talks needs careful preparation.

The Polisario has disputed Morocco's claim to the territory since Rabat annexed it after former colonial power Spain withdrew in the mid-1970s.

Four fruitless rounds of UN-brokered talks in the New York suburb of Manhasset since 2007 have failed to resolve the long-standing dispute.

Rabat has offered a form of autonomy for the territory under Moroccan sovereignty, while the Polisario wants a referendum on self-determination that would include the option of full independence.

 
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