Chirac against US push for Arab democratic reform

8th March 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 5 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac Friday backed Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak in his opposition to a US initiative for political and economic reform in the Middle East, saying the plan amounted to "interference".

PARIS, March 5 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac Friday backed Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak in his opposition to a US initiative for political and economic reform in the Middle East, saying the plan amounted to "interference".

The two held talks after Mubarak arrived in Paris earlier Friday as part of a three-nation tour designed to warn key European partners of the dangers of the "Greater Middle East" initiative.

The US plan aims to encourage democratic and economic reform in the authoritarian Arab world and other Muslim countries in a bid to deprive international extremists of the resevoir of frustration and poverty they thrive on for support.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are both allies of the United States, have criticised the initiative, fearing Washington wants to impose its own cultural models on the region.

"We support modernisation which comes as a result of consultations, cooperation between states," Chirac told a news conference. "On the other hand, we think that nothing can be imposed. In other words, modernisation yes, interference no."

Mubarak arrived from Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also agreed that no solution could be imposed on the region from outside.

"The countries concerned must be directly involved in the evolution of any initiative," concerning the 'Greater Middle East'," Berlusconi said after meeting Mubarak late Thursday.

Berlusconi's statement marks a change in the Italian position compared to its earlier pronouncements.

The Egyptian leader is due to continue his campaign against the US plan by visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London on Monday.

Chirac and Mubarak agreed that any plan to "modernize" the Middle East should follow a relaunching of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians and stability in Iraq.

"We think - and it is also the feeling of president Mubarak, that we are on the same track, that all development, all modernization in this region depends on a resolution of the problem of finding peace between the Palestinian and Israeli people," said Chirac.

"All the same we think it is urgent to find a solution to the problem of Iraq that allows the reestablisment of peace and stability in maintaining unity in Iraq," he said, adding that "these are the "prerequisites."

Mubarak said that "all efforts must come from Arab countries," estimating that the peculiarities of each state must be considered.

He said that only an "equitable solution" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the situation in Iraq would allow "a strengthening of popular support for reforms and lift the feeling of desperation that leads to terrorism."

© AFP

                                                              Subject: France news

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