Chirac pledges 'true partnership' with Libya

26th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

TRIPOLI, Nov 25 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac, who vowed to forge a "true partnership" with Libya, Thursday wrapped up the latest top-level Western visit to Tripoli as it returns from years in the diplomatic wilderness.

TRIPOLI, Nov 25 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac, who vowed to forge a "true partnership" with Libya, Thursday wrapped up the latest top-level Western visit to Tripoli as it returns from years in the diplomatic wilderness.

"All the conditions have come together to open a new chapter in relations between Libya and France," Chirac told a press conference, shoulder-to-shoulder with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who came to power in a1969 coup.

During a fleeting trip of less than 24 hours, Chirac met Kadhafi three times and pressed business leaders to do the "maximum" to rejuvenate the oil-rich Libyan economy, blighted by decades of sanctions.

Chirac's visit - the first by a French head of state since Libyan independence from Italy in 1951 - will give France a chance to compete for lucrative business contracts should Kadhafi make good on his promise to liberalise the economy.

Kadhafi, who welcomed Chirac as a "friend", said their talks had consolidated an alliance between two countries who wanted to distance Africa and Europe from the problems of the Middle East and America.

"The results of the visit were good. (It) consolidated the understanding between us and France, especially as France plays a vital role in the European Union and Libya plays a vital role in the African Union," he said.

"We are trying to distance Africa and Europe from the problems of the Middle East and the problems of the American continent," he said at the vast Bab Aziz palace that still bears the traces of a 1986 US bombing mission.

His comments followed a newspaper report in which Kadhafi was quoted as saying he "never understood the reasons for France's military presence in Africa" and called Paris' recent intervention in Ivory Coast a mistake.

Chirac said his visit, which follows a long line of meetings between Kadhafi and European leaders, underscores France's will to "turn the page on a past of painful memories".

Kadhafi has undergone a spectacular diplomatic reversal in the past year since agreeing to stop developing weapons of mass destruction, denouncing terrorism and acknowledging responsibility for the Lockerbie and French UTA plane bombings in the 1980s.

"We have paid tribute to Libya's decisions to renounce weapons of mass destruction," said Chirac, who later said he had given a rare edition of a book by French philosopher Montesquieu to Kadhafi.

"I gave the book to Kadhafi because he is a personal admirer of Montesquieu and I've known it for some time," Chirac told journalists.

In an interview Wednesday in the French daily Le Figaro, Kadhafi complained about not getting the technology assistance he had hoped for in exchange for axing his WMD programme.

Speaking about possible Libyan ambitions to develop a nuclear energy programme, Chirac said the issue was not on the cards right now.

"That could of course be an ambition of Libya but it is not on the agenda today ... There are no moves of that kind," he said.

"France, like other nuclear powers, is under IAEA constraints which lay down conditions for the transfer of the technology necessary for the development of a civilian nuclear programme," he added.

During a round-table discussion with about 20 business leaders who accompanied him to Libya, Chirac encouraged French firms to invest more heavily in Libya, where the oil sector is dominated by US companies, the Elysee said.

"It is a promising market. We must do the maximum to support it," Chirac told the press conference.

Libya, which has proven oil reserves of 30 billion barrels and claims to have triple that, is seeking to double oil production to three million barrels per day by 2010, which would require a USD 30 billion (EUR 22.5 billion) investment.

But France is only Libya's fifth-largest supplier, with exports mostly linked to major public works contracts. French imports from Libya were worth EUR 756 million (USD 1 billion) in 2003, almost entirely oil.

Chirac left Tripoli for Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso on Thursday to attend the biennial summit of French-speaking nations.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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