France confirms Syrian president to attend Mediterranean meeting


Paris : French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner confirmed here Monday that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has responded positively to an invitation to attend a French-hosted meeting of Mediterranean leaders on July 13 here.

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Speaking on “RTL” radio, Kouchner affirmed that Assad told French President Nicolas Sarkozy of his intention to accept his invitation during a telephone conversation they held 10 days ago.

Relations between France and Syria have improved somewhat since the Doha agreement that led to the election of President Michel Sleiman in Lebanon and what is viewed here has a positive contribution of Damascus in that process.

There has even been speculation that Sarkozy might consider a visit to Syria in the coming weeks, but this has not been officially confirmed, although senior advisors to the French leader are believed to be close to deciding a trip to Syria.

Concerning Assads participation at the summit of the Union for the Mediterranean, a project chaperoned and conceived by Sarkozy, Kouchner said: “We will see. President Assad said that he would be there.” Kouchner also pointed out that while there was broad support for the French-sponsored project, “there are still differences” between potential members of the Union.

Diplomats said here last week that Libyan leader Moammer Gaddafi did not intend to come to Paris on July 13 and Algerian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika was also undecided.

Kouchner travelled last Friday to Algeria to meet with the Algerians to discuss the project in the company of representatives of a number of countries from the north and south banks of the Mediterranean.

Sarkozy has secured the support of all of the European Union members, even though many are not directly concerned by the Union proposal.

The French are proposing a “co-presidency” with a president from the North and one from the South, with a secretariat to be probably based in Tunis, although no decisions have been finalized.

The Union of the Mediterranean would aim to bolster economic development in the zone and enhance cooperation and exchanges on a number of levels.

France has also said that it would like to see Gulf countries “fully” take part in projects, not just for financing but also in the conceptual phase.