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Talks with PortugalCLOSER political and economic cooperation between Egypt and the European Union (EU), and the problems facing the completion of the Egypt-EU partnership were the focus of talks held in Cairo last week between Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and his Portuguese counterpart Jaime Gama. Portugal will be chairing the EU for the first six months of 2000.
Also on the agenda was the promotion of relations between Africa and the EU. The two ministers discussed the prospects for an EU-Africa conference, which is expected to take place in Cairo next year. "Now is the time for the EU to have a closer understanding of Africa," said Gama. This conference, he added, should be "a good opportunity" for African countries, which have heavy debt burdens, to float ideas on debt relief and economic cooperation with the EU.
At the end of the talks, the two ministers signed an agreement for bilateral investment protection.
Focus on IranEGYPT and Iran have every reason to seek closer cooperation and work on allaying bilateral misgivings. This was the crux of the message that Fathi El-Shazli, assistant to the foreign minister, sought to convey in a lecture that he delivered last week at the London-based Institute for Arab Studies.
El-Shazli argued that "Egypt is a Gulf country by proxy, very much interested in the security and stability of that part of the world... However, Egypt is fully aware of, and respectful for, the security interests of Iran."
Therefore, he said that both countries should be able to work together on this matter, even though "by virtue of many known factors, the Gulf region will remain the subject of keen interest and continued presence of extra regional powers".
Trip to TunisFOREIGN Minister Amr Mous-a will pay a two-day visit to Tu-is next week to take part in the meetings of the Egypt-Tunisia Follow-Up Committee on Polit-cal Consultations. The meetings will be co-chaired by Moussa and his Tunisian opposite number Moustafa bin Sa'id.
One issue on the agenda is the de-facto abstention of the Maghreb states from nominating the re-uired one or two candidates for the Arab contact group on Iraq, which was established in January but has so far failed to meet.
Asked about the future of this committee, which is opposed by Iraq, Moussa told reporters: "We have first to address the issue of membership; then we hope that sometime in the future this committee will be able to meet and work."
Sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that Tunisia is the main candidate for the Maghreb seat. "When Bahrain leaves the UN Security Council at the end of this year, it is Tunisia that is go-ng to occupy the Arab seat. Therefore, we think it is important to have Tunisia on board [the Arab contact group]." The sources added that "Egypt insists that this committee can only do a proper job if all members are on board. Otherwise it would only serve to create new divisions in the Arab world.
Decision welcomedEGYPT has welcomed a de-ision made recently by the US administration to partially ease the US-imposed sanctions on Libya, Sudan, Iraq and Iran.
Asked if this was a tactical move by Washington to contain the anti-US sentiments in the Arab world and improve its re-ations with some Arab allies, Foreign Minister Amr Moussa responded: "This is a step in the right direction. Actually, it is a sensible and reasonable move [on the part of the US]."
Moussa added that the move indicates that "the whole concept of sanctions should be re-onsidered" and that the 'sanc-ions fatigue syndrome' that the countries in this part of the world are suffering from should not be left unattended.
Security in the HornEGYPT is pressing ahead with efforts to encourage a rec-nciliation between the various Sudanese factions. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Amr Moussa met with one of the leading Su-anese opposition figures, Mo-amed Othman El-Merghani. The talks dealt with a message that was conveyed earlier this week by Khartoum to Moussa via the Sudanese ambassador in Cairo.
Asked about Cairo's assess-ent of non-Egyptian efforts to contain the civil war in Sudan as well as Sudan's political fric-ions with its neighbours, Mous-a said that Egypt welcomes all efforts that "could really con-ain" the problems, not only in Sudan but in all of the stra-egically important Horn of Af-ica. He said this requires pro-iding solutions for the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict and the inter-Somali wars.