Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 October 2009
Issue No. 969
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A win-win situation

THE PALESTINIAN question topped the list of issues that President Hosni Mubarak discussed with European leaders this week.

Mubarak met on Tuesday with Finnish President Tarja Halonen who is currently visiting Egypt. The two leaders discussed Middle Eastern issues including the peace process and bilateral relations.

Halonen said before the visit that she came to Egypt to listen to viewpoints regarding the peace process because Cairo is a pivotal player in the process. She also expressed hope that the international community would give the peace process a push so that the two-state solution would see daylight soon.

It was Halonen's first visit to Egypt on a tour that will also take her to Syria where she will meet President Bashar Al-Assad.

The visit comes two days after President Mubarak concluded his five-day European swing which took him to Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. His visit to the four states focussed on the Palestinian issue in light of the deadlocked peace process, Israeli intransigence and settlement building, and escalating clashes between the Palestinians and Israeli forces around the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Mubarak underlined to the European leaders that a just and comprehensive peace was the only way to achieve peace and stability in the region, contain and combat terrorism, and ward off the danger of the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

Bilateral relations especially in the economy, investment and trade cooperation was high on the agenda. It was agreed that the Slovenian president would visit Egypt in December and the Croatian president in the first half of next year, both accompanied by business delegations. The visits are likely to widen the scope of trade and economic cooperation between Egypt and the two countries.

In Hungary, Mubarak met President Laszlo Solyom and Prime Minister Gordon Bajani. The two leaders agreed to boost cooperation in agriculture, increase investment in water projects, tourism, the production of vaccines and medical equipment, renewable sources of energy, education and training technology and railways and means of transportation. During the tour, the Egyptian Hungarian Joint Businessmen Council Forum, which will discuss reactivating relations between the private sector and businessmen in both countries, was launched.

Hungary will head the European Union for six months starting at the end of 2010. The visit was a curtain raiser to possible cooperation between the two states during that period within the framework of the Union for the Mediterranean.

In Slovenia, Mubarak, President Danilo Turk and Prime Minister Borut Pahor agreed to activate the international cooperation fund that would allow Slovenia to help Egypt in removing mines planted in the northwest.

In Croatia, Mubarak was received by President Stjepan Mesic and Prime Minister Yadranka Kosor. The two leaders looked to increase the scope of their cooperation in oil and natural gas exploration.

Italy, the only Western European state on the tour, shares a special relationship with Egypt on the political and economic levels. Rome has repeatedly expressed its support for the two-state solution and Palestinian reconciliation. Italy is also Egypt's top trade partner in Europe and the second worldwide after the US. There are some 600 Italian companies working in Egypt and some 1.7 million tourists visiting Egypt every year. Economic and trade relations between the two countries saw much improvement since the conclusion of the first three-year joint work plan in 2005. The second three-year work plan signed last year started this year. The plans have drawn up a framework for cooperation in the economy, investment and trade.

Talks with the leaders of the four countries, especially Italy, touched on ways of reactivating the Union for the Mediterranean which aims to establish economic cooperation between northern and southern Mediterranean countries.

The ministerial consultations would build up on the outcome of talks European leaders held with Mubarak.

During his tour Mubarak also discussed the situation in Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan.

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