Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
16 - 22 September 1999
Issue No. 447
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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MENA terms

EGYPT is willing to host the Middle East and North Africa Economic Cooperation Conference (MENA) in the first quarter of the year 2000 provided the peace process makes progress on all tracks, said Foreign Minister Amr Moussa.

Speaking on Tuesday before the annual Euromoney Conference, Moussa said that integrating Israel in the region must be tied to substantive progress in the peace process which is "about to be open for business".

But for peacemaking to make real progress, Moussa explained, fair and permanent political agreements have to be reached between Israel and all its Arab neighbours and there has to be "a balanced security for all countries in the region based on accepted international standards of disarmament."

These are the terms, argued Moussa, under which the MENA region "can be transformed into an area of peace, stability and prosperity and allow [the region, particularly the Palestinian people] to reap the benefits which, for so long, it has been denied".

However, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak reiterated, for the second time in less than 24 hours, his uncompromising commitment to his 'red lines', Moussa alluded to Egypt's unwavering vigilance. "The question marks [on Israel's full commitment to a fair peace] will always be there until things are cleared on the negotiation table -- not in statement making," he said.

Addressing the large gathering that participated in the Euromoney Conference in Cairo, Moussa affirmed that economic relations with Israel could not substitute for strong inter-Arab economic relations: "A permanent aim of Egyptian diplomacy is to avoid attempts to polarise or divide the Arab world [since this] would directly impinge on Egypt's national security," said the foreign minister.

While conceding that problems face Arab economies, Moussa argued that many of these economies are now "on the right track".

But without integrating their economies during a period of globalisation Arab countries are bound to lag far behind, "vulnerable and insignificant".

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