CAIRO: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak arrived in Paris yesterday for his first official meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
They had met previously on Mubarak’s trip to Paris in April this year, when Sarkozy was running for the French Presidency.
The two leaders were due to speak about French policy in the Middle East, Sarkozy’s ‘Mediterranean Union’ initiative, and bilateral relations between Egypt and France.
The crisis in Sudan would also be on the agenda, a spokesperson for the French Embassy in Cairo told Daily News Egypt.
Mubarak was known to have close relations with France’s former President Jacques Chirac, with both men agreeing on important issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while leaders throughout the region were impressed by Chirac’s stand against the US-led war in Iraq.
Before becoming president, Sarkozy had stated there would be “continuity in this policy. And since taking office he has wasted no time in making overtures to Egypt and other Middle Eastern leaders, and has described Mubarak as a leader with “great experience and wisdom .
In an interview with Al Ahram earlier in the week, Sarkozy stressed that “Egypt would have a crucial role to play in the new ‘Mediterranean Union’, which would deal with issues like Turkish membership of the EU, immigration into Europe from North Africa, and Middle East peace.
In line with his new approach, Sarkozy was heavily involved in the negotiations that secured the release of six Bulgarian medics from prison in Libya on July 24th, in a deal that will see Libya significantly strengthen its ties with Europe.
Expert on French politics at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Amr El-Choubkei, argues that before establishing a new political order like the one Sarkozy envisions, it is necessary to establish why the old one – the ‘Barcelona Conference’ – failed.
He is also uncertain whether Mubarak will share the same close relationship with Sarkozy that he did with Chirac.
“Certainly he will want to maintain a strong relationship with France, El Choubkei told Daily News Egypt, “but Sarkozy’s terminology is very different to that of Chirac’s; Sarkozy is speaking more about reform and democratization in the Middle East.
On France’s Middle East policy, Sarkozy has called for Israel to end its settlement policy and for the Palestinians to renounce violence. He also called on the Lebanese government to initiate a dialogue with all parties, including Hizb’allah.
The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner conveyed this message on his visit to Beirut earlier in the week.
“Egypt is ready to follow France 100 percent on the Lebanon issue, El Choubkei said.
The two leaders were also due to discuss trade relations, which, Sarkozy told Al Ahram, had experienced “remarkable growth over the past three years.
The French Development Agency (AFD) in Egypt, established in January this year, would greatly enhance economic relations, Sarkozy added.