Sarkozy Hosts Mediterranean Union

PARIS -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged the disparate and conflicted countries around the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday to make peace as European rivals did in the 20th century as he launched an unprecedented Union for the Mediterranean.

"The European and the Mediterranean dreams are inseparable," he told leaders from more than 40 nations in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. "We will succeed together; we will fail together."

The union Sarkozy championed as a pillar of his presidency brought together around one table for the first time dignitaries such rival nations as Israel and Syria, Algeria and Morocco, Turkey and Greece.

Coping with age-old enmities involving their peoples and others along the Mediterranean shores will be a central challenge to the new union encompassing some 800 million people.

"We will build peace in the Mediterranean together, like yesterday we built peace in Europe," Sarkozy said. He insisted the new body would not be "North against south, not Europe against the rest ... but united."

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, co-presiding the summit with Sarkozy, said, "We are linked by a common destiny."

He said the union has better chances of success than a previous cooperation process launched in Barcelona in 1995 because the new body focuses on practical projects parallel to efforts toward Middle East peace.

Mubarak called on the new union to tackle reducing the wealth "gap" between north and south.

A draft declaration shows that summit participants will announce "objectives of achieving peace, stability and security" in the region. The six firm measures it names are things such as a region-wide solar energy project, a cross-Mediterranean student exchange program and a plan to clean up the sea.

The draft declaration says the Union for the Mediterranean is to be operational by the end of this year, and unlike any previous body, it will be jointly run by all its members. It will have a dual presidency, held jointly for rotating terms by one country within the European Union and one country on the Mediterranean shore.

Sunday's meeting was seen as more significant for the bodies gathered than for any immediate progress it is expected to achieve.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, "We are closer than ever to a possible [peace] agreement today" with the Palestinians -- and said he hoped for direct contacts "soon" with enemy Syria.