Peres Proposes Regional Body in Meeting with Arab Neighbors

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, meeting here this week with his counterparts from Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, proposed the formation of a body for regional cooperation among Mediterranean countries based on a European model.

The five leaders met Monday within the framework of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a body created in the 1970s to discuss East-West security issues. The CSCE includes all the countries of Europe as well as the United States and Canada.

The five foreign ministers reportedly agreed that the new body, which would be known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East, could help promote economic cooperation and could assist in the fight against terrorism.

They agreed to hold future meetings every six months.

Israel earlier this year established low-level diplomatic ties with Morocco and Tunisia, and it has full relations with Egypt.

But there are no Israeli-Algerian ties, and according to a spokeswoman for Peres, this week’s meeting marked the first time that foreign ministers of the two countries were ever in the same room together.

The Monday meeting also fueled Israeli news reports that Israel and Algeria are close to developing some form of relations.

The Hebrew daily Yediot Achronot reported that the Algerian government has officially informed the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office of plans to let Israelis visit their country.

The process, according to the report, would begin with allowing Israeli delegations of athletes, businesspeople and scientists to attend international gatherings in Algeria.

The new openness, the paper said, would also extend to expatriate Algerian Jews, who until now have been able to visit Algeria using only French passports.

Members of the Algerian community in Israel welcomed the possibility of diplomatic ties with Algiers. But they said it was unlikely they would visit Algeria, where the government has been fighting a bloody battle against Islamic fundamentalist groups in recent years.

A Foreign Ministry official, however, dismissed the news report, saying Algeria has made no gesture toward warming ties, nor does it seem likely to do so in the near future.

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