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EU and Muslim countries fail the terror test

European countries and their Muslim neighbours vowed to unite in the fight against terrorism yesterday, but only after papering over a deep disagreement about who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter.

Tony Blair, who was co-chairman of the Euromed summit in Barcelona, hailed the joint code of conduct on tackling terrorism as "a very important moment".

The leaders of the European Union and Mediterranean countries agreed that "terrorism can never be justified", promised to "condemn terrorism in all its manifestations without qualification" and said they would refuse to give a safe haven to terrorism.

But the impact of their agreement was irreparably weakened by the absence or boycott of seven of the eight Arab leaders who had been invited. Moreover, key proposals had to be watered down to maintain the show of unity on terrorism and the future of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

A Spanish adviser was caught on microphone telling the Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, that Israel, whose prime minister Ariel Sharon was absent, was being "intractable".

He also complained that Mr Blair was "ready to throw in the towel" on drafting the summit′s "common vision". In the end, a joint vision could not be agreed and Mr Blair resorted to issuing a "chairman′s statement" fudging the most contentious issues.

The Prime Minister played down the disappointment, saying: "The Euromed summit is not going to resolve the Middle East peace process, not at this conference."

Instead, he emphasised the importance of "practical" measures - the agreement on terrorism and a five-year "work programme" on promoting economic and democratic reforms in southern Mediterranean countries and improving co-operation on curbing immigration.

The biggest stumbling block was the problem of how to define terrorism.

The Syrian foreign minister, Farouq al-Sharaa, was among those demanding that the fight against terrorism had to protect "the right of peoples under foreign occupation to resistance" - a reference to insurgencies by Palestinians and Iraqis.

In the end the definition of terrorism was left undecided, with merely a commitment to negotiate an acceptable one at the United Nations by next year.

Mr Blair said the arguments should not overshadow the achievement. "It′s quite clear that people are united in their total condemnation of killing innocent civilians by terrorism," he said.




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