- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia has called for more intense international cooperation against terrorism as the western Mediterranean Arab countries seek closer economic ties with Europe.

“We need more coordination among the intelligence communities,” said Tunisian Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia. “There is no line of demarcation between terrorism, the drug traffic and organized crime. All major issues interact.”

Interviewed after a conference on the effect on Arab countries of the European Union’s expansion next year, Mr. Ben Yahia also stressed the need for a “global strategy” to combat terrorism in Iraq.

“We respect the United States’ position on terrorism,” he said. “The fight should be of a global nature. It is a challenge to all of us.”

The foreign minister also said, “Peace in Iraq should lead to the elimination of terrorism.” There is a “convergence of views between Tunisia and the United States, there is a partnership of views and ideas, which is a source of satisfaction,” he said.

Regarding the situation in the Middle East, and particularly about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, he deplored the paralysis of the U.S.-backed “road map” peace initiative.

“We applauded President Bush’s visit to the region,” Mr. Ben Yahia said. “Yet we see the continuing destruction of houses, excessive use of military power fueling the cycle of violence.

“There is a vital necessity to have the road map implemented. … We don’t think the marginalization of [Palestinian Authority President Yasser] Arafat is part of the solution. We hope that whoever has a certain leverage for the sake of peace should take this into account.”

Mr. Ben Yahia described Tunisia as “a vocal supporter of efforts by the United States, the [U.N.] Security Council and the Arab world,” but “every time we come up with a peace initiative, extremists on both sides will do anything to sabotage it.”

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