Friday, July 27, 2007

LONDON — French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged the West to trust Arab countries with nuclear technology yesterday as he signed a deal that could lead to France supplying Libya with a new reactor.

During a meeting with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Mr. Sarkozy agreed to help the country with a nuclear-powered project to desalinate seawater. France has Europe’s largest civil nuclear-power industry and a vital commercial interest in exporting reactors and technology.

Until Col. Gadhafi invited international inspectors into Libya in 2003, he had a covert program to make atomic bombs.

Nuclear power is the energy of the future, Mr. Sarkozy said Wednesday. If we don’t give the energy of the future to the countries of the southern Mediterranean, how will they develop themselves? And if they don’t develop, how will we fight terrorism and fanaticism?

The president said that if the West considers Arab countries not sensible enough to use civilian nuclear power, it risks a war of civilizations.

An official with France’s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) insisted that international safeguards imposed after Libya scrapped its military nuclear program would prevent any proliferation, and other specialists agreed, Agence France-Presse reported.

The United States also expressed confidence in France’s plans to export nuclear technology.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. thinks the French government would pay full attention to making sure that any safeguard will be implemented in any sort of deal.”

Mr. Sarkozy’s visit to Libya and the nuclear deal both came immediately after the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, all of whom had been sentenced to death for reportedly infecting hundreds of children with HIV.

Mr. Sarkozy denied that the nuclear agreement is linked to Col. Gadhafi’s decision to free the prisoners, who spent almost eight years in Libyan jails. But the French leader added that without the release of the foreign medical personnel, he would not have traveled to Libya.

Mr. Sarkozy’s domestic critics attacked his agreement with Col Gadhafi. Sortir du Nucleaire, an anti-nuclear campaign group, said that civilian and military uses of nuclear technology were indistinguishable and added: Delivering civilian nuclear energy to Libya would amount to helping the country, sooner or later, to acquire nuclear weapons.

The French Socialist Party said it was too soon for Mr Sarkozy to be throwing himself into Gadhafi’s arms.

Yesterday, Mr. Sarkozy held talks with Senegalese leader Abdoulaye Wade as part of a trip to France’s former colonies in Africa.

I have come to propose to you, the youths of Africa, not to reassess the past but to draw lessons and look into the future together, he said in a lecture at Senegal’s main University of Cheikh Anta Diop.

Colonization was a great mistake, (but) colonization is not responsible for all of Africa’s current difficulties, he said, according to a dispatch from Agence France-Presse.

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