The EU High Representative for the Common Foreign And Security Policy, Javier Solana yesterday expressed his conviction that the Maltese initiative to hold the first ever European Union-Arab League conference will be kept up.

Speaking to The Times on his arrival at the conference venue at the Westin Dragonara in St Julians, Mr Solana said he was pleased to be here for this important meeting.

"After having met with the Arab League on many occasions in different formats, now is the first time we meet at a specific meeting between the Arab League and the 27 EU member states.

"We like the idea very much and now we have to see how we can cooperate in this format."

Asked what he expected to come out of the meeting, Mr Solana said there were no specific issues that had to be dealt with. What was more important was to strengthen cooperation between the EU and the Arab League.

He said he was glad the idea to hold this meeting had come from the smallest EU member state, which had quite a history of relationships in the Mediterranean.

Representatives of 27 EU member states and those of the 22 states which form part of the Arab League will discuss common issues tomorrow as the foreign ministers' meeting gets formally under way.

The League of Arab States, or Arab League, is a voluntary association of countries which aims to strengthen ties among member states, coordinate their policies and direct them towards the common good.

The idea of holding the meeting was first drafted by Maltese Foreign Minister Michael Frendo. Yesterday he said a number of issues will be discussed during the one-day meeting. However, he expected nothing ground-breaking to come out of it.

"The event in itself is ground-breaking since it is the first time this European Union-League of Arab States (EU-LAS) meeting will be held," he said.

Malta was working on drawing up a final communiqué at the end of the session.

"The event was Malta's idea and this shows the standing the island has in convincing the EU and the Arab League to hold this conference here.

"This meeting will give impetus to the EU and the Arab League, both of them existing structures, to seek closer cooperation in the future," Minister Frendo said.

The event is a showcase for Malta, he added. "We are exposing our country to other countries, many of which have not been to Malta in a while. Many have already commented that they were amazed at the improvements it has made.

"This conference is an indirect proposal for investment. We cannot underestimate the ripple effects such a conference will have on the country's economy."

Following the March 8 general election, whoever is elected and chosen as Foreign Minister would have to follow up the conference with bilateral meetings with the countries which attended with a view to attracting investment to the island, he said.

Asked about the issues that will be discussed today, Minister Frendo mentioned, among others, climate change, the Middle East, energy, sustainable economic development and intercultural dialogue. The agenda could also include a discussion on illegal immigration.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said immigration was an important issue to be discussed, especially for Mediterranean countries like Greece and Malta. She believed this meeting was an excellent opportunity to put topical issues such as the Middle East peace process and illegal immigration on the table.

"This is a very important meeting. The Mediterranean is the place for all of us to find solutions.

"I am very grateful to Minister Michael Frendo for this initiative. He has promoted and presented the problems of immigration which affects many Mediterranean countries and not just Malta, Greece and Italy. "We have to find common solutions for such an issue that is everybody's problem at the end of the day," she said on her arrival at the conference yesterday evening.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday met the conference delegations.

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