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Malta to bridge 'diplomatic gaps’ with Arab states, PM Muscat tells Al Arabiya

Muscat eyes Malta’s EU presidency in 2017 as ‘opportunity to influence’ the EU agenda on Mediterranean, Middle-East, North Africa.

Karl Stagno-Navarra
28 March 2013, 12:00am
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat talks to European Union President Hermann Von Rompuy during the European Council in Brussels on March 13
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat talks to European Union President Hermann Von Rompuy during the European Council in Brussels on March 13

In an interview broadcast last night on Dubai-based Al Arabiya English news channel, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that his government will be working to bridge what he described as "diplomatic gaps" with Arab states who have gone through violent uprisings.

"I believe we can be that interlocutor that helps these new state institutions to get their act together to have partnerships and association agreements with the European Union," Muscat said.

"Some of our neighbours until now don't have the necessary experience to do that. We can look at this from Libya and Tunisia to Egypt, Algeria and Morocco."

The channel explained how during 2011, Malta witnessed business losses when revolts took over Libya, Tunisia and Egypt.

Described as "small but mighty" in the Middle East, Al Arabiya asked the Prime Minister on his views on his government's foreign policy towards the Middle East, who replied that the island has a major upcoming political role to play in the Middle East.

"That role will be extrapolated within four years when Malta will hold its first presidency of the European Union," Muscat, said.

"This also gives us the opportunity to influence the EU agenda for at least six months, where we can steer a number of policies."

Muscat believes that with the island's strategic location at the centre of the Mediterranean and its strong historic Arabian influence, "it's natural to put a Middle Eastern dimension to our presidency."

"We like to think of ourselves not only as a European country but also as a Mediterranean country, bringing in an African dimension to it," Muscat added.

But will Malta's future involvement in the political dynamics of the Middle East be seen as intrusive intervention from regional powers? he was asked.

"I think we're small enough to be trusted; a threat to no one and we're proud of that," Muscat replied, also addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We have been very much historically involved in the Israeli-Palestinian issue; we are one of the first states in the world to recognize the PLO and to give an embassy to the Palestinian people over here in 1976.

"But we also think of ourselves as being close to the Israeli people, we can relate to both the Palestinians and Israelis and believe there is scope for us to help in the dialogue between the two."

Meanwhile, the channel also delved into Malta's intentions of tapping into opportunities found within greater cooperation with Gulf states.

The Maltese have had good relations Saudi Arabia since the 70s, says foreign minister George Vella who was also interviewed, who explains how through the opening of a consular office in Dubai in 2003 and in Kuwait last year, things have moved forward and  influx of Kuwaitis coming to the island through government-sponsored programs to study at the Malta university.

However, Vella says previous ties between Malta and the Gulf states could have been more rewarding.

"Theoretically, one would have hoped that our relations with Gulf countries would have been more deep and fruitful. But the balance was tipped by the Arab Spring, Vella said in reference to a Malta-based European Union-Arab League liaison office that was inaugurated in 2009.

He said the office's operations had stilted due to the instability, but hopes activity in that arena will now pick up, and for Malta to be one of the liaising states at the forefront of the action.