EU leaders seek talks with Gaddafi at Africa summit

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The Independent Online

The Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, is to consolidate his political rehabilitation at a ground-breaking summit next week and may hold face-to-face talks with European Union leaders including Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission.

The first formal summit between the EU and the Organisation of African Unity, which starts in Cairo on Monday, is seen as an opportunity to thaw relations with Libya and to bring it closer to the international mainstream.

Mr Prodi, thwarted in an earlier attempt to invite Col Gaddafi to Brussels, is likely to seek a meeting in Cairo, despite the backlash provoked by his earlier invitation. Mr Prodi's official spokesman said yesterday that no meeting had been "scheduled at the moment", but diplomats and officials believe one will go ahead, provided other European leaders approve. Some national delegations, including Italy, which has had closer ties to Libya, Ireland and possibly France, are thought to have put out feelers, without announcing any plans.

The main obstacle towards reconciliation appears close to resolution. Mr Prodi's invitation to the Libyan leader, just before Christmas, was withdrawn because Tripoli was unable to sign up in full to the Barcelona Declaration - linking EU and Mediterranean countries - which includes commitments to democracy, freedom of speech and human rights.

However, Libya has now dropped its insistence that Israel should be excluded from the process, which aims to produce a free-trade area between the EU and the Mediterranean over a 12-year period. Officials believe that if Col Gaddafi is satisfied with the contacts in Cairo, he will announce his willingness to join the Barcelona process shortly afterwards.

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