TRIPOLI, Libya (Reuters) -- After agreeing to nuclear cooperation with Libya, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the West should trust Arab states to develop such technology for peaceful purposes or risk a war of civilizations.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy says Arab states shouldn't be prevented from developing nuclear power.
France agreed on Wednesday to help Libya develop a nuclear reactor to supply drinking water from desalinated sea water. The reactor might be supplied by French atomic energy firm Areva.
Sarkozy told reporters in Libya that to consider the Arab world "is not sensible enough to use civilian nuclear power" would, in the long run, risk a "war of civilizations."
"Nuclear power is the energy of the future," he said. "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?"
Many Middle Eastern countries, including some worried about Iran's nuclear program, are interested in developing atomic energy resources.
Claude Gueant, Sarkozy's chief of staff, noted the nuclear cooperation deal means "a country that respects international rules can obtain civilian nuclear energy."
Sarkozy, due to travel to Senegal on Thursday, denied any link between the nuclear deal and the release this week of six foreign medics who spent eight years in Libyan jails and were convicted of infecting hundreds of children with HIV.
He helped clinch the deal between Tripoli and the European Union to free the medics, removing a major obstacle hampering reconciliation between Libya and the West. "The only link one can make, is that if the nurses had not been released, I would not have come," he said.
Areva, the world's biggest maker of nuclear reactors, deals with the full nuclear cycle from mining to waste. Libya said in February it would join Areva in exploring and mining uranium.
Saudi Arabia, along with Gulf Cooperation Council partners Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, announced a joint project for peaceful nuclear energy, mainly for water desalination, in December last year.
Egypt, which suspended an earlier nuclear energy program after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, is looking to revive it to meet energy needs and conserve gas and oil reserves.
Libya and France also signed accords for a military-industrial partnership and cooperation in scientific research and higher education on Wednesday.
"I am trying to reassure a part of the Arab world," said Sarkozy. "There is Libya, but all the other Arab states are looking at the way Libya will be treated following the release of the nurses."
Relations between France and Libya deteriorated after an attack on a French airliner in 1989. France convicted six Libyans in absentia but Tripoli has denied responsibility.
The West lifted sanctions on Libya after it abandoned its weapons of mass destruction programs and world powers are jostling for position in the hope of grabbing lucrative infrastructure contracts from the oil-rich country. E-mail to a friend
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