EU leaders play down absence of N. Africans from summit


World Digest


BARCELONA, Spain -- In a summit marked as much by who was not there as who was, the European Union opened a two-day conference yesterday aimed at renewing its commitment to developing and democratizing Muslim nations on the Mediterranean's southern rim.

Many of the North African and Middle Eastern leaders who had agreed to come to the meeting in Barcelona announced last week that they could not attend. Their absence weakens European claims that their approach to the Muslim world - based on economic development, dialogue, strengthening the rule of law and other forms of soft power - has greater credibility with the region's leaders than what they see as the Bush administration's more aggressive approach.

The conference was intended to bring together heads of state and government and other senior officials from all 25 members of the European Union, Israel and a dozen Muslim countries, including Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Jordan and Morocco.

European leaders sought to play down the absence of their counterparts from Egypt, Algeria and Morocco.

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