Malta's prime minister offered help Monday to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, saying his Mediterranean country's experience could be used to build a seaport and a plant to desalinate water for drinking.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said providing such basic facilities would serve as a way of reducing tensions in the region. He spoke to reporters after meeting at the White House with US President George W. Bush.
Gonzi said the meeting served to reaffirm the partnership that exists between Malta, the smallest state in the 25-nation European Union, and the United States.
He said he had been in touch with the special coordinator for Gaza, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, on Malta's proposal to help the Palestinians. Wolfensohn represents the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, the powers trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
"Tensions in the region are unlikely to subside as long as a real, serious problem remains unaddressed - provision of a reliable water supply to a territory that has none," Gonzi said in a speech at the National Press Club.
He said Malta once faced a serious water shortage and has developed technology to desalinate seawater that it is willing to share with the Palestinians through "an appropriate partnership."
Gonzi gave no details except that the European Union could be a leader in helping to bring this about.
He said a seaport in Gaza linked to the West Bank also could bring greater stability to the region and serve as a source of employment.
Gonzi said he and Bush discussed at length sharing the burden caused by illegal immigration.
Small boats carrying illegal African immigrants across the Mediterranean frequently land in Malta, in the center of the Mediterranean 93 kilometers (60 miles) south of Sicily, putting a burden on its medical and social services.
"The real solution does not lie in better policing of borders but in removing the economic insecurity in countries the immigrants come from," Gonzi said. The key is to provide health, education and other social service systems, he said.
He said Malta has held discussions with the North African nation of Libya on trying to reduce the flow of immigrants, but both sides recognized it was difficult to control Libya's long coastal and desert borders with African nations.
Gonzi said Malta supported Turkish membership in the European Union but said Ankara first must recognize Cyprus, an eastern Mediterranean island south of Turkey, divided since 1974 into a Turkish-controlled north and Greek Cypriot south. He said Turkey could serve as a bridge between European countries and Arab and other Muslim nations.
He said he and Bush discussed how to facilitate American companies' investing in Malta, an EU member but also a gateway to emerging markets in North Africa.
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