France seals nuclear deal with Morocco-Sarkozy

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MARRAKESH, Morocco, Oct 24 (Reuters) France will help Morocco build a civil nuclear energy industry to underpin its development, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on a visit to the north African country.

Morocco, a relatively poor country of 33 million, lacks the energy reserves of neighbouring Algeria and has sought for years to build nuclear power stations to provide enough electricity to feed industrial growth and rising living standards.

''I have the pleasure to announce that we have decided tocommit ourselves together to another big project, another big partnership -- that of civil nuclear energy,'' Sarkozy said at an official dinner in Marrakesh late yesterday.

Officials close to the French president said meetings wouldbe arranged shortly to get the new partnership under way and that Morocco's new Energy Minister Amina Benkhadra would visit France soon.

Sarkozy has overseen a flurry of business deals during his three-day Morocco visit, including one for French nuclear equipment firm Areva covering the extraction of uranium from phosphoric acid.

He proved willingness to sell nuclear technology to a north African country in July when France agreed to cooperate with Libya on an atomic plant to supply drinking water from sea water.

Officials said Areva could supply the reactor.

Morocco has a small US-built research reactor and an atomic research partnership with France, but wants to take cooperation a step further and aims to build a nuclear power station in the region around Marrakesh.

In a speech to Morocco's parliament yesterday, Sarkozy said Morocco's progress in developing civil nuclear energy showed Iran that developed countries were willing to share their expertise if international rules are applied.

''The energy of the future is not destined to be the exclusive property of the most developed countries as long as international conventions are respected,'' he said.

''To say that about civil nuclear energy, here in Morocco, isalso for me a way of saying to Iran that cooperation is possible and we are not condemned to confrontation.'' The West accuses Iran of using civil nuclear research as cover for a covert atomic weapons programme. Tehran says it wants to master nuclear technology to produce electricity and conserve more of its huge oil and gas reserves for export.

Reuters SG GC1518

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