PARIS — Forty-three nations, including Israel and Arab states, pledged Sunday to work for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction at the close of a summit to launch an unprecedented Union for the Mediterranean aimed at securing peace across the restive region.
In a final declaration, Israel, Syria and the Palestinians along with countries across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa agreed to "pursue a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction."
The countries committed to "consider practical steps to prevent the proliferation" of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their delivery systems. It was unclear, however, how the signatories would enforce the pledge.
While trying to unify the region, the summit laid bare the deep divisions that still slice through it and highlighted how hard it will be to parlay the meeting's goodwill and words into real progress. Syria's president refused to shake the Israeli prime minister's hand, and Morocco's king snubbed the meeting attended by the president of rival Algeria.
Still, summit host Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, reveled at having brought so many leaders to the same table for the first time.
"We dreamed about a union for the Mediterranean, and now it is a reality," Sarkozy said in closing the summit in a palace abutting the Seine. He called it an "extremely moving, very important moment."
The summit declaration also condemned "terrorism in all its forms" and announced six major projects, from a common university and easier travel visas for students to depolluting the Mediterranean sea and promoting solar power.
It also spoke of democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms — values Western critics have accused such union members as Syria of violating.
The new union is to include at least 43 nations, nearly all of which sent a president or prime minister to the summit. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi objected to the whole idea and refused to come.