French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Arab states had made a "gesture of peace" by attending a summit Sunday in Paris for the launch of a new Union for the Mediterranean.
"I want to hail the courage of all those who answered our invitation," Sarkozy told the more than 40 heads of state and government at the opening of the summit in Paris.
"I want to salute Arab heads of state for being here, for accepting this responsibility and in that way making a gesture of peace," said the French leader, who co-chaired the meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
"Together we will build peace in the Mediterranean, just as yesterday we built peace in Europe."
Heads of state and government from the 27 EU nations and an arc of countries from north Africa to the Balkans -- representing some 756 million people -- were in Paris to inaugurate the new Mediterranean forum.
The meeting marked a return to the international stage for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who along with other Arab leaders was sitting at the same table as Israeli Prime Minister Eud Olmert.
To sidestep differences between Israel and its Arab neighbours, the new forum will concentrate on a series of practical regional projects such as cleaning up pollution in the Mediterranean sea or developing solar energy.
Through his energetic lobbying, Sarkozy scored a major coup by getting almost everyone to the venue, although their attendance will not be enshrined in any family photograph, due to objections.