Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 6 News List

World Economic Forum to cover Iraq and Arab reform

DAVOS SOUTH As security forces deploy to protect 400 political delegations, the US plans to push Arab nations to make reforms to move the region toward democracy


Jordan deployed thousands of elite special forces and security personnel around major hotels and Dead Sea resorts on the eve of a high-profile World Economic Forum (WEF).

More than 400 high-powered political delegations, including that of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, are to take part in the forum. The conference's agenda revolves around the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, the future of Iraq, intrinsic reforms across the Arab nations and economic interaction.

The Shuneh resort where the forum is being held has been sealed off, while thousands of soldiers are stationed along the highway leading to the Dead Sea.

It will be the second such annual WEF gathering along the Dead Sea shores, away from its winter venue in Davos, Switzerland. The forum is held just one week before a crucial Arab summit in Tunis and in the wake of a suicide bombing in Riyadh.

It also comes two weeks after Jordan said it thwarted an al-Qaeda plot that could have killed tens of thousands of people.


One of the most important encounters will be a meeting between Powell and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia ahead of scheduled talks between Qureia and US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

It will be the first such encounter with a high-ranking US official since Qureia took office six months ago.

Democratic reforms in Arab states is an issue that holds high importance for the US at the WEF meeting.

The issue of reform has taken center stage because the spiraling violence in Iraq and between Israel and the Palestinians has forced regional economic cooperation projects onto the back burner, analysts said.

"Partnering for regional reform" is the first area of focus mentioned in the WEF literature for the three-day meeting.

Of the nearly 30 sessions of political discussion scheduled, half are devoted to subjects linked to reform, such as good governance, civil society and women's rights.

The US sees in democratic and economic development remedies to frustration and repression fueling terrorism in Arab countries.

But the Arab states say that the main causes of extremism and terrorism are Israel's occupation of Arab land, US support of the Jewish state and its invasion of Iraq last year.

US President George W. Bush wrote in a letter to Jordanian King Abdullah II on May 6 that the hosting of the WEF meeting "will be an important milestone in clearly demonstrating to the world that the region is yearning for reforms and opportunity."

Authoritarian regimes

"The subject of reform in the entire Middle East will be central at the G-8 summit in June, and any guidance that emerges from the WEF will be most helpful as a guide to future action," Bush said.

Powell is expected to stress this point in an address to the forum after its opening by King Abdullah.

Most Arab states are governed by authoritarian regimes that have rejected the US administration's "Greater Middle East Initiative" for democratic reforms as interference in their internal affairs.

The US initiative, to be presented at the June 8-10 Group of Eight summit in the US, nevertheless put pressure on Arab states to put reform on the agenda of their summit scheduled for May 22-23.

Arab diplomats have said the summit to be held in Tunisia is expected to produce a declaration confirming the need to promote reforms, but allows each of the 22 Arab regimes decide on their timing and content.

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