Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Arab League head calls for fair talks

REGIONAL HEAVYWEIGHTS Amr Moussa's statement echoes increasing concerns that the conference will favor Israel, as leaders try to work out a unified Arab strategy

AP , CAIRO

A Middle East peace conference proposed by US President George W. Bush should not be a showcase or favor Israel in pursuing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Arab League's chief warned on Wednesday.

Speaking to a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, Amr Moussa said it was "imperative that the gathering should not be meaningless and a useless political demonstration."

"Otherwise, this would only maintain status quo," Moussa said.

Moussa accused Israel of trying to "divest the conference of any meaning." He did not elaborate, but Israeli leaders have so far not committed themselves to discuss definitive issues at the upcoming conference, such as borders of a proposed Palestinian state and the return of refugees.

The Arab League head also said Syria's participation is essential to the success of the conference.

"Syria should be invited otherwise the conference will be imperfect," Moussa told reporters after the meeting.

The gathering in Cairo on Wednesday was meant to work out a unified Arab stand toward the conference, expected in Washington in November. Moussa's statement echoes increasing Arab concerns about its outcome.

Even though they are regional heavyweights and US allies who expressed support for the conference called for by Bush, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have not hidden their suspicions that Washington is not fully preparing for the gathering.

On Tuesday, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak warned it "should not be another lost chance similar to previous meetings." His foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, insisted that only a well-defined agenda can ensure the conference's success.

Arabs are pushing for an initial "framework agreement" on main issues by the Palestinians and the Israelis ahead of the conference.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is also expected in the Middle East later this month to try to get an agreement on an outline for a future peace agreement ahead of the US-sponsored conference.

On Wednesday in Cairo, the ministers of the 21-member League states and the Palestinian Authority also discussed Iraq, Lebanon and other conflicts in the region.

On Iraq, Moussa called for talks between Arab countries and Iran over the war-torn country, while dismissing fears that the regime in Tehran would step in to fill a power vacuum in Iraq in the case of US troop withdrawal.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week said such a vacuum is imminent and that Iran was ready to help fill the gap. The Iranian leader also suggested Iran should cooperate with neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, to fill the vacuum. Sunni Arab countries are concerned about what they see as Iran's meddling in Iraq, especially its close ties to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

The Arab League also urged the Iraqi government to speed up the process of national reconciliation and rebuilding the security and armed forces to foreign troops can leave.

In a statement released after the meeting, the foreign ministers said achieving stability in Iraq needs a security and a political solution side by side to eradicate the roots of ethnic sedition and terrorism.

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