Pakistan hosts summit on Iran, Iraq

CONFLICT RESOLUTION: Iran and Syria were not invited to the meeting, at which the foreign ministers of seven Islamic countries will discuss crises in the Middle East

AP , ISLAMABAD

Mon, Feb 26, 2007 - Page 5

Foreign ministers from seven Muslim nations were set to meet in Pakistan yesterday to discuss possible ways to resolve tensions in the Middle East, including in Iran and Iraq, and to curb the spread of terrorism.

Ministers from Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan, as well as Turkey's Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference -- a 57-member bloc of Islamic states -- were to hold talks yesterday in the capital Islamabad, the Foreign Ministry said.

Musharraf recently visited the six countries in addition to Iran and Syria for talks on settling conflicts in the Middle East, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fighting in Iraq and tensions between Washington and Tehran.

But Iran and Syria were not invited to the meeting, the because "they are considered to be [directly] involved in the crisis" in the Middle East, a government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make media statements.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri spoke with his Syrian and Iranian counterparts about the gathering on Friday, the official said.

He gave no additional details.

The official denied suggestions in pan-Arab media that Pakistan was forming a Sunni bloc opposed to Iran.

The US and several of its Western allies fear that Iran is using its nuclear program to produce an atomic weapon -- charges Iran denies, saying its aim is to generate electricity.

US Vice President Dick Cheney while visiting Australia on Saturday criticized Iran's defiance of a UN deadline for freezing its uranium enrichment programs.

Cheney said that while the US sought a peaceful resolution with Iran, "all options" were on the table.

Musharraf has said he was trying to build consensus among countries who support "a conciliatory approach" to the region's problems.

Consensus was reached during Musharraf's recent visits "on the need for collective efforts and a united stand to resolve the disputes in the region, to counter the rising trends of radicalism, extremism and terrorism," said the Foreign Ministry's statement, received late Saturday.

Yesterday's meeting was supposed to lay the groundwork for a summit of Muslim leaders to be held in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

No dates have been announced for that meeting.

On Friday, Musharraf spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who supported Musharraf's initiative, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported.

Pakistan has no diplomatic ties with Israel and supports a separate state for Palestinians with Jerusalem as its capital.