- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, April 18 (UPI) — Saudi Arabia's foreign minister called on U.S. and British "occupation" forces to set an interim government in Iraq — the dominant message from what was the first gathering of Arab leaders since the outbreak of the war.

Prince Saud al-Faisal's call came during the opening of a conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh that collected the foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring countries Kuwait, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and Turkey as well as Egypt and Bahrain.

"So that they withdraw their forces as quickly as possible, we invite the occupation authority to set up an interim government and exert maximum efforts to reach this goal by establishing an Iraqi constitutional government based on the largest representation that would fulfill the ambitions and wishes of the Iraqi people in all their categories," the Saudi official said.

His comments followed a similar theme as those of Egypt's foreign minister before the meeting Friday. Ahmed Maher reiterated his country's support of Iraq's sovereignty and the independence of its people, saying, "Egypt will not recognize any Iraqi administration unless it emanated from the free will of the Iraqi people. … We look forward to allowing Iraqis to exercise their sovereign right and not to have anything imposed on them," Maher said.

Al-Faisal hoped "the Iraqi war (would) be the last chapter of violence instead of being a chain in the series of struggles and wars." To that end, the United Nations should play a central role in Iraq, one that should not be limited to humanitarian and economic issues but rather extend to the reconstruction of post-war Iraq, he said.

The foreign minister added Iraq's neighbors would not interfere in its internal affairs — rather, they "are looking for the establishment of the Iraqi modern state" and are determined to contribute in any international effort meant to help Iraq. Their priority was "the interest of Iraq and its people" and ensuring that "Iraq's land and wealth should be the sole property of Iraqis," he declared.

Al-Faisal said the purpose of the Riyadh meeting was to discuss the results and impact of the U.S.-led war on Iraq on "the security, safety and stability of our region." From those exchanges would come "a joint position based on some principles to contact the international parties and achieve Iraq's interests as well as the region's security and stability."

He dismissed U.S. threats against Syria and called on Washington to promote dialogue with Syria instead of issuing warnings to Iraq's neighbor about its alleged support of the fallen Iraqi regime.

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi agreed, saying, "threatening others is not a good way." Iran has also been rumored in the Arab world to be on the United States' target list for pursuing weapons programs contrary to international conventions.

Kharrazi played down such concerns. "We are not worried because the matter was completely different with regard to Iraq," he told reporters before the ministers' meeting. Iran and Syria were "fully committed to international legitimacy which should be the guideline for international relations."

Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia ended by saying the Americans should also reactivate the stalled Middle East peace talks.



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