- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

SAUDI ARABIA

No debt write-offs until Iraqi self-rule

RIYADH — The kingdom announced yesterday that it would not discuss any loan write-offs with Iraq’s interim U.S.-appointed government, which is facing a debt burden estimated at more than $100 billion.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, said Saudi Arabia, among Arab states in the Persian Gulf that say Iraq owes them $45 billion to $55 billion, will wait until the country has an independent government before looking into the possibility of reducing the debt.

“This has to be discussed with a government with total sovereignty, so … the issue is now premature,” he said at a news briefing broadcast live on Saudi state television. “There is an international dialogue and we are willing to take part and discuss, but I don’t think there is scope for a serious dialogue unless there is an Iraqi government.”

IRAN

Khatami pursues relations with Egypt

TEHRAN — President Mohammed Khatami said yesterday that Iran wants to rebuild diplomatic ties with Egypt and end more than two decades of estrangement, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The two countries have similar views on international and regional issues and should solve outstanding bilateral disputes in a way that respects each side’s principles, Mr. Khatami added. The presidents of Iran and Egypt held talks during a United Nations summit in Geneva this month — the first meeting at that level since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran has invited Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to attend a Feb. 19 summit of eight developing Muslim countries aimed at increasing economic cooperation. “I hope the current talks with Cairo will have positive results and end the break in relations,” IRNA quoted Mr. Khatami as saying.

ALGERIA

Summit cancellation hurts Bouteflika

ALGIERS — The collapse of a North African summit is a setback for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, robbing him of an opportunity to take center stage ahead of a presidential election in April.

The Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) summit, heralded as a way to create a free-trade zone to mirror the European Union, was canceled at the 11th hour on Monday when three of its five heads of state declined to attend, Arab diplomats told the Reuters news agency.

The future of the AMU, created in 1989 with much fanfare, now is in the balance, and specialists say the grouping of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia is dead in the water. No AMU summit has been held since 1994, despite various attempts by presidency-holder Algeria, including one last year.

Weekly notes

Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced yesterday that Japan and Kuwait have concluded a Status of Forces Agreement exempting Japanese Self-Defense Forces troops from criminal prosecution while stationed in the Persian Gulf kingdom. A Japanese Air-SDF team is expected to help transport food and medical supplies from Kuwait to Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. … Saudi police on the porous southern border with Yemen have installed infrared cameras and barbed wire in areas of possible infiltration by terrorists, the Al Watan daily reported yesterday. The paper said the steps are intended to “stop terrorists and those on the wanted list published by the Interior Ministry [on Dec. 6] from escaping to Yemen as well as curbing drug- and weapons-smuggling operations.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports


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