- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 17 (UPI) — Syria will be the site of a meeting of foreign ministers from six regional countries on finding a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis, As Safir newspaper reported Friday.

The newspaper quoted well-informed Arab diplomatic sources as saying that the foreign ministers of Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Iran will gather in Damascus next week.

The Damascus-based sources said the meeting was proposed by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa during a visit to Ankara a few days ago. Its purpose is to discuss ways to avoid a U.S. war on Iraq.

The sources said the proposed meeting was also discussed with officials in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Iran.

The sources said the Damascus gathering was to focus on ways to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 on Iraq and so avoid war.

They added the meeting will not take up U.S. calls for changing the Baghdad regime because "it has no right to do so."

The sources also said Sharaa was scheduled to visit Iran Saturday to confirm "the solid relations with Tehran" and dismissed any reports of disagreement between the two governments.

Sharaa's visit will come nearly four days after President Bashar Assad failed to travel to Tehran for meetings with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and other top officials to discuss the Iraq crisis.

The Syrian foreign Ministry said Wednesday reports that Assad would visit Tehran were inaccurate.

On Thursday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry told the same five countries that are to take part in the Damascus meeting that it wished them to attend a similar gathering in Ankara next Thursday.





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