- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey, Jan. 24 (UPI) — Egypt and five anxious neighbors of Iraq called on Saddam Hussein on Thursday to take steps that would avoid war in the region.

The six foreign ministers meeting in Istanbul, however, said the issue of Saddam stepping down or going into exile was not discussed.

The purpose of the meeting of the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Egypt was to find "an honorable way out" for Iraq to comply with the U.N. request to disarm that would not come from others but "from brotherly countries," diplomats said.

A joint declaration issued by the six foreign ministers called on the Iraqi leadership "to move irreversibly and sincerely towards assuming their responsibilities in restoring peace and stability in the region."

What the diplomats described as a last-ditch peace effort was undertaken because, the declaration said, "The countries of this region do not wish to live through yet another war and all its devastating consequences."

Iraq, it said, should "embark on the policy that will unambiguously inspire confidence to Iraq's neighbors and to respect internationally recognized boundaries, resolving outstanding issues with its neighbors."

It was several hours after the scheduled end of the meeting that Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis emerged to read the declaration. Informed sources said there had been a heated debate over the wording, with some ministers, led by Syria's Tariq al Shara, insisting on mentioning the United States and Israel by name, and a direct reference to Kuwait and the Palestinian problem.

The declaration that came out after lengthy discussions urged Iraq to fully conform to U.N. regulations and to demonstrate a more active approach in providing information on its weapons programs.

Turkey had earlier described the meeting in Istanbul as a "a preparatory meeting" for a summit of the leaders of the same six countries in Damascus. But Thursday, the ministers would say only that if another meeting was necessary, it would be in Damascus, and there was no mention of a summit.

The ministers, when asked, said neither the issue of exile nor Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's leaving his post, was discussed at the meeting.

"We are giving a message of peace, we don't want a military operation," Egypt Foreign Minister Ahmad Mahir said.

Because the invitations were sent to the countries visited recently by Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, Kuwait did not attend the meeting in Istanbul, Yakis said. However, he said Kuwait would be immediately informed of the discussions and would be invited to the next meeting of the foreign ministers.

The declaration also contained what was seen as an attempt to reassure Turkey that the Kurds would not be allowed to carve out an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq. "We fully determined to support the territorial integrity of Iraq," the declaration said.

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