- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

ISTANBUL The foreign ministers of Iraq's neighbors met yesterday to discuss ways to avert a conflict and urge Baghdad to cooperate more with U.N. arms inspectors.

Turkey has proposed that the meeting adopt a joint declaration calling on Iraq to cooperate fully with U.N. arms inspectors and declare that it will not develop weapons of mass destruction in the future, a Turkish diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The foreign ministers of Iraq's neighbors Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan as well as Egypt met in a former Ottoman palace overlooking the Bosporus, just four days ahead of a deadline for U.N. weapons inspectors to report to the Security Council on Iraq's cooperation.

All the countries present except Jordan and Iran were part of the 1991 Persian Gulf war coalition.

Kuwait, which was invaded by Iraq in August 1990, was not invited. Kuwait is hosting a large number of U.S. troops preparing for a possible war.

Unlike Kuwait, countries such as Syria, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia are worried that a war resulting in Saddam's overthrow may set a precedent and endanger their own regimes.

Turkey and Iran are against a war that could lead to the collapse of Iraq's central government, fearing that minority Kurds in the north could become too powerful, inspiring their own Kurdish populations. Turkey and Iran already compete for influence in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Turkey and Jordan are worried that a war could harm their already fragile economies while Turkey and Iran fear a flood of refugees if war breaks out on their borders.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia rejects a possible Shi'ite state in the south that could be dominated by Shi'ite Iran.

A war "will be horrifying," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said on NTV television. "There will be great instability in the region. The Arab world's hatred will grow. We will also see negative results in terms of economy in every Arab country."

Although Turkish and Arab diplomats have stressed that the delegates will not call for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to step down and go into exile as a way of avoiding war, the meeting was preceded by a flood of reports of such an offer.

"We have only one item on the agenda and that is how to help Iraq avoid a military strike," said Mahmoud Mubarak, the assistant foreign minister of Egypt.

An Arab diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the participants might discuss sending an envoy to Baghdad.

Polls show that more than 80 percent of the Turkish public opposes a war.

The United States is asking to base tens of thousands of soldiers in Turkey to open a northern front against Iraq. Reluctant Turkish leaders have suggested that the United States scale back its request. The NATO military commander, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, is expected in Turkey today.

U.S. military teams yesterday were wrapping up their inspections of ports and air bases in Turkey, part of a survey of sites that U.S. troops could use to attack Iraq, a U.S. official said.

The inspections are considered a first step toward stationing U.S. troops in Turkey.

The 150 inspectors arrived about a week ago.

Most of them have left after finishing their work and the remainder are preparing to leave in the coming days, a U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

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