- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2003

DAMASCUS, Syria — Arab, Iranian and Turkish foreign ministers condemned terrorist bombings in Iraq and called on Iraqi officials to cooperate on border control yesterday after talks about the Iraqi crisis, which Baghdad’s interim authority boycotted.

But the foreign ministers of Iraq’s neighbors did not directly address U.S. and Iraqi calls for greater action to stop combatants crossing their countries’ borders into Iraq.

L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, said yesterday that those fighters were taking part in deadly and escalating attacks on U.S. forces.

“What we need in the case of the Syrian border is much better cooperation from the Syrian government in stopping these people on their side,” Mr. Bremer told CNN.

The same message, he added, applies to Iran.

Also participating in the two days of talks in Damascus were the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan — all bordering Iraq — and politically influential Egypt. The nations, including both opponents and supporters of the U.S.-led war, have been concerned about the far-reaching regional consequences of the U.S. troop presence and a pro-American government in Baghdad.

The ministers expressed support for Baghdad’s U.S.-appointed interim administration, welcoming the body to join in future talks.

The next meeting was set for Kuwait, but no date was given. The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council snubbed this meeting, apparently offended by two last-minute invitations that Iraq’s foreign minister called “vague.”

In refusing the invitations — made the night before the talks began — Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also said the Governing Council would reject any decisions made during the meeting.

The council had wanted to use the Damascus meeting to demand an end to cross-border infiltration and to urge neighbors to provide information on former Saddam Hussein loyalists who may be hiding in their countries.

Iraq shares a long border of desert terrain, mountains and rivers with Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait and Iran.

But the ministers’ final communique, read to journalists by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa, made no direct reference to cross-border infiltration.

Instead, the ministers expressed concern about the presence of terrorist groups in Iraq and the possibility they might cross into their own countries.

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