- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (Agence France-Presse) — This oil-rich kingdom will take part in a U.S.-sponsored Forum for the Future this month in Morocco on political and economic reforms in the Middle East and North Africa, the Saudi foreign minister announced yesterday.

“The kingdom will participate by [expressing] its opinion and [exerting every] effort to reach common grounds for cooperation,” Prince Saud al-Faisal told a press conference.

He declined to specify the level of the kingdom’s representation at the Dec. 11 meeting, which is based on President Bush’s vision of a “Greater Middle East.”

Prince Saud said the kingdom has reservations about the proposals for implementing reforms across the region.

“Political reform should doubtlessly be based on internal conditions of each country. … Each people has its own traditions, and that should be taken in consideration,” he added.

Foreign and finance ministers from more than 20 countries of the Middle East and North Africa are expected at the forum, along with those of the Group of Eight industrial nations and international organizations.

Prince Saud highlighted the economic side of the discussions.

“If the wealthy industrial countries are going to exert effort to stabilize and [push] reform in the Middle East, they should look into the real needs of the region,” he said.

He added that many countries in the region need “Western capital [to be used] to build their economies, in addition to the opening of markets.”

The Greater Middle East and North Africa initiative endorsed by the G-8 aims to promote democratic reforms in the region and nearby areas including Afghanistan and South Asia.

Earlier, Gulf Arab states meeting in Kuwait voiced “different viewpoints” yesterday over a Saudi plan to combat terrorism through the press, said Kuwaiti Information Minister Mohammad Abulhassan.

The plan calls for press policies to be implemented by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states alongside a counterterrorism pact signed by the six-nation alliance in May. The GCC members are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Abulhassan told reporters after a one-day meeting of GCC information ministers that the proposal would be submitted to a meeting of Gulf foreign ministers soon in Bahrain.

The plan “was referred with all the debate and the viewpoints expressed by the ministers … all of whom expressed their countries’ strong opposition to terrorism,” he said.

“There were no disputes. There were different viewpoints regarding the way to deal with this issue,” the Kuwaiti minister said without elaboration.

Abdullah al-Jasser, undersecretary in the Saudi information ministry, has said the plan envisages several mechanisms for Gulf officials and private journalists to fight extremist ideology that has attracted some young people in the Gulf nations.

The plan has been kept confidential, but GCC Secretary-General Abdulrahman al-Attiyah told reporters there is “an agreement among ministers for media coordination.”

The conservative Gulf monarchies have been critical of freewheeling Al Jazeera television, based in Qatar, accusing it of insulting their countries, and criticizing it for airing footage of al Qaeda leaders.

The counterterrorism pact stipulates strengthening coordination among security agencies and increased exchanges of intelligence information.

Its signing came on the heels of a wave of terrorist attacks that rocked Saudi Arabia, the largest of the oil-rich Gulf Arab states, killing more than 100 people and wounding hundreds more.

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