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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 December, 2004, 18:34 GMT
Mid-East conflict 'stalls reform'
Anti-US demonstration in Rabat on 28 November 2004
Many Arabs oppose US policies in the Middle East
Arab leaders have said US demands for political change in the Middle East cannot succeed without a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The remarks were made during talks in Morocco on a US initiative to promote wide-ranging reforms in the Arab world.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell replied that changes should not wait for peace in the Middle East.

The US initiative, launched in March, was scaled down after Arab critics accused Washington of interference.

The meeting on Saturday was a symbolic moment in Arab-Western relations and the diplomatic event of the year for Morocco, reports the BBC's Pascale Harter from the capital, Rabat.

Nonetheless, nothing was said that had not been said before, our correspondent says.

Conditionality

Some 20 Arab, African, Middle Eastern and Asian nations attended the meeting, along with the members of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations.

Foreign ministers from Syria and Egypt and the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said the US must first meet some conditions before an Arab-G8 dialogue on reform could give rise to actual reforms.

"The Palestinian question will have to be solved," Mr Moussa said.

Without solving this [the Palestinian-Israeli conflict] problem justly and fairly, the situation will continue to be tense, violent and I don't think we can move ahead
Amr Moussa
Arab League

"Without solving this problem justly and fairly, the situation will continue to be tense, violent and I don't think we can move ahead."

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the conference that the perceived US bias towards Israel was the main obstacle to promoting reform in the region.

He accused the US of "unrestricted backing of unrestrained Israeli policies", while advocating reform in the area.

But Mr Powell said all-round reform could not be held hostage to the resolution of the Middle East conflict.

"We can't hold up reform or slow the pace of reform or keep reform from accelerating because of these other issues," Mr Powell told a news conference at the end of the talks.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell (L) and his Moroccan counterpart Mohamed Benaissa  co-chairing the talks.
To defeat the murderous extremists in our midst, we must work together to address the causes of despair and frustration that extremists exploit for their own ends
Colin Powell
"Increasing opportunities for all citizens, especially women, should not be put on hold to deal with other concerns," he said.

"All of us confront the daily threat of terrorism," Mr Powell said.

"To defeat the murderous extremists in our midst, we must work together to address the causes of despair and frustration that extremists exploit for their own ends."

The controversial Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative is intended to open a dialogue on political, economic and social reforms in the region, with economic aid from the G8 as an incentive.

Opposition parties and human rights groups, including in the host country, had opposed the talks.

Several hundred Moroccans held a demonstration accusing the US of trying to legitimise its policy in the Middle East with insincere talks on encouraging democracy in the Arab world.

Much of Rabat was cordoned off by police and military, and the rest of the city remained a ghost town, with Moroccans keeping well-away from the police on the streets.


BBC NEWS:VIDEO AND AUDIO
Colin Powell on the initiatives outlined by the forum




SEE ALSO:
Powell leaves Europe divided
10 Dec 04 |  Europe
Arab TV eyes reform agenda
22 Nov 04 |  Middle East
Egyptian reformists break taboos
01 Nov 04 |  Middle East
Syria feels pressure to reform
28 Sep 04 |  Middle East
Profile: Colin Powell
15 Nov 04 |  Americas


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