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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 17:16 GMT
Iraq's neighbours confront war threat
Regional foreign ministers with Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul (centre)
Old rivals come together as war looms
Foreign ministers from key Middle East nations have gathered in Turkey to look for a way to avert an American-led war in Iraq.

The people will suffer, the economies will be affected, stability will be upset

Ahmed Maher
The ministers, whose countries are likely to be most affected by any conflict, are expected to urge Baghdad to co-operate more fully with UN arms inspectors.

The talks in Istanbul follow an intensive round of diplomacy by Turkey and build on an unusual degree of regional solidarity.

But a BBC correspondent in Istanbul says there is little expectation that the initiative will achieve much.

A military confrontation was the last thing the region needed, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher was quoted as telling reporters as he arrived.

"The people will suffer, the economies will be affected, stability will be upset and an atmosphere of violence will emerge that will affect everybody," Mr Maher said.

"This is our message to the United States."

Open in new window : Who backs war?
Where key nations stand on Iraq

Mr Maher was being joined in the discussions by his counterparts from the host country, Turkey, as well as Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Widespread fears

While none of Iraq's neighbours might mourn the departure of Saddam Hussein, all are opposed to a war, fearing a conflict could lead to Iraq's break-up, says BBC regional analyst Pam O'Toole.

A war would also have a big economic impact.

Jordan - for instance - gets all its oil from Iraq's oilfields, which the US has said it would "hold in trust" should it become the occupying power.

And with public opinion in the region overwhelmingly anti-war, there are also fears that a conflict could undermine some governments.

"There was a solid display of unity of purpose," said Yusuf Bulunc, a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman after initial talks.

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

But the BBC's Jonny Dymond in Istanbul says it is not clear what the final declaration from the meeting will say.

Ankara's decision

Some delegations want there to be some reference to the United States and a call for it to refrain from military action.

But Turkey and Saudi Arabia are under pressure to allow the use of land and airspace by US forces should President Bush order an invasion of Iraq.

Turkey is in the most difficult position - under pressure from Washington to use its air bases and to station US troops on Turkish soil.

The Turkish Government has insisted that military action must be explicitly authorised by the UN Security Council.

But Ankara has received huge political and economic support from the US in the past and will continue to need such support.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Jim Fish
"The feeling on all sides is that time is running out for a diplomatic solution"
  The BBC's Jonny Dymond
"Money is at the heart of Turkey's war worries"

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22 Jan 03 | Europe
21 Jan 03 | Business
23 Jan 03 | Politics
23 Jan 03 | Middle East
23 Jan 03 | Middle East
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