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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 14:46 GMT
Words of warning before Turkish talks
Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul
Regional conference on Iraq set to test Turkish PM
Turkey has announced that its conference of foreign ministers from Middle Eastern states will go ahead later this week in Istanbul.

Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Egypt and Jordan were invited to attend the talks last week.

I do not believe in a summit of this kind... Why should Arab countries hold a summit in Turkey?

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi
Newspapers in the region are divided on whether the conference has any hope of averting a war in Iraq.

Under the headline "Many obstacles to the peace initiative", Turkey's left-leaning Radikal describes the difficulties the government faced in organising the conference.

Preparations "plodded ahead slowly because of the different opinions held by Iran and the Arab countries Prime Minister Gul visited on a recent tour," it says.

Even the conference guest list has caused considerable debate.

Invitees and absentees

Beirut's Daily Star is unhappy about Lebanon's omission from the original list.

Lebanon has "apparently been excluded from the meet in Ankara because it does not border Iraq," it says.

It adds: "Egypt doesn't border Iraq, but that did not seem to affect the position of Turkey."

Anti-war demonstration in Ankara
There is strong opposition in Turkey to a war

The Saudi-owned, London-based Al-Hayah fears that with the current list of delegates the talks will only lead to "issuing a statement expressing sadness over the situation of the Iraqi people".

The newspaper even suggests that Israel might attend.

"The inclusion of Israel might give it a different edge and open the door to a peaceful solution to the Iraqi issue.

"Israeli participation in this conference would be seen by US and Western circles as a development in the Arab-Israeli relations," it says.

Another notable absentee is Libya. In a statement to Arab Satellite TV station Al-Jazeera, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi describes the summit as "nonsense".

"I do not believe in a summit of this kind. Why should Arab countries hold a summit in Turkey?" he asks.

Goals

According to Turkish TV, the declaration that Ankara will send to the participants will be in the form of an appeal for peace.
There is some room left to restore sanity to a fearful situation

Jordan Times

It will announce that Iraq must open its doors to UN inspectors, end the threat concerning weapons of mass destruction and introduce democratic reforms.

The Jordan Times is hopeful that the meeting will fulfil these aims and enable Iraq's neighbours to coordinate their policies "not only on how to avoid a disastrous war but also on how to deal with its fall-out".

"Time's awasting as war looms nearer, but there is some room left to restore sanity to a fearful situation," it says.

But the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper believes that the sole aim of the conference is to persuade Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to step down.

"Saddam's insistence on steadfastness and resistance until martyrdom is a clear response to this summit and its shameful agenda," the paper says.

A commentator writing in Egypt's Al-Arabi agrees. It describes the agenda as "a plot and not a peace-seeking initiative".

US role

The US role in the conference preparations has also been called into question.
The talks risk issuing a traditional statement that will not help put out the big fire

Amman Al-Ra'y - Jordan

Iran's pro-reform Hamshahri daily highlights the fact that Turkey called the conference at a time when the head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Meyers, was visiting Ankara.

"This has to some extent cast a shadow over the way in which these countries accept the invitation," the paper says.

It warns that if the countries in the region do not participate in the conference "this will give the Turks a suitable pretext for undertaking greater co-operation with Washington".

Whoever the driving force behind the summit is, Jordan's Amman Al-Ra'y stresses that the states involved should "properly examine the situation" before the talks take place.

If they do not, the paper warns, it risks becoming a meeting that issues "a traditional statement that will not help put out the big fire, which awaits the region and whose effects no one will escape".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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  The BBC's Jonny Dymond
"The Turkish government does believe that the region has a role to play"

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16 Jan 03 | Europe
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