Iraq, Israel Dominate Debate at Meeting (AP) By DONNA BRYSON SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan 06/21/03 3:50 PM)
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SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan - The U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam
Hussein forced Iraq´s neighbors to contemplate their weaknesses and
lack of democracy, Arab leaders said Saturday in a debate that
revealed fears about what Washington might have in store next for the
Iraq was among the main themes at the World Economic Forum, held for
the first time in the Middle East, which joins influential CEOs and
entrepreneurs with politicians to discuss global issues.
More than 1,100 participants, including 11 heads of state or
government and dozens of Cabinet ministers, attended the three-day
meeting, which opened Saturday on the shores of the Dead Sea with the
BBC-sponsored debate on Iraq.
In a speech, Jordan´s King Abdullah II said much had changed since
the last World Economic Forum meeting at its headquarters in the
Swiss Alpine resort of Davos.
"Then, we talked about the looming war in Iraq. Now, we talk about
speeding up humanitarian outreach ... reconstruction ... and credible
Iraqi government that represents all its people," Abdullah said.
"Then, we talked about winning a commitment to the road map to peace
for Israel and Palestine. Now, we talk about making that commitment a
reality; a comprehensive peace; two states, living side by side, in
peace and stability.
The U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan - which envisions a Palestinian
state by 2005 - was to be the topic of a sideline meeting Sunday of
Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan,
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and European Union officials.
The four parties are trying to keep the plan on track despite recent
On Saturday, however, much of the meeting´s focus was on Iraq.
During the debate, the United States was accused of planning to
remake Iraq into its version of an Arab democracy, then impose that
model on the rest of the region.
In defense, Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chair of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, said his country wanted democracy, economic
vibrancy and peace for Iraq and the rest of the Arab world - and was
ready to work with partners in the region who shared that vision.
"Arab countries are eager for change and at their own pace," Lugar
said. "They want support from the United States and they will get it."
Joining Lugar on the debate panel, Qatar´s foreign minister, Sheik
Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani, said uneasiness over U.S.
intentions would never have come up had Arabs reformed themselves.
"If we´d had democracy, they (Iraqis) would have removed Saddam
Hussein long ago and we would not have these problems," said Sheik
Hamad, whose tiny Gulf country is a close U.S. ally.
Many in the audience - including a Saudi woman who said she feared
her conservative kingdom was being asked to democratize and modernize
at dangerous "hyperspeed" - expressed suspicion that the United
States was enforcing change.
America´s credentials as a reformer also were questioned by those who
cited chaos and violence of post-Saddam Iraq. Others accused the
United of sidelining Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
"What has democracy done for the people who are downtrodden? Those
are serious questions asked by the people," summed up Arab League
Secretary-General Amr Moussa, a panelist.
Moussa accused the United States of planning the region´s future
without consulting its people or its leaders - and without giving
Arabs credit for their own attempts to change.
At a news conference, World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab said
that while politics would take most of the headlines at the
conference, improving business and social conditions across the
region were also important.
Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chief executive of Nestle SA, conceded at the
opening news conference that before peace, stability and rule of law
are assured, "it will be very difficult for private enterprise."
A forum survey of business leaders released at the start of the
conference showing lingering pessimism in the wake of the Iraq war.
Of the third of businesses that put investment plans on hold since
the Iraq war, three-fourths had not yet restarted investment.
(© 2003 The Associated Press 06/21/03)
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