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Iraq's Neighbors Discuss Effects of War

November 02, 2003|From Times Wire Services

DAMASCUS, Syria — Iraq's neighbors opened a conference Saturday on the effects of the U.S.-led war that ousted President Saddam Hussein, but Baghdad's interim government -- insulted by a last-minute invitation -- snubbed the talks.

The meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Syria, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Egypt. They discussed ways to restore stability to Iraq and reviewed the war's effects on the region, according to a statement they released.

After inviting Iraq on Friday, the ministers contacted Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on Saturday to renew an invitation to attend today's talks, the statement said. But Zebari said it was "too little, too late."

"It will be very difficult for me to get to the talks in Damascus tomorrow, given the logistical problems and the attitude of the Syrian government," he said.

The dispute over Iraq's participation highlighted lingering divisions over the war. Syria and Iran strongly opposed the U.S.-led conflict, while Kuwait was the launching pad for invading forces. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt are key U.S. allies in the region.

Some worried that Iraq's presence could divert the forum's focus from dealing with the aftermath of the war and discussing possible participation by Iraq's neighbors in a stabilization force.

Iraqi Foreign Ministry officials had blamed Syria's apparent reluctance to invite Zebari on Syrian misgivings about appearing to recognize Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council.

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