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Date: Sat, 6 Dec 1997 08:49:10 -0600
Message-Id: <199712061449.IAA00431@radish.interlink-bbs.com>
From: alghassa@sol.racsa.co.cr
Reply-To: Iraq-l@interlink-bbs.com
To: Iraq-l@interlink-bbs.com
Subject: IRQ-NEWS: Foreign ministers gather in Tehran for ambitious

Foreign ministers gather in Tehran for ambitious Islamic meeting

By Anthony Shadid, Associated Press, 6 December 1997, 8.49 a.m. EST (1349 GMT)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) With a call for cooperation, Muslim foreign ministers searched for common ground today on disputes that have long kept Islamic unity more a concept than practice.

The two-day meeting of 35 ministers will prepare for a summit next week of Muslim leaders from Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, a high-profile conference that signals Iran's growing international acceptance, particularly among Muslim nations.

One sign of that acceptance was the presence today of ministers from Egypt and Iraq, two Arab countries that long deemed Iran and its revolutionary Islam a threat to their stability. Egypt, as well, is a key Arab ally of the United States, which considers Iran one of the world's leading sponsors of terrorism.

Iranian officials, however, insisted that the meeting was meant to bolster cooperation, not to improve Iran's standing.

This conference has not been convened to send a message to anyone. It was convened to bring about closer ties among Islamic countries, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

The foreign ministers' meeting will tackle many of the same issues to be considered at the summit Tuesday: development, cooperation, regional ties and policy toward Israel.

So far, disagreements have centered on resolutions critical of U.S. policy in the region, particularly in the Gulf.

Iran, which fashions itself as a leading opponent of the Middle East peace process, had trouble finding support, too, for denunciations of Muslim countries with ties to the Jewish state.

Zarif, however, insisted that of more than 140 resolutions, delegates disagreed on fewer than 10.

In fact, Zarif said opposition to Israel was the one issue that united nearly every delegate present.

All Islamic countries believe that Israel is the greatest threat to Islamic countries and the greatest danger to the region, he told a news conference.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference organizes a summit every three years, making this year's Tehran meeting only the eighth since 1969. Iran has spent months preparing for the meeting, building a new conference center and refurbishing hotels.