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Iraq, Neighbors to Discuss Borders, Security

An international conference to address the political and security situation in Iraq begins Monday in Egypt. The first day of the conference will be a meeting between Iraq and its neighbors: Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Jordan, as well as host country Egypt.

Iraqi officials are expected to call for their neighbors, especially Syria and Iran, to intensify cooperation to control the Iraqi borders and to prevent the transit of terrorists, weapons, and financing for terrorism into the country. Syria and Turkey may also express their shared concerns over potential Kurdish autonomy in Iraq.

On Tuesday, Iraq and its neighbors will meet with the Group of Eight industrialized nations, China, the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the European Union.

The conference is expected to communicate its support for Iraq and for the country's planned general elections. A draft of the conference's final statement stresses "the leading role of the United Nations in supporting, as circumstances permit, the political process" in Iraq as defined in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546, which calls for Iraqi elections by January of 2005.

U.N. staff members are assisting Iraq in organizing the elections, but no countries have offered to protect U.N. personnel in Iraq. The deteriorating security situation in the country has raised questions about whether the election can be held as scheduled.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abul Gheit, who is chairing the conference, told the Gulf newspaper Al Bayan that the conference aims to protect Iraqi sovereignty and unity, and to end the presence of foreign troops there. In discussions leading up to the conference, some countries, such as France, had lobbied to include a date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The draft document says the mandate of the U.S.-led coalition troops is not open-ended, but sets no time limit.