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Latin American, Arab Countries to Meet at Historic Summit


Latin American and Arab leaders are in Brasilia for a summit on trade and other issues. Among the 22 Arab region representatives attending the summit is Iraq's President Jalal Talabani. U.S. and Israeli officials have expressed concern the meetings could serve as a platform to launch attacks on the Middle East peace process.

Latin American and Arab leaders began arriving in the Brazilian capital Monday for a historic summit between the two regions.

Leaders were greeted by Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim who called the meeting historic. Mr. Amorim said, "It's a cultural and spiritual promotion, but we also would like to see practical results from the beginning of this historical movement."

In their two-day meeting, which opens Tuesday, the Arab and Latin American leaders are expected to discuss trade, poverty reduction and other shared goals. The summit was the brainchild of Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who first proposed the meeting during his visit to the Middle East in 2003.

Among the attendees will be Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas. Most Arab leaders will not be attending. Some 10 Latin American countries will also be represented.

While Mr. da Silva has promoted the summit as primarily a way for both regions to establish new trade ties, U.S. and Israeli officials expressed concerns the meetings could serve as a platform to launch attacks on both nations' policies in the Middle East.

Last week the Israeli embassy in Brazil released a statement saying the positions and worries of Israel regarding the summit "have been expressed directly to the government of Brazil and other South American governments."

A U.S. government official told VOA he hopes the summit does not undermine the peace process in the Middle East.

A draft copy of the summit declaration published in the Brazilian press and scheduled for release Wednesday has both U.S. and Israeli officials worried.

According to Brazilian newspaper O Globo, both Lebanese and Palestinian leaders want the final declaration to include language saying acts of national defense are not considered terrorism. Venezuela reportedly supports the wording.

The United States has asked for an observer status at the summit, but the request was denied.
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