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British Foreign Secretary to Discuss Iraq on Mideast Trip - 2002-10-07


British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has set off on a trip that will take him to four Middle Eastern countries to discuss the Iraq crisis and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Straw will be meeting government leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Iran to lobby for support of tough action against Iraq.

He says his objective is not explicitly to form a coalition against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But Mr. Straw has told British radio each country he will visit has reason to fear the Iraqi leader. "Jordan, Kuwait and Iran have been the subject of military action by Saddam. Two of them of course, have suffered from wars from Saddam, and Jordan has also received missile attacks from Iraq in the past. Egypt is also worried about the long-term instability caused to the region and the way in which Iraq also helps the underdevelopment of the Arab region," Mr. Straw said.

Diplomats say Mr. Straw's visit to Iran will be especially delicate.

A British official who briefed foreign correspondents about the trip said Iran is concerned about possible American-led military action on its western border in Iraq at the same time that U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan on Iran's eastern border.

Another aspect of the Straw trip is to sound out Middle Eastern leaders on the prospect of reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for Israel and the Palestinians to resume by December final status negotiations to produce a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders and Arab recognition of Israel.

Foreign Secretary Straw went to Paris, before his Middle Eastern tour, for talks on a U.N. Security Council resolution setting out strict new guidelines for weapons inspections in Iraq.

France opposes a resolution that would contain an automatic trigger for military action if Iraq interferes with the inspections. Britain and the United States argue that Iraq will not comply unless clearly threatened with military force.

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