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Middle East Economic Forum to Focus on Change, Peace and Development - 2004-05-14

Political and business leaders are gathering in Jordan for discussion of regional issues, including the situation in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and economic and political reforms.

Partnering for Change, Peace and Development is the theme of this year's Middle East Economic Forum. That seems like a tall order for a region mired in violence, economic stagnation and lagging political and economic reforms.

As participants gather at a Jordanian Dead Sea resort, they will focus on issues vital to the region's future, such as how the Middle East can change to better cope with global political and economic realities. That includes a look at the local business and investment climate, regional competitiveness and what governments need to do to encourage the private sector and to aden the base of economic prosperity.

There is little doubt, however, that the forum will be overshadowed by events in neighboring Iraq, where growing violence and uncertainty have now been compounded by revelations of Iraqi prisoners being tortured and humiliated by their American jailers. The revelations have also fanned already widespread anger and distrust among Arabs of American motives and policies.

Jordanian political analyst Uraib Rentawi said that prisoner abuses can certainly not be ignored, but he says it is also important to talk about how to move forward in Iraq.

?How to put an end to the American occupation in Iraq, how to form a new Iraqi government, how to contain the struggle in Iraq and the [Islamic] fundamentalist movement arising there, how to launch a serious reconstruction process in Iraq, in order to give the Iraqi people the hope that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel,? he said.

The forum will also provide an opportunity to discuss another conflict plaguing the region, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will be attending the Dead Sea forum and is expected to meet there separately with Israeli and Palestinian officials.