Senior officials from the Group of Eight industrialized nations and about 20 Muslim countries are meeting in Morocco to discuss ways to promote social, economic and political reforms in the Middle East and beyond.
The concept for the Morocco conference, called the Forum for the Future, was proposed by the United States at last June's Group of Eight meeting.
The goal is to promote political freedom, civil liberties, economic development and education, in what U.S. officials hope will be an antidote to support for militant Islamic movements among Muslim youths.
The United States is co-sponsor of the Rabat conference, along with Morocco, but officials are playing down suspicions that Washington will try to force reforms on the region. U.S. Under Secretary of State Alan Larson explains, saying "we understand in the United States and in the other G-Eight countries, that the leadership for this type of initiative has to come from the region. And, in fact, it is coming from the region. We were very pleased today to have a meeting that included representatives from Morocco to Pakistan, that included representatives of business and civil society, and that had constructive discussions on all of the issues that are important in building a future that has more opportunity for the next generation."
The Moroccan Ambassador for Bilateral Affairs, Youssef Amrani, said Muslim countries will set their own pace in implementing the conference's reform agenda. "When we talk about reform, we talk about economic reform, social reforms, and other reforms. What is the most important thing that we have discussed? That reform must come from inside the region. We feel that each country should respect its own path and rhythm to implement reform," he said.
There are some notable absences at the two-day conference. Moroccan officials say Iran pulled out at the last minute, and Sudan declined to attend out of apparent concern it would be confronted over the conflict in the Darfur region. Morocco says Israel was not invited.
The conference will conclude on Saturday, with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Treasury Secretary John Snow scheduled to represent the United States.