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Iraq, Iran Criticize 'Axis of Evil' Policy - 2002-02-12

The U.S. campaign against global terrorism came under attack during the first day of a conference between European and Islamic foreign ministers in Istanbul. Most of the criticism came from Iraq and Iran, two of the countries recently named by President Bush as part of the axis of evil in the world.

The conference is aimed to foster dialogue and tolerance between Islamic and European Nations, following the September 11 attacks against the United States. But soon after the meeting began, the United States came under verbal attack from various Islamic foreign ministers angry over the U.S. approach to fighting terrorism and its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some of the harshest words came from Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharazi, who accused the United States of what he called a unilateral and militarist approach to world affairs. He also accused the U.S. government of embarking on "a misguided campaign of misinformation and allegations against other countries."

Mr. Kharamzi was referring to recent remarks by President George Bush describing Iran, as well as Iraq and North Korea, as countries that make up an axis of evil that threatens the peace of the world.

Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, said the United States and Britain were guilty of state terrorism for their bombing of Iraqi territory. The Iraqi foreign minister added that he hoped Turkey would do its utmost to help avert U.S. military action against his country.

His remarks came shortly after Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit repeated his government's firm opposition to any attack against Iraq. He said such action would destabilize not only Turkey, but also the region as a whole.

The conference, which is being hosted by Turkey, brings together ministers and officials from more than 70 European, Arab, Asian, and African nations that belong to the European Union or the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Turkey became the first Muslim-majority country to be added to the EU list of official candidates in 1999. It is a founding member of the OIC. No delegation from the United States is at the conference.

Another issue raised was the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

The foreign ministers agreed on the need for what EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana termed a two-state solution to the conflict that would foresee the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The U.S. government, which is mediating between the Palestinians and the Israelis, is said to be opposed to the plan. Instead, it prefers a step-by-step approach, starting with the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

But amid all the anti-U.S. rhetoric there were also calls for peace between Islamic and Western nations and agreement on the need to combat all forms of terrorism.

Mr. Solana said the European Union is determined to reject the association of Islam with terrorism. Developing harmony between East and West, he added, will mean more than the prevention of conflicts. He said it would mean identifying the gaps in mutual perceptions and being willing to openly debate differences between East and West.