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Islamic and Western Ministers Pledge to Bridge Cultural Divide - 2002-02-13


Foreign ministers from Islamic and European countries have concluded a two-day meeting in Istanbul Wednesday with a call for greater dialogue between the Western and Islamic worlds and pledges to bridge the cultural divide between them.

Reaffirming the informal tone of the conference hosted by Turkey, foreign ministers and senior officials from over 70 European and Islamic nations merely issued a press statement at the close of their talks. The statement underscored the need for closer cooperation between the Islamic and Western worlds in a range of areas, particularly in combating global terrorism.

The ministers from Islamic countries were especially pleased that the final statement contained references to what Bangladeshi foreign minister Morshad Khan termed the rapidly deteriorating situation in Palestinian territory.

The joint statement called for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in accord with international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions. It also proposed a "two state" solution as a means of ending the conflict.

Many of the Arab and European diplomats who took part in the conference agreed that perhaps its biggest accomplishment was that it happened, that Islamic and Western political leaders were seeking common ground in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

But some of the officials did express reservations about a stronger relationship between Islam and the West. On Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer questioned whether the Islamic countries were sincere in their wish for greater dialogue with the West. And Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharazi, gave a speech strongly criticizing the United States for its methods in combating terrorism. The United States was not represented at the conference.

Perhaps the most concrete results of the conference emerged during bilateral talks that took place on the sidelines. For example, the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey agreed to meet later this month to start negotiations to end a long-running territorial dispute over the Aegean Sea. And Turkish officials say that, in their meeting with Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri, he conveyed his government's willingness to hold unconditional talks with the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The Iraqi government is under mounting pressure from the United States to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to return to Iraq. Turkey is on good terms with both Iraq and the United States. On Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit reaffirmed Turkey's strong opposition to any attempt to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, saying that such a move would destabilize not only Turkey but the entire Middle East.