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Arab Foreign Ministers to Meet in Turkey - 2003-01-21

Foreign ministers from leading Middle Eastern nations are to meet Thursday in Istanbul to discuss ways to avoid a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

The meeting brings together foreign ministers from Iran, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. It was called by Turkish Prime Minister, Abdullah Gul, who has also invited U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Turkish officials say the aim of the meeting is to send a strong message to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that he needs to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors if he wants to avoid conflict with the United States.

Turkish officials say the ministers will also be laying the groundwork for a possible summit of Middle East leaders.

Turkey has been at the forefront of a diplomatic campaign to head off a war against Iraq. Turkey fears a war would seriously hurt its troubled economy.

Another concern is that a conflict in Iraq could lead to the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq that would inspire Turkey's Kurdish community to try to break away from the central government.

But Turkey, which is the NATO military alliance's only predominantly Muslim member, is expected to play a key role in the event of a war, as it did during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Some Arab nations have expressed reservations about Turkey's peace initiative. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, whose country was not among those invited to the Istanbul gathering, said he did not believe the summit would deter the United States from going to war against Iraq.