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Talks on Wars' Impact in Middle East

The first region-wide meeting on post-war Iraq will be held in Saudi Arabia Friday. Foreign ministers from the countries neighboring Iraq – Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan and Kuwait – as well as Egypt and Bahrain – are expected to attend the emergency conference.

The talks are expected to focus on developments in Iraq and the impact they may have on the region – as well as the humanitarian situation there. The reconstruction of the war-torn country was at the top of the agenda at the European union summit in Athens, Greece Thursday – where leaders called for the united nations to play “a central” role. Amy Katz has more.

A statement issued at the Athens summit Thursday says the European Union remains committed to helping with the reconstruction of Iraq. But it also says the U.S. —led coalition bears the responsibility for restoring stability in post-war Iraq. The E.U. statement also says the coalition should provide humanitarian aid as well as protect Iraq’s cultural heritage.

The goal of the U.S. led coalition was to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and to bring about regime change in Baghdad. The E.U. and the United Nations Security Council did not endorse the coalition action, which began last month.

Meanwhile, the possibility that Syria is giving refuge to members of the ousted Iraqi regime and is developing chemical weapons remains a concern in Washington. In an interview with Associated Press Television Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he will travel to Damascus, to continue what he said has been a “very vigorous” diplomatic exchange with Syrian officials.

“We have been candid with the Syrians and we have also made it clear to the Syrians that we don’t think it would be in their best interests to be a draw to people who are either trying to get out of Iraq or get out of other places in the world and find a safe haven. Syria does not want to be a safe haven in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

No date has yet been set for the Powell visit, which is to be part of a larger tour, aimed at advancing peace in the Middle East. Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara said Mr. Powell is welcome to visit Damascus. But after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo Thursday, Mr. Al-Shara said Syria would not allow arms inspections. Instead, he said Syria would join forces with the world to rid the entire Middle East of weapons of mass destruction.

At the United Nations Wednesday, the Syrian Ambassador introduced a draft resolution in the Security Council, to make the entire Middle East completely free of weapons of mass destruction. Syria claims Israel is the only country in the region to possess such arms. Israel refuses to comment on the claim and is not party to global treaties to control the spread of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.