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Davos Economic Forum Opens - 2004-01-21

The annual World Economic Forum has opened in the Swiss alpine resort of Davos, with talks throughout the five-day meeting expected to center on trade, the faltering U.S. dollar and global security. But what to do about Iraq is also weighing heavily on the agenda for the second year.

The meeting's guidebook says that establishing security in Iraq and rebuilding the country's infrastructure and government are turning into much bigger challenges than anticipated.

As if taking a cue from that statement, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, speaking at one of the forum's more than 200 roundtables, urged the United Nations to return to Iraq to assess whether the country can hold elections in time for a transitional government to take over the country on July 1.

Mr. Straw also laid out the U.S.-led coalition's plan for future security in Iraq. "Iraq needs a stable, secure environment protected by non-partisan police and armed forces," stressed the British official. "And if the Iraqi government requests, the multi-national force, with a strong British contingent, and as mandated by the [United Nations] Security Council, will continue to work alongside Iraqi forces in maintaining security while helping those forces to build a capacity to do so on their own."

More than 2,000 participants are gathering in the ski resort to discuss the intertwined topics of security and prosperity. The forum's founder and executive chairman, Klaus Schwab, says you cannot have strong, sustained economic growth without security, and you cannot have security in unstable parts of the world without the prospect of prosperity.

The annual gathering of the global political and economic elite also offers the possibility for meetings on the sidelines, where businessmen can make deals and national leaders can try to reduce tensions. Mr. Straw, for example, held a private meeting with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who was to make an address later to officially open the forum.

Other top leaders expected in Davos over the next few days include Jordan's King Abdullah, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

Security is tight in Davos. Thousands of Swiss police and army troops are deployed around the village in case anti-capitalist protests turn violent, as they have in years past. Swiss authorities have also closed the airspace over Davos.