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Iraq's Neighbors Pledge Support for New Government

Foreign Ministers outside of Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul

Foreign ministers of countries bordering Iraq gathered in Turkey's commercial center, Istanbul, Saturday, where they expressed support for the new government in Baghdad, and called on all Iraqi groups to participate in the country's fledgling democracy. Syria's foreign minister announced that his country was restoring relations with Iraq.

Iraq's six neighbors, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and conference host, Turkey, declared they would support and cooperate with Iraq's newly elected Transitional National Government.

In a declaration issued at the end of the day-long meeting, they additionally pledged to help promote Iraq's transition to a united, democratic and pluralistic state, with a federal structure, if so decided by the Iraqi people.

Analysts say the declaration marks the strongest endorsement yet of Iraq's government by its neighbors, some of whom opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Participants at Saturday's meeting, who included representatives from Egypt and Bahrain condemned all terrorist attacks in Iraq. They emphasized the need to prevent terrorists from infiltrating Iraq from their own territory through enhanced border controls and security cooperation.

The meeting is a diplomatic triumph for Turkey, which has been vying to re-assert its influence regarding Iraq. Turkey is particularly worried that any moves toward greater autonomy by Iraq's Kurds could re-ignite separatist demands among its own restive Kurdish minority. Turkish leaders have repeatedly threatened to intervene should the Iraqi Kurds seek independence.

But in recent months, Turkey has shed its stridently anti-Kurdish rhetoric, and is now seeking to forge closer relations with Iraq's Kurds. The softening in Turkey's stance has been welcomed by Western governments, including the United States

On the sidelines of the meeting, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Shara announced that his government would be restoring ties with Iraq, ending a two-decades-long freeze in ties. Relations between the two Arab nations cooled, after Syria backed Iran against Iraq in the first Persian Gulf War.