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Israel-Palestinian Conflict Should Not Impede Arab Reforms, US says

The United States says social, political and economic reforms in Muslim countries should not be deterred because of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed the view after a meeting in Morocco to promote modernization in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

The Morocco meeting brought together senior officials from more than 20 predominately Muslim countries stretching from Mauritania to Pakistan, along with ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

The meeting has produced broad agreement on a reform agenda to promote human rights, democracy and free market economies. But some differences remain over the impact the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exercises over the reform project.

The Moroccan foreign minister, Mohammed Benaissa, indicated the commitment to reform will be linked to progress on creating a Palestinian state.

"The participants affirmed that their support to reforms in the region will occur in parallel with their support to finding a solution to the Palestinian conflict," he said.

Secretary of State Powell said the Palestinian issue should not stand in the way of the reform agenda.

"What we heard in the conference was that we very much want to see progress toward the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Secretary Powell said. "We also want to see reform take place. And reform does not have to wait for that. Obviously as that situation improves, and if we start moving down that track, then I think conditions are created for faster reform."

Mr. Powell also has stressed the threat of Islamic terrorism to the region and the world. He says the West must work with Muslim countries to address the despair and frustration that extremists exploit.

U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow also attended the conference, and announced a $60 million project to provide training and technical assistance for small businesses. He said the best way to stimulate development is to create jobs in the region, where 50 percent of the working age population is unemployed.