Germany, Iraq's neighbours push to avert war

MANAMA (BAHRAIN) Jan. 25. Iraq's neighbours who met this week in Turkey have held talks with Germany to coordinate a common approach to avert war in Iraq.

In seeking to expand the "peace camp" the Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Syria, Iran, Jordan Saudi Arabia and Egypt who held their confabulations in Istanbul on Thursday met the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, who also began a visit to Turkey on the same day.

Mr. Fischer held separate meetings with all the diplomats at Istanbul's Ciragan Palace hotel where the conference was being held.

His meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouk Al Shara, acquires special significance as both Syria and Germany are non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and can directly influence there.

Opposed to a unilateral attack by the United States on Iraq, Mr. Al Shara and Mr. Fischer asserted that the U.N. alone can implement the U.N. Security council resolution 1441, the Syrian News agency, SANA, said.

The Arab-German coordination exercise ties up with the consultations among Germany, France and Russia to work together to realise Iraq's disarmament through peaceful means under the U.N. framework. Iraq's neighbours say that their consultations in Turkey should be seen as the beginning of a "process" which is likely to see more intensive consultations among themselves in the coming days.

They have also signalled the need for beginning a collective dialogue with the U.N. Security Council. Keeping the anti-war momentum alive, activists of Turkey's Human Rights Association held a demonstration on Friday outside the Incirlik town, where a major NATO military base, which is used for enforcing a "no fly zone" in northern Iraq is situated.

Round of engagement

In tandem with the anti-war preparations, the United States has begun a new round of engagement in Iraq's neighbourhood to put across its own point of view. The State Department's Assistant Secretary for near eastern affairs, William Burns, has held detailed discussions with the Syrian President, Bashar Al Assad. He has subsequently met the King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa. Mr. Burns, along with the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Tommy Franks was in Jordan on Thursday to hold consultations with King Abdullah II.

In Turkey, a U.S. team completed site survey in some bases and ports in Turkey, which Washington wishes to modernise. The 150-member delegation from the U.S. armed forces began the survey on January 13.

The head of NATO's Europe Allied Forces also arrived in Turkey on Friday, close on the heels of a visit by the top commander of the U.S. European Command earlier this week. The Jordanian meeting acquires special significance as Jordan has declared that it will not allow the use of its airspace and territory for launching of a military attack on Iraq.

Without the use of Jordanian soil, the U.S. will find it difficult to open the "western front" against Iraq.

The occupation of western Iraq, apart from mounting military pressure on Baghdad is also seen necessary for disallowing Iraq to position Scud missiles that can target Israel.

Aware of the economic and political turbulence that a war against Iraq might cause and the reluctance of the neighbouring countries to endorse a conflict, the Bush administration is working to complete aid packages for Israel, Turkey and Jordan that could total nearly $30 billions over several years. According to a news agency report, Turkey is expected to receive as much as $14 billions, most of it in the form of loan guarantees, in exchange for cooperation in a possible war. The U.S. administration has also set up two ``working groups'' to examine Israel's request for $4 billions in additional military assistance and $8 billions in U.S.-backed loan guarantees.

Israel is already the highest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, receiving close to $3 billions in mostly military assistance each year. A new aid package would come in addition to the existing U.S. commitments. Washington has also promised Jordan an aid package worth more than $1 billion that could be sent to Congress for approval in the coming weeks.