CAIRO Ñ Arab and Islamic states have rejected a U.S. effort to
launch a democracy and reform campaign in the Middle East.
Instead, Arab and Islamic states said reform and democracy in the region
would be linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict. They dismissed a U.S. appeal
that reform begin without any connection to political disputes in the
Officials said the next "Forum for the Future" conference would be held in
November 2005, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the venue would be Bahrain.
A communique issued at the end of the "Forum for the Future" conference
held in Morocco on Saturday asserted that the Arab-Israeli conflict
comprised the leading obstacle to reform and democracy in the Middle East.
The statement said the 30 nations at the Rabat conference "reaffirmed that
their support for reform in the region will go hand-in-hand with their
support for a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli
The United States tried to maintain a brave face at the conference.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was not disappointed with the
rejection of his call for Arab and Islamic reform and democracy.
"Increasing opportunities for all citizens, especially women, should not
be put on hold to deal with other concerns," Powell said. "All of us
confront the daily threat of terrorism. To defeat the murderous extremists
in our midst, we must work together to address the causes of despair and
frustration that extremists exploit for their own ends."
The conference also fell short of U.S. expectations for a fund to help
small businesses in the Middle East. The United States had hoped that
nations would donate $100 million to the fund, but only $60 million was
The 20 Arab and Islamic participants at the conference demanded the
resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of an Israeli
withdrawal from all areas deemed occupied. The statement cited United
Nations Security Council resolutions that discussed the conflict. Israel was
not invited to the conference and Iran refused to attend.
Later, the foreign ministers of several U.S. allies in the Arab world
accused Washington of bias toward Israel. In an assertion echoed by European
Union states, the Arab foreign ministers said the Arab-Israeli conflict was
preventing development of the Middle East.
"The real bone of contention is the longest conflict in modern history,"
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal told a news conference after
the four-hour session. "For too long, the Arabs have witnessed the Western
bias toward Israel."