Originally created 01/25/03

German foreign minister urging Baghdad to cooperate with U.N. inspectors



ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Germany's foreign minister on Friday echoed Iraq's neighbors in urging Saddam Hussein to cooperate with U.N. arms inspectors, but he said Germany was concerned about the risks of U.S. military venture.

Foreign ministers from Iran, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt met in Istanbul Thursday and urged Iraq to "demonstrate a more active approach" in providing information on its weapons programs. They avoided any public call for the Iraqi leader to step down or to urge the United States to stop building up troops in the region.

"We are concerned about the risks which lie in a military action," Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Friday.

"We appreciated very much ... the strong message to the Iraqi government that there must be full compliance with (U.N. resolutions.)," he said. "Iraq must understand how serious the situation is."

Fischer is on a tour of the Middle East as part of Germany's effort to find a peaceful solution to the standoff with Iraq. He met with Turkish officials Friday and was continuing on to Egypt and Jordan.

Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, responding to criticism that the Istanbul meeting should have also issued a call on the United States to end a buildup of troops in the Gulf, said it was up to Iraq to end the standoff.

"It is up to Iraqi leaders to make the greatest contribution toward preventing a war," Gul said."It is natural that yesterday's meeting addressed Iraq."

A Syrian demand to focus the declaration on U.S. military buildup was blocked by Turkish efforts, the Hurriyet newspaper said Friday.

"We did not want to dilute this message, so the emphasis of the message is directed to Iraq," Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis told a news conference on Thursday.

The six ministers also said Thursday Iraq should "respect internationally recognized boundaries ... and take firm steps toward national reconciliation that would preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq."

Iran's Foreign Affairs Minister Kamal Kharrazi said the United States should avoid acting unilaterally against Iraq.

"The idea of having this meeting here was to do our best to avoid such a situation that the U.S. might resort to a unilateral action," Kharrazi told reporters. "We have to stick to multilateralism and advise Americans to not resort to unilateral action."

U.S. officials hoped the meeting would signal Saddam that the best course would be for him to go into exile. But Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said talk of Saddam leaving was not on the agenda.

All countries present at the meeting, except Jordan and Iran, were part of the 1991 Gulf War coalition that drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Some observers said attendees intended the conference to convince their own people they have exhausted all possibilities for peace.

Others said the meeting served to broaden a "diplomatic war" against the Bush administration's talk of war. German and French leaders on Wednesday took a firm stand against Washington, saying they support the search for a peaceful solution in Iraq and giving the U.N. inspectors more time.

Turkey worries that a post-Saddam government could grant greater powers to Iraq's minority Kurds, leading to similar demands by Turkey's own Kurdish minority.

Syria and Egypt fear the end of Baghdad's Baathist regime might undermine their own governments, which have been criticized as autocratic.

The Saudis fear that the overthrow of Saddam would strengthen Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim community. That could lead to close ties between Shiites in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia - to the detriment of the ruling Saudi family.

Iran fears that Saddam would be replaced by a strongly pro-American government. Jordan, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, maintains close business ties with Iraq and fears a long war would destroy its economy.

The ministers also called for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and "the implementation of all relevant U.N. resolutions to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East."