Security Tops Arab Agenda

Foreign ministers said to be near agreement on postwar regional force

ARAB states supporting the Western alliance against Iraq say they are near agreement on post-war security arrangements. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria have already carried out a series of high-level talks on the matter. The foreign ministers of Egypt, Syria, and six Gulf Arab states were to open two days of talks in Cairo today. The meeting is viewed as an important step toward establishing a permanent Arab Gulf security force.

Largest ministers' meeting

It is the largest gathering of Arab ministers since the Aug. 10 meeting of the Arab League in Cairo. At that emergency session, 12 of the League's 21 members voted to condemn Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. They also approved the dispatch of Arab troops to defend Saudi Arabia.

Gulf states expected to attend are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and representatives of the exiled government of Kuwait. The countries, all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, control about 60 percent of the world's proven oil reserves.

Morocco, which has sent 1,300 troops to Saudi Arabia, has turned down an invitation to attend the Cairo conference. Pro-Western King Hassan II has faced massive public opposition to the war. Public demonstrations in North Africa's former French colonies have been overwhemingly supportive of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Arab sources say the Cairo talks will also discuss a Gulf fund to ensure a more equitable sharing of Arab oil wealth among coalition Arab states, and ways to advance the Palestinian cause in peace talks with Israel immediately after the war.

Egyptian aims for postwar security rule out the involvement of non-Arab parties, according to Al-Ahram, the authoritative daily newspaper. The paper, considered to reflect official views, emphasized Tuesday that Egypt was also opposed to the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and Turkish Foreign Minister Kurtcebe Alptemocin held separate talks with senior Egyptian officials Wednesday. Neither of the two countries were invited, however, to today's meeting.

Turks to contribute

Turkey, Iraq's non-Arab neighbor, has said it is willing to contribute to a postwar security plan after Iraq's occupation of Kuwait is ended. The Turkish minister arrived in Cairo from talks in the Syrian capital and was scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia today for further discussions.

The visits in advance of the talks were viewed as attempts by the two countries to make their views known to the Egyptian government before it enters discussions with Gulf representatives.

Diplomatic initiatives have focused on postwar security for over a week. British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd met Feb. 8 with Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid and President Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Hurd has said Britain and the United States should play only an advisory role in security plans, stressing the need for Arab involvement in long-term defense.

The day before Mr. Hurd's arrival in Cairo, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said his country was working with Egypt and Syria on a proposed security system for the Gulf once Iraq is forced out of Kuwait.

The plan is understood to center around a permanent Arab force, including Egyptian and Syrian troops in the Arabian Peninsula. The two countries have, respectively, dispatched about 35,000 and 20,000 troops to Saudi Arabia since the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait.

The Egyptian foreign minister said he and Prince Saud had agreed on a preliminary study of security cooperation between the three countries. According to the minister, the plan will be discussed and ratified during foreign minister talks in Damascus, Syria, later this month.

In return for its cooperation, Egypt is expected to demand guarantees of increased economic assistance from the oil-rich Gulf states. Since the start of the crisis, an estimated $14 billion in Egyptian debt has been written off by the US and Gulf countries.

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