Accessibility links

Middle East: Islamic Conference Meeting Begins In Istanbul

  • Antoine Blua

Prague, 14 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Officials of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have opened a three-day meeting in Istanbul expected to focus on Iraq, the Middle East, and efforts to promote democracy in the Islamic world.

OIC Secretary-General Abdelouhed Belkeziz began the conference with a plea to members to support Iraq as it prepares for the handover of sovereignty in two weeks.

"Our top priority should be to take immediate and effective initiative to support the Iraqi people so that the transfer of power and sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government in about two weeks' time can secure for the Iraqi people full control over their territories, just like any independent sovereign state -- without equivocation or ambiguity," Belkeziz said.

In a message read to the meeting, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to Muslim countries to support Iraq's new interim government and said the country had good prospects despite widespread violence.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said today his country expects active participation by Islamic countries in Iraq as it rebuilds from more than a year of warfare and violence.

The OIC aspires to speak on behalf of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, but correspondents say it lacks the means and institutional framework to put its resolutions into effect.

OIC members today also condemned Israel's policies in the Palestinian territories, including the targeted killings of Palestinian militants.

The host, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, said the occupation of the Palestinian territories and what he called the disproportionate use of force had lifted the conflict to a higher level. He said any modernization plan involving Muslim countries would be in vain unless a solution is found to the Middle East crisis.
"Our top priority should be to take immediate and effective initiative to support the Iraqi people so that the transfer of power and sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government in about two weeks' time can secure for the Iraqi people full control over their territories." -- OIC Secretary-General Belkeziz


Sezer was referring to the "Greater Middle East Initiative," a U.S.-led project to encourage economic and political reform among mainly Muslim countries. Sezer, himself, underlined the need to reinforce human rights, individual liberties, equality of the sexes and religious tolerance in the Islamic world.

"We have observed that recently the attention of the international community has been directed toward the Islamic world," Sezer said. "Discussions that have intensified over the question 'What went wrong?' should not only be limited to scholars. We have to bear in mind the answer to this question concerns the past as well as the future of the Islamic world. Therefore, it has become imperative that the leaders in this area, in other words, we, make a sincere and frank appraisal without delay."

The OIC event is seen as important for Turkey as it tries to project itself as a geographical and political bridge between the West and Islam.

Turkey is also hoping OIC members will back the lifting of international sanctions against the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The republic is not internationally recognized. It has gained diplomatic stature, however, after voters there in April supported a UN plan to reunite with the Greek southern part of the island. The proposal was rejected by Greek Cypriots.

Russia is sending Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the meeting. Russia, home to 20 million Muslims, has been seeking observer status in the organization.
XS
SM
MD
LG