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Iran: OIC Summit Opens in Teheran

Teheran, 9 December 1997 (RFE/RL) --Organizers say the Summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which opened today in Teheran, will consider the main issues facing the Islamic world.

Delegations from all 55 Organization members have arrived, including the head of the Palestinian autonomy Yassir Arafat, Turkey's President Sulimon Demirel, and heads of state of Central Asia.

Despite strong political overtones, organizers want the summit to focus on strengthening and expanding OIC economic ties. They have said that the development of economies is the best way of helping solve political and social problems.

Our correspondent reports that, for the first time, economic issues will be a major agenda item for the OIC. Some delegates have spoken of an 'Islamic Common Market,' and Indonesia's Foreign Minister Ali Atalas said this notion is "a long-term objective of the OIC."

An OIC Foreign Ministers' meeting, on the eve of the summit, labeled economic cooperation unsatisfactory. There were calls for reform of the OIC itself, in order to promote the economic interests of Muslim countries.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Atalas says "the main obstacle in promoting trade among developing countries is banking and payment arrangements, as most countries have different monetary and financial systems."

Iran has proposed setting up a Central Islamic Bank, and adopting a single monetary unit among Islamic countries. Our correspondent notes that some observers see this idea as Teheran's efforts to minimize U.S. sanctions against such countries as Iran itself, and Libya, for example.

Iranian officials have said summit preparations and good attendance of the summit illustrate Teheran's improving ties with the Arab world - and the failure of some Western countries, particularly the U.S., to isolate Iran.

But, despite an effort to focus on economic issues, observers expect OIC members to continue to devote attention to overriding political concerns. Our correspondent lists, among them: the MidEast peace process, continued civil war in Afghanistan, the situation in Bosnia, India's Kashmir dispute, Turkey-Iraq relations and overall Arab-Iran relations. From this group of topics, the MidEast peace process and Afghanistan are expected to emerge as the most emotionally debated.

Our correspondent cites reports and observers who says - despite the careful wording of draft resolutions to display common purpose and unity - the agenda includes items that are the source of as much division as unity among the 55 members of the OIC.