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Iraq: Interim Foreign Minister Attends Arab League Talks

Newly appointed Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari represented his country today at a meeting of the 22-member Arab League. Zebari was invited to attend the meeting after an hours-long debate among League ministers yesterday. Analysts say the step may pave the way for full international recognition of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and its new interim cabinet.

Prague, 9 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Hoshiyar Zebari, Iraq's newly appointed interim foreign minister, today told Arab League ministers meeting in Cairo that his country will be different than it was under deposed President Saddam Hussein, and said Iraq was eager to establish friendly relations with its neighbors.

"The new Iraq will be based on diversity, democracy, constitution," he said. "It will put at the top of its priorities respect for law and defense of human rights of Iraqi citizens. The new Iraq will stand firm against terrorism, from which it is now suffering."

Zebari addressed the Arab League in a short speech at the beginning of the two-day session. His presence was a landmark of sorts, coming after a decision by the League yesterday to invite the Governing Council to represent the country at meetings of the 22-member Arab body. In his speech, Zebari -- an Iraqi Kurd who for several years represented the Kurdistan Democratic Party in London and Washington -- sought to lay out the future of Iraq's foreign policy.

"I would like to assure [my fellow Arab ministers] that Iraq will quickly reclaim its role in the Arab world and its affairs. It will work toward the stabilization of the region through adopting a new foreign policy. It will be based on the principals of international law and friendly relations with the neighbors, mutual respect and rejection of war and aggression. [Iraq] will try to achieve cooperation, fraternal, and friendly relations with the Arab countries and try to establish cooperation and mutual understanding with the international community and its organizations," Zebari says.

The Arab League had earlier sought to distance itself from the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. But yesterday's decision may set an important precedent in determining whether the Council will eventually be invited to represent Iraq at the United Nations General Assembly and OPEC.

Arab League ministers debated for several hours yesterday evening before finally making their decision to grant provisional recognition to the Council. Iraq's seat had remained empty since the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Hussein regime in early April.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters after yesterday's late-night debate that "there was a consensus to invite the Governing Council in Iraq to attend this session as a member."

The League will review Iraq's representation and its progress toward forming a government in one year.

Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, opened today's meeting by welcoming Zebari and his delegation.

"There is no doubt that this is an occasion to welcome the Iraqi delegation seeking to restore Iraqi self-rule and to end the occupation," Moussa said. "The decision was taken for the sake of Arab higher interests to help Iraq preserve its Arab identity and its national unity, in order for Iraq to enjoy stability so it can preserve its territory and gain control of its sovereignty, end the occupation and control its destiny."

The decision was seen as a victory for more moderate Arab states. Analysts had predicted that the region's hard-line ministers would try to deny Zebari access to the meeting in order to avoid legitimizing the coalition's occupation of Iraq and the Governing Council. But moderate states are eager to ensure that the Arab world will continue to play a role in Iraq's future.

The U.S.-led civilian administration in Baghdad welcomed the move. Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Nabeel Khoury said the invitation is "confirmation by Arab countries of the important role the Governing Council is playing in the transition going on in Iraq."