|U.S. Mideast reform initiative to hold first session in Morocco|
|Critics accuse Washington of reorganizing region for own interests
A Washington-inspired project for Middle East reform will begin in Morocco next month by looking at ways of improving cooperation and strengthening political and economic reform, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
The project, formally presented in June by President George W. Bush at a Group of Eight (G8) summit, has been treated with reserve in the Arab world, including Morocco.
The Dec. 11 meeting of Arab foreign and finance ministers plus G8 countries will examine ways of "consolidating the commitment of Middle East and North African countries to fruitful co-development and the harmonious strengthening of the process of political, economic and social reform," a ministry statement said.
To be called the Forum for the Future, it would serve as an initial step toward "a frank, constructive partnership, based on co-responsibility between the countries of the region and G8." But this partnership must "respect the will and specific characteristics of each country and seek a just and lasting settlement of sources of tension in the region."
The forum will bring together foreign and finance ministers from more than 20 nations, including the G8 - the United States, Russia, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Britain and Canada - and regional countries, Morocco's Foreign Minister Mohammed Benaissa said.
The full participant list was not published, and it was not immediately known whether Israel would attend.
The venue had yet to be decided, and the cities of Rabat and Marrakesh were in the running, ministry sources said.
In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli welcomed the announcement: "The Forum for the Future is the centerpiece of the Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Region of the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA), launched by President Bush and the leaders of the G8, along with leaders of seven countries from the region, at the G8 Sea Island Summit of 2004."
He said his government looked forward to co-chairing the meeting and participating in future forums.
The project has been widely denounced in the region as U.S. meddling.
Using Iraq as an example, critics in the Arab world say, the U.S. pays lip service to democracy and only seeks to reorganize the region in a paternalistic if not bullying way to suit its strategic interests.
Beirut,11 15 2004
The Daily Star