ISLAMABAD (AFP) -Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told foreign ministers from seven key Muslim states meeting here Sunday that a joint push by the Islamic world is needed to end the turmoil in the Middle East.
Pakistan is hosting the ministers from Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey plus the secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.
The goal is to lay groundwork for a future leaders’ summit hosted by Saudi King Abdullah and the talks were set to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the bloodshed in Iraq and tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Ihsanoglu and the foreign ministers met Aziz before the one-day conference and discussed the situation in the Middle East, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.
“The deteriorating security situation in the Middle East demands solidarity among Muslim states, and a fresh initiative is needed to solve the festering disputes,” the statement quoted Aziz as saying.
The visiting ministers and the OIC chief “welcomed and supported the initiative by President General Pervez Musharraf for the solution of issues in the Middle East, and said the initiative will strengthen the Middle East peace process and will lay the foundation for durable peace there,” the statement added.
Aziz was also due to address the visiting leaders at the start of the talks, which began later, state media said. They would also meet with Musharraf during their visit.
The meeting follows a lightning tour around the Islamic world last month by Musharraf, a key US ally, who is warning that unrest in the Middle East could spread worldwide.
Musharraf visited all the countries involved in Sunday’s talks, along with Iran, Syria and the United Arab Emirates as part of a plan to find an Islamic solution to the Middle East’s woes.
The leaders agreed on “the need for collective efforts and a united stand to resolve the disputes in the region, to counter the rising trends of radicalism, extremism and terrorism and to promote unity, harmony and reconciliation in the Muslim world,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said.
Iran, Syria and the Palestinian Authority are not attending the conference, but officials here said they would be kept appraised of developments.
Musharraf talked to Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas ahead of the meeting, a foreign ministry statement said Saturday, while Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri also spoke to his Iranian and Syrian counterparts.
Aziz meanwhile spoke to Lebanese Premier Fuad Siniora on Friday, the government said.
“There is a need to do something because the situation is just slipping out of control,” a Pakistani government official said on condition of anonymity.
“This group of countries want to re-initiate the stalled peace process in the Middle East. They also want to send out a message that this region cannot afford another conflict.
Senior Pakistani officials privately said they saw the appointment of a naval officer as the commander of the US armed forces in the region as an indication of a growing tilt towards a possible strike on Iran.
US Vice President Dick Cheney said Saturday during a visit to Australia that “all options” were still on the table with respect to Iran, refusing to rule out the use of force to keep Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.