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Islamic Countries Commit to Reforms

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Islamic Countries Commit to Reforms

By GEORGE GEDDA, Associated Press Writer

RABAT, Morocco - Officials from more than 20 Islamic countries said Saturday that political, economic and social reforms must go hand in hand with steps toward settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


AP Photo

The commitment to reforms came during a four-hour meeting that included those Muslim nations, industrialized democracies, the Arab League and other groups.

The United States, a driving force behind the conference, sees the changes as a way to make these societies less of a breeding ground for political extremism.

At a news conference after the discussions, Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) said he was not disappointed that the Muslim delegates insisted on linking internal reforms to the Mideast dispute.

"We're not starting reform or holding up reform. It's ongoing," Powell said. "Reform has to go on. A child needs an education now."

Much of the discussion, conducted mostly in private, focused on raising the low literacy rates in the region and on ways to provide equal treatment for women.

Economic development also was on the agenda. Treasury Secretary John Snow said the region's unemployment rate is about 50 percent.

"The best development program is a job," Snow told reporters. "And a job comes from growth."

The Arab-Israeli dispute was a recurring theme with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal saying the "real bone of contention" for Muslims is "the Western bias toward Israel."

A statement issued at the conclusion of the conference said the participants "reaffirmed that their support for reform in the region will go hand-in-hand with their support for a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict."

The statement said the settlement should be based on U.N. Security Council resolutions, which include a call that Israel withdraw from occupied territories.

En route to Morocco on Friday night, Powell said that reform in that the Middle East conflict should not impede reform in the Islamic world.

"We can't keep pointing to the Middle East peace process as the reason we don't undertake reform efforts that are needed by these nations and as these nations have identified for themselves," Powell said.

Muslim countries "know that they can't wait for that solution to occur and not move forward," he said.

In his opening remarks to the forum, Powell said, "Ours is a long-term task requiring a long-term commitment, extending generations. This far-reaching effort starts here and now. It's a challenge that must be confronted by all of us working together."

Powell reaffirmed that the United States remained committed to the peace plan for the Mideast. He also said there is hope for a break in the impasse, with Palestinians planning to hold a presidential election on Jan. 9 and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites) moving ahead with his Gaza withdrawal plan.

Iran boycotted the conference after initially indicating an intention to attend.

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