F ranco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister, said a two-day international meeting on Iraq in late November will examine ways to stabilize the country and develop plans for an exit strategy for the U.S.-led occupation force there.
The meeting of foreign ministers is scheduled for Nov. 22 and 23 at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Frattini said in an interview Saturday. He said the dire situation in Iraq has made it imperative to come up with a plan, which he would break down into three stages -- elections, a new and more legitimate Iraqi government, and a possible decision by a future elected government to ask other Arab states, for example, to replace U.S.-led troops with an international force.
He said conference participants would include members of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, all Arab countries, Iran, China, the European Union, U.N. representatives and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. It was not yet clear whether Pakistan, which has troops in Iraq, and Afghanistan, will take part. Italy and Russia discussed the possibility of such a conference a year ago, Frattini said.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, attending a gala dinner of the National Italian American Foundation, told his Italian counterpart that he also would attend the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting. The meeting was scheduled to convene after Ramadan, the month-long dawn-to-dusk fast observed by religious Muslims, according to Italian Ambassador Sergio Vento.
Frattini and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last week in Rome. Mubarak is "a very strong supporter" of the conference "but not optimistic at all" about the course of events in Iraq, or the Middle East as a whole, Frattini said. "The conference, which is being organized by Egypt and the Iraqi government, will be the best opportunity to set the exit strategy," he said.
"Exit does not mean withdrawal or abandonment, but a possible decision to call on neighboring Arab states to help out, which will become possible at the third stage," Frattini said. "That will be the main item to be discussed at this international conference."
Newsday reported Monday that the United States had rejected a Saudi plan for a Muslim force of several hundred troops to guard U.N. election staff in Iraq. The Muslim forces would have been under U.N. command, rather than U.S. control.
Frattini said the Persian Gulf countries were very eager to see the unrest subside in Iraq and to help stabilize the country with economic and social assistance. He said the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Faisal, reassured him during meetings in New York last month that Saudi Arabia would do its part. Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, told Berlusconi recently that he was not ready to commit more troops now but would look into taking part in the conference.
Frattini said that other countries were already involved in the training of Iraqi troops and security forces and that even Germany was ready to consider giving that kind of assistance. Italy, which has contributed troops to the U.S.-led coalition, is training Iraqi soldiers in Iraq and at home.
Concerning Iran, Frattini said the U.S. government has been skeptical from the outset about offering that country incentives to encourage full compliance with international demands to suspend portions of its nuclear program.
Possible Changes at U.N.
A high-level panel is expected to present U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan with a special report Dec. 1 on restructuring the United Nations, Frattini said. Among proposals being considered is changing or expanding the membership of the Security Council to allow representation beyond the current permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Frattini said members of the special panel include former U.S. national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, Inter-American Development Bank President Enrique Iglesias and former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans. Frattini said panel members were sounding out foreign ministers on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on their views and preferences. The group of senior experts was appointed by Annan. Their last meeting takes place this month.
Italy's view is that all regions, such as Europe or Africa, should have elected permanent representatives, in addition to the permanent ones that already exist. "Italy prefers a European seat, because we cannot afford more splits such as the ones which happened over Iraq and, as political integration is underway in Europe, it would be better to have Europe speaking with one voice," Frattini said.
Countries such as Germany, Japan and Brazil have also sought their own permanent seats. "In my view, to miss this important opportunity for comprehensive United Nations reform will be a political disaster," Frattini said. While in New York last month, he said, he met with 25 ministers who shared his point of view.