OSC: Regional Press Reaction to US in Baghdad Parley
The US government Open Source Center surveys and paraphrases the Middle Eastern press reaction to the news that the US will attend the conference of foreign ministers to be held in Baghdad, which will include Iran and Syria:
“OSC Analysis 01 Mar: Middle East on US Participation in Baghdad Regional Parley
Middle East: Most Early Reaction Welcomes US Participation in Regional Iraq Conference Amidst limited official reaction, a number of Arab journalists from Iraq’s key neighbors greeted the US decision to participate in regional meetings on Iraq as a positive step, though a leading Saudi-owned London-based daily, referring to statements by White House Spokesman Tony Snow, claimed that the Bush Administration was sending mixed signals. Initial Egyptian reaction has been terse and reportorial, while Turkish media warmly welcomed the idea, which one source claimed Turkey had initiated. Iran and Syria were more tepid, with Iran focusing on the effect of the meetings on Iraq, not on Iranian-US relations, and Syria stressing a need to consider a broader range of issues than just the situation in Iraq.
The limited initial reaction from key neighboring states to Secretary of State Rice’s 27 February announcement that the US would participate in the regional conferences was mostly hopeful, despite scattered claims of dubious US motives (for example, Al-Arab al-Yawm, 1 March).
An editorial in the independent, pro-government, wide-circulation Saudi daily, Al-Riyad, for example, characterized the US decision as a “radical change in American politics,” claiming that it could be a “lifeboat” for a way out of the Iraq crisis “with some success.” The influential Saudi-owned London daily Al-Hayah, however, citing assertions by the White House that it “has not changed its policy” towards Iran and Syria, claimed in a front-page report that the US was sending “conflicting signals” about conducting direct talks with the two countries (1 March).
The wide circulation, partially government -owned Jordanian daily Al-Dustur similarly said the US decision was “certainly a good step ,” calling it “a chance to open the closed gate of hope and revive a semi-dead peace process in the greater Middle East.” Likewise, a commentary in the wide circulation, partially government owned Al-Ra’y welcomed the fact that “representatives of the United States and Iran” will “sit at one table,” suggesting that Iran’s desire to “break the international isolation” and the US search “for a solution that would spare it more losses” may lead to progress on Iraq (1 March).
The United Arab Emirates daily Al-Bayan called the decision a “promising turning point.” Saying it was unclear what brought about the change, the commentary concluded that “the important thing is that one of the gateways to . . . dialogue has opened.” While acknowledging the skepticism of naysayers, it concluded that their doubts “do not cancel out the fact” that the US and Iran and Syria “are being brought together by the conviction that there is enough common ground for them to stand on” (1 March).
The independent Qatari daily Al-Sharq also welcomed the US decision, asserting that “hopes are now hanging on the international Iraq conference . . . not only to end the conflict in the country but also to find an honorable way out for US forces” (1 March).
Initial Egyptian media reaction to the announcement was terse.
In a front-page report, the Egyptian daily of record, Al-Ahram, called the US decision “a sudden change,” while noting that the US had agreed to “discussions, not negotiations” with Iran. Neither Al-Ahram nor other Egyptian papers have yet been observed to comment, though Western media cited a “top Egyptian diplomat” as saying that Egypt would send a representative to the meetings (AP, 28 February).
Initial Turkish reaction welcomed the meetings and touted Turkey’s role in bringing it about.
The secular, centrist, mass-appeal daily Milliyet asserted that “international diplomacy is the only way to achieve a solution,” while claiming that “it was Turkey . . . that launched the idea of bringing together” neighboring countries “two years ago” (1 March). The English -language secular centrist Turkish Daily News, citing unnamed diplomatic sources “close to the matter,” claimed that Turkey itself hopes to host a round of negotiations that includes the UN Security Council permanent members and members of the G-8 such as Japan, Germany, and Italy, noting that the efforts could even lead to a meeting of Iraqi President Talabani with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan (1 March).
Iran and Syria both offered a tepid welcome for the meetings. Iran’s reaction focused more on what official and media sources claimed were concerns for the well being of Iraq and Iraqis than on the opportunity to engage with the US, while Syrian official and media sources stressed a need to discuss a broader set of regional problems than just the situation in Iraq.
Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said that Iran would participate “if it will be of help to Baghdad” while dismissing the need for US participation, explaining that “regional countries can solve the Iraq problem and there is no need for . . . extra-regional countries” (Mehr News Agency, 28 February).
A pair of commentaries on Iranian state-run radio similarly cast doubt on US motives, saying that the “real intentions of the American Administration remain suspicious” and argued that the US willingness to talk with Iran “can (only) be considered sincere if it is accompanied by the amendment of Bush’s so-called new Iraq plan” (Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran Radio-1, 28 February).
An unnamed Syrian Foreign Ministry source, meanwhile, confirmed that Syria would attend the Baghdad conference, characterizing discussions with the US on Iraq as “a partial step in the right direction,” while urging discussion of all the region’s problems “because they are interlinked” (SANA, 28 February). Syrian state-run media echoed these sentiments, with the daily Tishrin calling the talks “a step in the right direction” but adding “there should be more.” The ruling party daily Al-Ba’th published AFP reporting about the matter under a headline stressing that “the problems of the region are interconnected” (1 March).”