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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mideast Economic Summit Opens With Call for Peace

CAIRO -- The largest ever Middle East economic conference opened Tuesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warning that the region would not achieve desperately needed development without peace between Arabs and Israel.


More than 3,500 business people, government officials and international financiers were attending the three-day meeting which is based on the premise that business deals between old enemies can help push forward the stalled peace process.


Mubarak, in opening the meeting, said he hoped the Middle East and North Africa Economic Conference would help cure the region's economic woes, but insisted peace was the most needed ingredient to meet this challenge.


"We hope that this conference will help launch a time of comprehensive development in the region for the resources of the region to be used, resources and capabilities which in the past have been used in conflicts,'' he said.


But he returned to a theme he has pushed before, that Israel must live up to the land-for-peace basis of peace talks with the Palestinians for the region to see an end to conflict and violence. He said large-scale economic development in the Mideast "needs a just and comprehensive peace in the framework of principles that have been agreed upon.'' He also said the region must put aside religious differences.


U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, on a final visit to the region before retiring, told the conference that integrating the Mideast's economies -- Israel's and the Arabs' -- "will make war even less likely.''


"There can be no lasting peace for the Middle East without prosperity and there can be no prosperity without peace,'' he said.


Christopher said he thought agreement was "close at hand'' between Israel and the Palestinians over redeployment of Israel's troops in Hebron, the last West Bank city under occupation and the main sticking point in the negotiations.


But State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said there was "little discernible progress'' in an overnight meeting between Christopher and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Christopher was to told hold talks later with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy at the economic conference. But Arafat, who also met Mubarak on Tuesday, was staying away from the economic session.


The conference follows similar meetings in Morocco in 1994 and Jordan last year. And although it aims to reward the so-called "peace partners'' -- Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians -- it comes amid serious strains in the U.S.-brokered peace process.


Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have stalled since May's election of the hard-line Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister.