RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Foreign ministers from six countries that border Iraq condemned U.S. threats against Syria and urged coalition forces to quickly stabilize Iraq and withdraw their troops.
In a statement issued early Saturday, the ministers also agreed the United Nations should play a substantial role in rebuilding Iraq, and recommended U.N. sanctions stay in place until the Iraqis themselves form a new government.
Officials representing Iraq's neighbors -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Iran -- and Egypt and Bahrain gathered Friday for the emergency summit, their first meeting since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Most Arab countries oppose a U.S. plan to lead an interim administration, with Iraqis initially in advisory roles. The ministers' statement stressed, "the Iraqi people should administer and govern their country by themselves," including making decisions regarding the country's vast oil wealth.
"Iraq is full of skilled people that know their own good better than anyone else," said Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. "We won't be interfering and we won't accept any other interference in the Iraqis' affairs."
But until a new Iraqi government is established, "the occupying forces must restore law and security," Prince Saud said. The statement called on the coalition to "maintain security and stability" in Iraq, and protect the rights of the Iraqi people "and their cultural heritage."
The future of Iraq dominated the discussions, but ministers also addressed the growing enmity between the United States and Syria.
Rejecting U.S. warnings to Syria for allegedly harboring terrorists, including members of the ousted Iraqi regime, and developing chemical weapons, the ministers urged dialogue to promote regional stability.
They also welcomed Secretary of State Colin Powell's announcement that he would visit Damascus soon to discuss Syrian-U.S. relations with President Bashar Assad.
Syria has denied taking in any senior Iraqi officials or possessing any weapons of mass destruction.
The ministers did not set a deadline for when coalition troops should withdraw from Iraq, but they made clear that it should happen quickly.
"We certainly would like the Americans to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible," said Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. "If the United Nations is there, certainly they can take care of their own future."
Prince Saud said the timing depends on how quickly a new Iraqi government is formed. The lifting of U.N. sanctions depends on the new government's ability to meet Iraq's obligations to the Security Council, he added.
Reflecting Turkey's fears about the possibility of a Kurdish breakaway state in northern Iraq that could incite Turkey's own Kurdish population, the ministers' statement expressed a commitment to Iraq's territorial integrity.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Iraq's democratically elected government should represent all ethnic groups.
Prince Saud also urged the countries to offer humanitarian assistance and help in rebuilding Iraq.