SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt – Countries taking part in a conference on Iraq differ on how to assist the nation but strongly support the interim government's efforts to crush the insurgency and hold elections in January, delegates said Monday.
Iraq asked Egypt to convene the conference in a bid to increase world support for its battle against insurgents and its plan to hold national elections.
The two-day meeting brings together Iraq's neighbors, Egypt, several other Arab countries, China and regional bodies such as the United Nations (search), European Union (search), Arab League (search) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (search).
The conference, which opens in this Red Sea resort Monday, will not set a deadline for the withdrawal of the U.S.-led multinational force, as desired by France and some Middle Eastern countries, according to a draft copy of the final declaration, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa had sought support from other countries for setting such a deadline. But the draft text leaves it to the Iraqi government to decide when foreign forces should depart. It does, however, remind the U.S.-led multinational force that its mandate is "not open-ended."
For all its bloodshed, the insurgency enjoys a certain support in the Arab world. Many Arabs see the multinational force as occupying Iraq.
The conference is expected to conclude by affirming that it condemns "all acts of terrorism in Iraq and calls for the immediate cessation of all such acts in order to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people."
The draft declaration says participants will urge the interim government to deal firmly with terrorists in accordance with international standards of law.
In what threatens to the most contentious part of the conference, Iraq has said it will present plans for neighboring states to tighten their borders against the infiltration of would-be insurgents and to share information about insurgent support groups.
"We have documents and we have proof that indicate that some neighboring countries are contributing to increasing the violence in Iraq," Thair al-Naqeeb, the spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search), told reporters on the eve of the conference.
"The Iraqi government will put pressure on the neighboring counties not to use their territories to support violence and terrorism in Iraq," al-Naqeeb added.
On the sidelines of the main meeting, Powell, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search), EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (search), and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (search) would meet to discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
The four make up the "quartet" of sponsors of a Mideast peace plan known as the road map.
Delegates say the Iraq conference will encourage the Arab League to play a more positive role in Iraq. The 22-nation body has long held back because of its opposition to the U.S.-led invasion.
France, which opposed the invasion, had urged the conference to accept delegates from those Iraqi parties opposed to interim government and the multinational force.
One such group, the Association of Muslim Scholars (search), issued a statement Sunday that dismissed the conference as "an attempt to legitimize the occupation." A Sunni Muslim group, the association also called for a boycott of the Iraqi elections on Jan. 30.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that the association's demands will be aired at the conference, "once their letter is received."
Powell was scheduled to arrive at Sharm El-Sheik after talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders early Monday. The Israeli government assured him it would do everything it could to facilitate Palestinian presidential elections on Jan. 9, including easing travel restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Media reports suggested Powell might meet Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi (search) on the sidelines of the Sharm conference. But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi has said Iran sees little need for such a meeting, partly because Powell will soon be leaving his post.
Participants are also expected to discuss debt relief for Iraq.
In Paris Sunday, the Paris Club (search) of creditor nations agreed to write off 80 percent of the $39 billion that Iraq owes them. Iraq owes another $80 billion to non-Paris Club lenders, led by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.