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End Nuclear Standoff Peacefully, Says Aziz
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The standoff over Iran's nuclear program should be resolved through negotiations and not by force, Pakistan's prime minister said Sunday.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz made the remarks at the opening of a meeting of foreign ministers from seven Muslim nations to discuss possible ways to resolve tensions in the Middle East, including in Iran and Iraq, and to curb the spread of extremism, a statement by Aziz's office said.

Ministers from Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan, as well as Turkey's Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference a 57-member bloc of Islamic states held the meeting in the capital, Islamabad.

Sunday's meeting is supposed to lay the groundwork for a summit of Muslim leaders to be held in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. No dates have been announced for that meeting.

The statement quoted Aziz as saying that the Iranian nuclear issue should be resolved through diplomacy and the "use of force should be avoided".

The United States and several of its Western allies fear that Iran is using its nuclear program to produce an atomic weapon charges Iran denies, saying its aim is to generate electricity.

US Vice-President Dick Cheney, while visiting Australia on Saturday, criticized Iran's defiance of a UN deadline for freezing its uranium enrichment programs. Cheney said that while the US seeks a peaceful resolution with Iran, "all options" were on the table.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Sunday said his country would move forward with its disputed nuclear program despite international demands that it halt uranium enrichment, comparing Iran's program to a train without brakes, state-run radio reported.

The ministers were also to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Aziz called for a resolution founded on "justice, equity and realism in line with the wishes of the Palestinian people", the statement said.

He also said the people of Iraq "must be enabled to decide their own future" and urged Muslim states to join hands to jointly fight "radicalism and extremism", the statement said.

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf recently visited the six countries in addition to Iran and Syria for talks on settling conflicts in the Middle East, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fighting in Iraq and tensions between Washington and Teheran.

But Iran and Syria were not invited to the meeting, because "they are considered to be (directly) involved in the crisis" in the Middle East, a government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make media statements.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri spoke with his Syrian and Iranian counterparts about the gathering on Friday, the official said. He gave no additional details.

Pakistan has denied suggestions in pan-Arab media that Pakistan was forming a Sunni bloc opposed to Shi'ite-dominated Iran.

Musharraf has said he is trying to build consensus among countries who support "a conciliatory approach" to the region's problems.

(China Daily via agencies February 26, 2007)

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