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Call for troops to quit Iraq

Syria's al-Sharaa is attending Friday's regional conference in Saudi Arabia
Syria's al-Sharaa is attending Friday's regional conference in Saudi Arabia

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The U.S. has long accused Syria of terrorist ties. CNN's Sheila MacVicar reports.
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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Iraq's closest neighbors gathered Friday in Riyadh to forge a common goal for the post-Saddam Hussein era and push for an immediate withdrawal of coalition troops from the country.

Syria, which has come under U.S. pressure for allegedly harboring members of Saddam's regime and developing chemical weapons, is among the eight countries attending the meeting.

Also at the gathering, hosted by Saudi Arabia, are foreign ministers from Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey.

All but Syria and Iran provided some form of support for the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, although each country has expressed an urgent need to fill the vacuum left by three decades of Saddam's rule.

"We want to find a common policy to bring to the table, whether it be humanitarian aid or reconstruction, and what political relations (with the future government in Iraq) will be," a senior Saudi official told Reuters.

Those attending the Riyadh meeting also want the U.S. and British troop presence in Iraq to end immediately, followed by elections to enable Iraqis to form their own government with the help of neighboring countries.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, in remarks carried by the Iranian news agency Friday, said the role of regional nations in setting up a new Iraqi government was "very important."

On Thursday, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa told reporters in Cairo that he expected the meeting to produce a call for a common goal of maintaining Iraq's "unity, integrity and independence."

"No one can guess or predict how long it will take to stabilize Iraq," he said. "But ... occupation is not the right response to stability in Iraq."

Iraq's neighbors are concerned the United States will ignore the wishes on the United Nations and regional governments and install its own regime in Baghdad, one with close ties to U.S. ally Israeli.

Some Arab nations have accused Israel of instigating the U.S. campaign on Syria to force it to expel Palestinian militants it is believed to be supporting.

"They all have fears of each other and so it's better to work together and meet," a Riyadh-based diplomat told Reuters. "They want to stop independent initiatives."


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