Islamic leaders to discuss unity
December 9, 1997
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah (L) is greeted by Khatami
Web posted at: 1:59 a.m. EST (0659 GMT)
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- More than 50 Muslim leaders from around the world gathered in Tehran Tuesday for a historic summit that brings together former foes to discuss Islamic unity. It is the largest gathering of international leaders in Iran since the 1979 revolution.
Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is opening the eighth summit of the 55-member Organization of the Islamic Conference around 10 a.m. (0630 GMT/1:30 a.m. EST).
"We must have solidarity among ourselves, and a fresh outlook on the rest of the world, in order to play an important role in international affairs," Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said ahead of the summit opening.
Iran's relations with its neighbors have been strained since the 1979 Islamic revolution, in which Muslim fundamentalists called for exporting the nation's militant brand of Islam.
But Iran now is promoting itself as a land of peace and stability, trying to transform itself from pariah to regional power broker.
And the meeting demonstrates a growing acceptance of Iran by its Arab neighbors, even as the United States tries to isolate the Tehran government.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat came to Tehran despite a tense relationship with the Iranian leader.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, vilified in the past by Iran for his peace agreement with Israel, was among the first to arrive Monday for the summit. Another delegate was Kuwait's Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, a foe of Iran during its 1980-88 war with Iraq.
Among others in attendance:
- Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. It's the first visit by a high-ranking Saudi leader since the revolution. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami kissed Prince Abdullah on both cheeks in a traditional greeting and escorted him along a red carpet to a stand where the Saudi anthem was played.
- Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan is the highest-ranking official from his country to visit to visit Tehran since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
- Lebanese President Elias Hrawi -- the only Christian head of state at the summit -- and Lebanon's Muslim prime minister, Rafik Hariri.
Tuesday's summit follows a two-day meeting of Muslim foreign ministers, who approved 140 resolutions for consideration during this week's meeting. The ministers condemned military cooperation with Israel in an apparent slap at Turkey, which signed two such agreements in 1996.
With Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and other American allies present, the delegates stopped short of denouncing U.S. policies.
Correspondent Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report.