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Participation in Mideast Bank Will Depend on Ending Boycott

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Arab states must lift the economic boycott of Israel in order to reap the fruits of a proposed Middle East regional development bank.

During a two-day meeting here, representatives from 39 countries and international organizations reached a preliminary agreement to hammer out the lingering differences on the bank’s logistics.

“The boycott is being dismantled,” Secretary of State Warren Christopher said to the conference delegates. “I feel that the region will once again become economically whole.”

“There was no dissent” that member nations must lift all levels of the economic boycott against Israel, said conference co-chair Joan Spero, under secretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs.

The talks come on the heels of the landmark Casablanca Middle East Economic Summit held last November where the same participants agreed to pursue to possibility of establishing a regional development bank.

The bank would serve as a “catalyst and a deal maker in the region,” Spero said, adding it would “demonstrate strong support for the peace process.”

After the latest round of talks here, officials agreed to set up a task force to delve into specific funding and eligibility issues.

Saudi Arabia was one of at least nine Arab nations that agreed to the boycott language, according to State Department officials.

At the beginning of the conference, State Department officials privately lashed out at the Saudis for not indicating in advance whether they would send a representative.

In the end, the Saudis were represented and signed onto the effort, officials said.

The task force is scheduled to begin monthly meetings in March with the goal of submitting a proposal before the second regional economic conference slated for October in Amman, Jordan.

“Everyone is open to a bank but they want to see what it will look like,” Spero said.

At the conference, Israeli officials joined forces with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Egypt and Jordan in an effort to win support for the bank.

The four proposed a joint plan that drew praise from their American hosts, who are strongly supporting the bank.

These representatives “have risen to the challenge posed by the international community to develop their own institutional proposals to support their strategy for moving from conflict to partnership,” Spero wrote in a summary statement.

While planned need to resolve many important issues such as who will fund the bank, the co-chair of the Israeli delegation said there is a “very high probability” that there will ultimately be a bank.

“Israel sees this bank as the basis for the future Middle East,” said David Brodet, director-general of Israel’s Finance Ministry.

“We see this bank as a stabilizing mechanism to create a common economic interest in the Middle East,” he said.

While the establishment of a bank is at best a year away, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain have all expressed an interest in housing the institution.

Syria and Lebanon refused to take part in the effort, saying they will not come to the table until peace agreements are singed with Israel.

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