Leaders of more than 30 countries were expected to attend an anti-terror summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik.
But within days after the conference was hastily announced, conflicting views emerged over whether the event would be a high-level photo opportunity or a real chance to formulate international policy against terrorism.
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres hailed Wednesday’s gathering as a major step toward international cooperation against terror, but Arab participants stressed a broader perspective to the meeting.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is co-chairing the summit along with President Clinton, downplayed the anti-terror angle, saying that the international conference was called “to support the peace process.”
The summit was called in the wake of a series of recent terror bombings in Israel carried out by the militant Islamic Hamas group.
After Invitations to attend the summit were sent out over the weekend, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and French President Jacques Chirac said they would participate, as did Jordan’s King Hussein and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Yamen, along with the Persian Guld states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, said they would send representatives to the summit.
It was unlikely that Syria would attend, and Lebanon turned down its invitation.
Iran, Libya and Iraq – all of which flatly reject the Middle East peace process – were not invited.
The 15 members states of the European Union were to be represented at the summit by Italian Prime Minister Lamberto Dini and by the president of the E.U. Executive Commission, Jacques Santer.
But other E.U. leaders were expected to attend, including German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, British Prime Minister John Major and Chirac.
The European Union is also planning to send a three-member ministerial delegation to Libya and Iran to press these countries to openly condemn terrorism.
If these countries refuse to do so, the European Union will reconsider its relations with them, the group’s 15 foreign ministers announced Sunday after a two-day meeting in Palermo, Italy.
In a statement issued after the meeting, they expressed the view that the Mideast peace process must continue.
“The European Union must clearly express its solidarity with Israel, its condemnation of terrorism and its continued support for the peace process,” said Susanna Agnelli, the foreign minister of Italy, which is currently chairing the E.U. Council of Ministers.
Meanwhile, Hamas dismissed the meeting.
“The so-called anti-terrorism conference is a hostile international conspiracy to end our people’s jihad (holy war) and resistance,” a leaflet distributed by the Hamas military wing said.
The summit is a “desperate attempt to save the Zionists from humiliation and lift their cowardly spirits which were destroyed by our martyrs’ courage.”
In the leaflet, Hamas vowed to continue its attacks against Israel.