RIYADH - Iraq's neighbors said on Saturday U.S.-led forces that invaded the country had no right to exploit its oil and should pull out as soon as possible, giving the United Nations a central postwar role.
A meeting of Iraq's immediate neighbors as well as Egypt and Bahrain said U.S. forces had to reestablish stability and security after their invasion, but should leave as soon as possible and allow Iraqis to form their own government.
"(The ministers) affirmed that the Iraqi people should administer and govern their country by themselves, and any exploitation of their natural resources should be in conformity with the will of the legitimate Iraqi government and its people," they said in a joint statement read by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.
"If what they (the occupying forces) intend is the exploitation of Iraqi oil, it will not have any legitimate basis," Faisal told a news conference after the talks in the Saudi capital.
He also said U.N. sanctions on Iraq should end only when it has a legitimate government.
"Now Iraq is under an occupying power and any request for lifting sanctions must come when there is a legitimate government which represents the people," he told reporters after the discussions on the regional implications of the crushing U.S. military victory.
The talks included the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Bahrain.
The United States wants a quick end to the U.N. sanctions, imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The United States wants to boost Iraqi oil output and revenues which would be used to help pay for reconstruction.
Iraq has the world's second largest proven oil reserves and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are concerned their revenues might be hit if its oil is once again sold on the open market, rather under the control of the U.N. sanctions regime.
The regional states called for a central U.N. role in postwar Iraq, but the United States is reluctant to give it a say in Iraq's political future.
Asked if the eight countries planned to play a role in shaping a new Iraq, Faisal said: "We will not permit ourselves to interfere in its (Iraq's) internal affairs."
He said U.S.-led forces must reestablish order.
"Going out in the streets is dangerous and houses are being looted. These things must stop so that the Iraqis can work together to set up systems and administrations that express their will and needs throughout Iraq."
Barring Syria and Iran, all participants at the meeting are U.S. allies that offered some form of support for the invasion. But they all fear the United States will install a puppet government regime in Iraq that would ally itself with Israel.
Middle Eastern nations are determined to avoid a break-up of Iraq along potentially destabilizing ethnic and sectarian lines.
Asked about investing in Iraq, Faisal said: "Until there is an Iraqi government, I don't think anyone will think about investing there."
The regional forum, the first since the war ended, also rejected U.S. charges that Syria was sheltering some of Saddam Hussein's aides and developing chemical weapons. Syria denies both charges.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd