May 20, 2006

Guest list raises questions at Mideast forum

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - World Economic Forum
organizers faced questions on Saturday about why
representatives of Iran, Syria and Hamas were not at the
business gathering in Egypt.

Some 1,200 business and political leaders from across the
Middle East are attending the event, but organizers said they
had declined to invite the Iranian government, which is locked
in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program.

Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic
Forum, said he did not want political tensions from any Iranian
presence to overshadow the meeting.

"The purpose of the forum is dialogue on all issues," he
told a news conference at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh
where the three day event opened on Saturday.

"We didn't want the agenda to be hijacked by the media," he

Iran is facing the prospect of international sanctions over
a nuclear program it says is solely designed to generate
electricity. The European Union and United States accuse Iran
of secretly developing atomic weapons.

Journalists also peppered Schwab and Sherif El Diwany, the
forum's regional director, with questions about the absence of
the Syrian government and representatives of Hamas, a militant
group that leads the Palestinian government.

Diwany dismissed any suggestion Syria had been snubbed,
saying all invitations to Arab governments had been sent
through the proper channels. He did not explain Syria's

He said the invitation to the Palestinian Authority had
been sent to President Mahmoud Abbas whose Fatah party is a
political rival of Hamas. Abbas is attending the forum.

The Palestinian Authority is facing a financial crisis
after international donors suspended aid because of the
Hamas-led government's refusal to renounce violence and
recognize Israel since it came to power in March.