Washington — Envoys of 57 member nations of the world’s largest Islamic grouping are to launch an informal forum in Washington this week to discuss common concerns and act a key link for the Muslim world in the United States, diplomats say.
The forum will comprise Washington-based ambassadors from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) nations, including US Middle East rival Syria, and traditional allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.
Another US foe Iran is a OIC member but does not have diplomatic relations with Washington.
The forum also could act as a rare platform for exchange of views between the Muslim envoys and Washington, according to diplomats from the OIC nations.
US under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs Karen Hughes, who is spearheading an effort by President George W. Bush’s administration to improve America’s image in the Muslim world, has been invited for the launching on Thursday.
The forum was mooted by Rajmah Hussain, the Washington ambassador from Malaysia, the current OIC chairman, but Kuala Lumpur and the OIC secretariat have taken an unusually low profile, one Middle East diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the OIC secretary-general, is not attending the launching and will send a representative.
Some ambassadors from OIC nations fear that discussion within the forum or with the United States could go beyond their mandate.
There is a possibility that Iran for example could try to rally Islamic support through proxies in the forum for its sensitive nuclear programme that has drawn UN sanctions, diplomats said.
Washington has been largely supportive of the forum as it could help in efforts to improve America’s all-time low popularity in the Arab and Muslim world, they said. “But recently there was some US apprehension that the forum could be hostile to the US,” one OIC diplomat said.