Mahir, speaking on Sunday, said leaders had heard nothing from Iraqi interim foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari except on television "where he came up with some allegations that are wrong."

 

"I don't think that when you receive an invitation you answer on television," added Mahir.  

 

Zebari said late on Saturday he had not received an invitation “through recognised channels”.

“It seems that some neighbouring countries did not want Iraq to participate in the meeting,” said Zebari without elaborating.

Syria is hosting the meeting of seven regional foreign ministers to discuss the impact of violence in Iraq on the region's stability. Talks began on Sunday morning.

Damascus initially left Zebari off the guest list because of misgivings about the legitimacy of the US-installed administration.

But at the insistence of US allies Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Damascus agreed on Friday to extend a hasty invitation to Baghdad, said foreign ministry spokeswoman Bushra Kanafani.

"I don't think that when you receive an invitation you answer on television"

Ahmad Mahir, Egyptian Foreign Minister

Asked whether the ministers were upset at Iraq's snub, Mahir said: "If you invite somebody to a club and he declines, do you keep inviting him? I don't think this is appropriate."

Kuwait was willing to send a plane for Zebari to arrive in Syria, he added.  

Boycott threat

While the offer staved off a boycott threat by Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, it was not enough to persuade Zebari to head to the Syrian capital.

Late on Saturday Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said that the foreign ministers had invited Baghdad to participate in the formal summit on Sunday.

“The Iraqi foreign minister was contacted by the Kuwaiti foreign minister on behalf of the group and invited to come to the meeting,” Muasher had said.

Formal talks had been expected to start on Saturday night, despite tensions over Iraq’s absence.

Delegates include Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey.