The initiative, still being crafted, would call for Arab and South Asian governments to adopt major political reforms, be held accountable on human rights and introduce economic reforms, according to a leading newspaper.

As incentives for the targeted countries to cooperate, Western nations would offer to expand political engagement, increase aid, facilitate membership in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and foster security arrangements, reported the Washington Post.

The administration's Greater Middle East Initiative was scheduled to be announced at the G8 summit hosted by President George Bush at Sea Island in June.

The initiative is loosely based on the 1975 Helsinki accords. That pact was signed by 35 nations, including the US, the Soviet Union and most of Europe.

"It's a sweeping change in the way we approach the Middle East"

A US State Department official

The newspaper said senior White House and State Department officials had opened talks with key European allies about the plan. US officials were cited as saying the plan would be put forward this summer at summits of the G8 nations, NATO allies and the European Union.

"It's a sweeping change in the way we approach the Middle East," a senior State Department official told the newspaper.

Helsinki accords

"We hope to roll out some of the principles for reform in talks with the Europeans over the next few weeks, with specific ideas of how to support them," he added.

With international backing, the US then hopes to win commitments of action from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries.