Some 1200 political, business and civil society leaders from 45 countries have gathered in the Dead Sea town for the summit, aimed at helping leaders seize on the climate of change that has begun to spread in several of their countries.
  
"Today positive change is in the air across the region," King Abdullah said.

"It is truly time to seize the moment. Never has there been greater opportunity for progress," he said as he kicked off the three-day conference on Friday.

King Abdullah said the Middle East must be "a region of peace and stability; opportunity-rich, with governments that empower and serve" as well as "a global pace-setter in economic life". 

Comprehensive reform
  
He urged leaders to build on an initiative developed at last year's Dead Sea WEF to push for a package of comprehensive reform, including good governance, education, and economic growth, in the Arab world by 2010. 

"It is truly time to seize the moment. Never has there been greater opportunity for progress"

Jordan's King Abdullah II

"Vision 2010 is no academic exercise. It is an effort for the whole Middle East to create its own positive change ... now it is up to you," he said. 

The Jordanian monarch urged regional leaders to unite in their efforts and accelerate the pace of reform the Middle East ahead of a G-8 summit of the world's most industrialised nations expected to be held in less than two months.
  
The summit, he said, "is expected to issue a statement supporting home-grown Middle East reform, a statement that can be an important bridge between Arab and Western views".

Regional reforms have become a necessity in the face of mounting popular demand and intensive pressure from the West, namely the United States.
  
But Arab leaders like King Abdullah have repeatedly rejected pressure from the West and said reforms must be made at their own pace and according to each country's conditions. 

High-profile gathering
  
Among those attending the three-day conference are Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and US First Lady Laura Bush. 

US First Lady Laura Bush is
attending the summit

Those attending also include UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi; the OPEC president and Kuwait's energy minister, Shaikh Ahmed Fahd al-Sabah, as well as European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and EU parliament president Josep Borrell.
  
Security was extremely tight as hundreds of Jordanian troops stood guard at main roads and hotels in Amman and along the 50km road to the Dead Sea, while gunboats were patrolling the coast off Shuneh.
  
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth, at about 400 metres below sea level, and a special session will be devoted to saving the "dying" sea from shrinking further.
  
Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have agreed for a feasibility study for water conveyance from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.
  
Special sessions will be held to explore ongoing changes in
Iraq, Lebanon and Libya, as other discussions will view causes of regional terrorism that is affecting global security.