AP February 03, 2003
CAIRO, Egypt – Arab leaders, fearful of the consequences of a U.S.-led war on Iraq, are planning to move forward a summit and hold it in the coming weeks to issue a last-ditch call for Baghdad to cooperate with weapons inspectors, diplomats said Monday.
But the Arab leaders also may acknowledge that war is inevitable and urge their governments to prepare for the possible fallout.
Arab diplomats told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that officials are pushing to meet before March, when the annual Arab League summit is scheduled in the small Gulf state of Bahrain.
Arab governments also want to move the summit to Egypt, which has the political influence to forge an agreement, the diplomats said. Bahrain’s envoy to the Arab League Ibrahim Ali al-Majid, who conferred with the Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa on Monday, said his country has no objection moving the summit to Cairo.
Hisham Youssef, a spokesman for Moussa, said Monday that “intensive consultations” are under way to set a date for a summit aimed at preventing a possible U.S.-led war on Iraq.
The diplomats said Arabs are divided on whether to hold the summit before or after a Feb. 14 report by the U.N. chief weapons inspectors to the Security Council on Iraq’s compliance with disarmament resolutions.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has said that if the Security Council determines Iraq has failed to cooperate, Arabs should be given time to try resolve the problem peacefully.
Some Arabs, though, fear that if they don’t act before the United Nations makes a determination widely expected to be negative, anything that emerges from their summit will be seen as endorsing war.
While the timing is being debated, the diplomats said a resolution expected to be adopted by Arab leaders at the summit already is being worked out. They said the draft, in an acknowledgment violence may be inevitable, stipulates that Arabs should take “all necessary measures to deal with all the destructive consequences of war.”
The draft also suggests that Iraq should be given six more weeks to comply with U.N. demands it surrender weapons of mass destruction. Iraq claims it already has done so, but the United States accuses Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of lying and has threatened war to disarm him.
The draft resolution calls on Iraq to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors.
The draft includes no offer of asylum to Saddam, an option the Arab media has speculated leaders might be considering as a peaceful way out.
The Arab daily Al-Hayat reported Monday that Turkey offered Saddam political asylum abroad and the Iraqi leader turned it down.
“This is not our business, we should not be involved in these matters,” league spokesman Youssef said of reports Saddam had been offered exile.
Also Monday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, leader of the most populous Arab state and a key U.S ally, was quoted as describing the region as “a roiling sea” because of the Washington-Baghdad standoff.
Arab leaders say a war would further destabilize a region already made volatile by more than two years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lately, as the United States has appeared increasingly convinced that war is the only way to disarm Iraq, Arab leaders have begun to say Saddam must do more to prevent war.
Some Arabs, like the Saudis, fear the overthrow of Saddam and his Sunni Muslim-dominated regime would strengthen Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority. That could lead to close ties between Shiites in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia – to the detriment of the ruling Saudi royal family.
Syria and Egypt worry that the end of autocracy in Baghdad might focus unwelcome attention on the lack of democracy in their own societies.
Iraq’s neighbors also fear a flood of refugees, disrupted economies and the prospect of agitation among their own ethnic minorities. Without Saddam and U.N. sanctions, Iraq’s oil riches would be unfettered and might flood the market, lowering revenues for Arab states dependent on their oil wealth.