- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

DAMASCUS, Syria, Feb. 1 (UPI) — Arab League Secretary Amr Mousa and Syrian President Bashar Assad discussed Saturday holding the Arab summit earlier than scheduled in Bahrain in March due to the crisis in Iraq.

"We are talking about the nearest time to hold the summit," Mousa told reporters after the meeting. "There is yet no specific date."

He referred to "complete understanding concerning the next steps and Arab movement concerning the existing dangerous crisis."

He said regardless of the summit's outcome, Arab countries should discuss a possible U.S. war on Iraq and the regional implications of such a conflict.

Asked about a possible French veto in the Security Council in an effort to avoid war, Mousa said: "We are betting on nothing in such existing difficult conditions. We only bet on our (Arab) position, but at the same time we should salute all anti-war stands."

On Europe's division over a war against Iraq, he referred to "a very strong trend in Europe which stands against war."

He underlined a recent European Union statement which called for giving U.N. inspectors enough time to carry out their mission and that the Security Council should have the authority to resolve the Iraqi crisis. U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair believe U.N. Resolution 1441 permits a military attack without further authorization.

"The issue is not to rush for war but to remove the weapons of mass destruction in line with the Security Council resolutions," Mousa said, referring to efforts being exerted with the United States and Britain whose positions were to "be clarified through the coming contacts and consultations."

On the deadlocked Middle East peace talks, Mousa saw no immediate changes in store after the re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The Arab League chief was expected to visit Beirut Sunday for similar talks with Lebanese officials.

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