- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Feb. 21 (UPI) — Iraq failed Friday to persuade other Middle Eastern nations to block American access to their ports and airfields, a move that could have disrupted the Bush administration's war plans, at the summit of the 114-nation Non-Aligned Movement in Malaysia.

Iraqi diplomats lobbied hard for a declaration that would have forbidden the use of bases and jump-off spots for an American-led attack, but Arab states that host United States forces blocked the move and summit host Malaysia gave Iraq little support despite its own opposition to war.

But the NAM summit is preparing a declaration that will oppose any swift move to war by the United States and Britain. The declaration, being drafted by officials ahead of formal approval by foreign ministers and heads of government, says that war is no solution to international disputes and calls for the United Nations inspection process to continue.

"The NAM must support the growing principle that international conflicts must not be resolved by war and must always uphold the multilateral process," said Malaysia's foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar. "Our interest in NAM should be to promote multilateralism as the central and indispensable pillar of the new international order."

If the Iraqi effort had succeeded, countries like Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia could have come under embarrassing domestic and international pressure for allowing the U.S. and British troops and warplanes to use their bases.

The priority for the NAM has traditionally been forging consensus among its far-flung and very different members. They come mostly from the developing world in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but also including some former Yugoslav countries like Croatia who are far more supportive of the Bush administration. The NAM also includes veteran critics of U.S. policy like Cuba.

Expectations of a clash between U.S. allies and the rest of the NAM faded as the organization rallied around the consensus of supporting the United Nations and the inspection process. The NAM also backed a draft declaration that stressed the principle of national sovereignty over internal affairs, which Iraqi delegates hailed as supporting their position.

"We welcome the NAM's rejection of the unilateral use of force against an independent state," said the head of the Iraqi delegation, Saeed al-Musawi, director of the international organizations department at the Iraqi foreign ministry.

In fact, the Malaysian host had said something rather different, that the NAM was expected to support a statement "rejecting any attempts by any nation to interfere in the internal affairs of another sovereign state."

The NAM summit's role as a forum for the developing world also suffered from the decision of some key players, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, not to attend. Three countries, including Cape Verde and Grenada, did not even bother to send delegations. And North Korea bluntly refused even to discuss its own crisis over the development of nuclear weapons.

The NAM also found it easier to rally around Malaysia's perennial call for more fairness in the international economic system.

"NAM must continue to speak out and play its role as the champion of the weak and powerless and the disenfranchised against the seemingly overwhelming dominance of the rich and powerful," Syed Hamid Albar said.

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