- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

CAIRO, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Iraq has asked the Arab League to delay its summit for a couple of weeks, officials said.

Arab League spokesman Hisham Yousef told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya satellite channel that Iraq's request had been circulated to the member countries.

Iraq has said that it's busy with the U.N. arms inspections and wanted to focus attention on the issue at hand, the spokesman added.

Separately, Iraq said Sunday it was seriously considering Hans Blix's request to destroy its Al-Samoud 2 missiles, indicating its willingness to do so ahead of a new, tougher Security Council resolution being jointly drafted by the United States and Britain.

The Arab League said earlier Sunday that the next summit would be held in the Egyptian capital on March 1 to discuss the Iraq crisis and other regional issues.

Yousef said that most of the Cairo-based league's 22 members had already agreed to participate in the summit. The oil-rich Gulf kingdom of Bahrain will chair the meeting.

Bahrain was earlier scheduled to hold the summit but later the league decided to seek a new venue.

Bahrain, a cluster of small islands, is a constitutional monarchy off the east coast of the Arabian peninsula and about 400 miles from the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border.

Since a 1991 defense cooperation agreement, Bahrain has been a key U.S. base in the Persian Gulf. Naval and Air Force operations there are part of the U.S. buildup in the Gulf region ahead of a possible war with Iraq.

Yousef said the league was still considering a request from Egypt to shift the summit to its Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh instead of Cairo for logistical and security reasons.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher said some Arab countries wanted to delay the regular summit. Although he didn't identify them, he said they were "shirking from their responsibilities."

The semi-official al-Ahram daily quoted Maher as saying Sunday that "Egypt rejects attempts by some countries to delay the summit … because the conditions do not allow for delays."

Maher's comments came amid reports that the United States might lead a war on Iraq in the beginning of March, prompting Arab leaders to make a last-ditch effort for peace.

Arab governments face an increasingly difficult situation on Iraq. While the Bush administration wants them to support the U.S. stance, they face intense domestic pressure to prevent a possible attack on a fellow Arab nation.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had earlier called for an emergency summit in late February. But Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon opposed holding an emergency summit because they said it would seem as if the meeting was called to endorse the American military action against Iraq.

Instead, they supported a regular summit, scheduled for March 1.

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