- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Feb. 26 (UPI) — The Arab League's secretary-general said Wednesday that all 22-member states, including Iraq, have agreed to attend a summit this weekend in Egypt to discuss the looming U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Speaking on the sidelines of the preparatory meeting by Arab League delegates in Sharm el-Shiekh, Egypt, Gen. Amr Mousa most Arab heads of state will be present except for those who cannot make it for "special conditions." That includes Iraq, which will not be represented by leader Saddam Hussein but by a delegation led by Deputy President Izzat Ibrahim Douri.

Iraq had requested, and several Arab countries supported, delaying the likely problematic gathering at least until mid-March, after U.N. weapons inspectors made another report to the U.N. Security Council about Iraq's disarmament. But after hearing Iraq had decided to go to the long-delayed but hastily finalized summit, other countries such as Lebanon and Syria withdrew their objections.

The summit is due to formally open March 1 in Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian resort on the Red Sea.

Mousa said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to attend its opening session, as will representatives of the European Union — possibly Geoorge Papandreou, foreign minister of the EU's current presidency Greece — the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Union and the Francophone Organization. The Iraqi delegation will also include First Deputy Prime Minister Taha Yassin Ramadan, Second Deputy Prime Minister Tarek Aziz and Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, he added.

The summit's discussion sessions will mainly focus on Iraq and the Palestinian question, said Mousa, though room would be left on the agenda for Arab leaders to present and discuss their own ideas.

Delegates will likely have little problem joining both in a firm rejection of war on Iraq and calls on Baghdad for more cooperation with the U.N. inspectors. Instead the main point of contention would be demands by some member states to present a unified refusal to allow the U.S. forces use Arab territories to launch operations — at a time when several Gulf countries have already provided such facilities.

An Arab diplomatic source told United Press International that the summit "will discuss sending an Arab delegation to Baghdad to deliver a letter to President Saddam Hussein, the content of which will be agreed upon by the Arab leaders." The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, would not speculate on what the letter might contain.

The source also said that U.S. Ambassador in Cairo David Welsh informed Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher the Bush administration opposed the idea of sending an Arab delegation to Washington at the same time another delegation would be visiting Baghdad. Press reports said earlier the Arabs planned to send two delegations simultaneously to Baghdad and Washington to discuss the possibility of averting war on Iraq which the United States accuses of supporting terrorism and possessing weapons of mass destruction.

The foreign minister of Lebanon announced shortly after Iraq's acceptance that President Emile Lahoud had decided to attend. Lebanon currently holds the Arab League presidency but was one of the holdouts at the summit,

Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud told reporters in Beirut the Arab leaders should adopt a unified stand that would reflect "the dangerous and delicate conditions" and "emphasize the need to protect Arab national security by all means."

"We should work for avoiding war (on Iraq)," he said. He stressed the need that the Arab summit sends "a strong message to where it should go and spare the region a war."

In Damascus, the official Syrian News Agency reported Wednesday that President Bashar Assad received Bahraini Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, whose country was to take over the summit presidency from Lebanon on Saturday. Their discussions included "joint efforts to solve the Iraqi issue by peaceful means and the role of Arab leaders in boosting such efforts at the summit meeting."

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority officials urged Arab League members to take firm Arab decisions against Israel — in effect, not to forget the plight of Palestinians in the midst of the Iraqi crisis.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, top aid to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said a Palestinian delegation headed to Egypt Wednesday afternoon. As last year, however, Arafat does not appear to be leading it.

Israel confined the Palestinian chief in his West Bank headquarters last year instead of traveling to Beirut, which forced him to deliver his address via a video conferencing system. What was presented as a technical problem prevented his speech from being broadcast live, though it was replayed later in the summit. Arafat is expected to address the summit this time through out the same system.

"The Palestinian leadership is urging Arab leaders to make serious decisions to be able to confront the Israeli challenges and the threats against Iraq that might lead to endanger the situation in the region," said Abu Rudeineh.


(With reporting by Dalal Saoud in Beirut and Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza.)

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