- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Feb. 9 (UPI) — Egypt said Sunday that the upcoming summit of the Arab League will not ask Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to resign.

The decision against endorsing an earlier call by some Arab nations for Saddam to step down was taken at a summit of Egypt, Libya and Syria in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday.

"I don't think any Arab country would interfere in Iraq's internal affairs," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher told reporters in Sharm el-Sheikh after the mini-summit. "It is the Iraqi people who should decide who rules over their country."

The Arabs, however, want Iraq to display its "commitment to (U.N.) resolutions in order to resolve" the crisis, he said.

Maher said Arabs cannot discuss the proposal for seeking Saddam's resignation in the next summit of the 22-nation Arab League "because international norms and ethics do not allow interference in such matters."

Maher's comments followed a summit that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak hosted for Syrian President Bashar Assad and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss means to avert a possible U.S. military offensive against Iraq.

Media reports had earlier suggested that Arab leaders were considering a proposal to ask Saddam to leave Iraq and were willing to offer asylum to his family and close aides.

The minister said that no date had been fixed for the next Arab League summit, which Egypt is expected to host.

But Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mousa, who also attended the three-nation summit on Sunday along with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, said the summit could be held early next month.

Mousa insisted that U.N. inspectors in Iraq should be "given enough time to conclude their work as it would allow them to present a correct report before the Security Council."

Mubarak, however, said that only Saddam could prevent a war and it would be "a joke" to say that other Arab nations could stop the war without Saddam implementing the U.N. resolutions on disarmament.

Mubarak said that only the U.S. administration, U.S. Congress, U.N Security Council and the British parliament "are the ones who can decide whether to declare a war … We don't have anything."

The Arabs, he said, were consulting each other to save innocent Iraqi lives that would be lost in a war.

He said that he delivered a verbal message to Saddam on Friday on "the need for Iraq to cooperate with the U.N. inspectors … to avert the war as it will harm the entire Arab region."

Mubarak, however, said there was still a "ray of light," noting that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns would travel to the Middle East on Feb. 16, "which might clarify the U.S. administration's trend towards Iraq. Even if they attack Iraq, what would happen after that? This is a big question."

Arab consultations in recent weeks have focused on setting a date and agenda for the next Arab summit, which has been switched from Bahrain to Egypt.

Mubarak met with Jordan's King Abdullah in the Jordanian Red Sea port city of Aqaba on Saturday and later the two leaders called for resolving the Iraqi crisis peacefully under U.N. auspices. They also demanded more time for U.N. inspectors to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

On Monday, the Egyptian president is expected to discuss the issue with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, who is scheduled to stop over in Egypt en route home from the United States after a meeting with President George W. Bush.

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