- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 29 (UPI) — Lebanese Foreign Minster Mahmoud Hammoud Wednesday characterized Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's decisive victory at the polls a step away from peace, while calling on the United Nations to be the final authority in the escalating Iraq crisis.

Arab foreign ministers still are considering a meeting to discuss a possible U.S. war on Iraq, Hammoud said.

Commenting on President Bush's State of the Union speech Tuesday in which he said Iraq remains a grave danger, Hammoud confirmed that "the peaceful solution is what is required and the best not only for the countries in the region but to peace in the world."

He said a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis was also to protect "the interests of all big or small countries."

Hammoud said the United Nations, especially the Security Council, should remain the authority in resolving disputes.

He reiterated rejection of any aggression against an Arab country as it was unanimously adopted at the March Arab summit held in Beirut.

On Sharon's sweeping victory in the Israeli general elections, Hammoud said, "this confirms that Israel is not ready or does not wish to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on the international resolutions."

However, he noted Arabs were still committed to the peace initiative adopted at the Beirut summit, which proposed complete peace with Israeli in exchange for a full withdrawal from occupied Arab territories.

He called on the international community to restore Palestinian rights and allow them establish their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Lebanese House Speaker Nabih Berri said Sharon's victory "did not surprise anyone but what was not expected is this large Israeli support of war."

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