- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

CAIRO, March 11 (UPI) — Egypt denied Tuesday that its foreign minister and four others from Arab countries would ask Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to step down during a visit to Baghdad announced for later this week.

Foreign Minister Safwat Sharif told reporters in Cairo that the committee, made up of the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia, as well as Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa, would abide by the resolutions of an Arab summit held in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh resort on March 1 and of an emergency summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference in Qatar on March 5.

Sharif described as baseless a report in the Tuesday issue of the London-based Arabic newspaper, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, that the six-man committee would ask Saddam to resign and go into exile.

Sharif said the committee, which was expected to meet Saddam and other Iraqi top officials during a visit to Baghdad on Thursday, will ask for more cooperation with U.N. disarmament inspectors so as to spare Iraq war.

According to press reports, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, met the committee members last week in New York and asked them to relay a message to Saddam that stepping down was the only way to avoid a U.S. war on Iraq.

The Sharm el-Sheikh summit declared its opposition to a war on Iraq and called on Baghdad to fully comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions, especially Resolution 1441, which calls for Baghdad to cooperate with the U.N. inspectors.

The Arab leaders ignored a proposal by the United Arab Emirates to call on Saddam to step down within two weeks in exchange for legal and financial guarantees for him and his family to spare the region the looming U.S. war on Iraq.

Kuwait and Bahrain subsequently backed the United Arab Emirates' proposal, the only Arabs countries to do so.

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