- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa called on Arab leaders yesterday to move toward a goal of “entering the nuclear club” and making use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.

The absence of at least 10 heads of state, including President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, raised concerns of a lackluster summit in a year in which many had hoped to see serious efforts at dealing with regional troubles.

The 22-member Arab League is contending with complex issues involving Iraq’s future and how to deal with a Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories.

The U.S. State Department has urged Arab leaders to “be as supportive as possible of the new Iraqi government” by sending ambassadors and providing economic assistance to Baghdad.

For their part, Arab governments — already suspicious of non-Arab Iran — have been irritated by plans for talks on Iraq between Iranian and U.S. officials.

Mr. Moussa was particularly emphatic about Iraq in his address.

“Any solution for the Iraqi problem cannot be reached without Arabs, and Arab participation,” he said. “Any result of consultations without Arab participation will be considered insufficient and will not lead to a solution.”

Mr. Moussa called on Arabs “to enter into the nuclear club and make use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” a plea that comes as the world is wary about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In his opening speech, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, host of last year’s summit, called on Iraqis to close ranks to avoid a sectarian conflict pitting the country’s Shi’ite majority against the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority.

Iraq’s neighbors, he said, should “honestly cooperate with the Iraqi people to preserve the country’s integrity and unity.”

Summit host, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, used his opening speech to praise Palestinian elections and denounce Israel and Western countries that have threatened to cut off aid in response to the victory of the militant Hamas.

“We say no to robbing the Palestinian people of their democratic choice, no to punishing the Palestinian people for exercising their right to choose who rules, and no to succumbing to Israel’s violations of all the promises it made,” he said, winning the applause of the audience of heads of state and delegates.

Hamas’ landslide election victory in January has raised fears of a halt in the Mideast peace process. Yesterday, in Gaza City, Hamas moved a step closer to taking power, winning overwhelming parliamentary approval — 71-36 — for its 25-member Cabinet.

The United States and European Union have threatened to cut direct financial aid vital to keeping the Palestinian Authority running, and Washington has pressed its Arab allies to follow suit.

However, a resolution to be adopted by the leaders meeting in Khartoum will pledge continued Arab funding for the Palestinian Authority.


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