Mideast Officials Seek Last-Ditch Peace
SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt (AP)_ Mideast foreign ministers called for Arab states to make a last-ditch peace mission to avoid war in Iraq, according to an agreement reached early Saturday setting the agenda for a crisis summit.
But some of the officials voiced opposition to suggestions that Arab leaders try to convince Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to leave office, despite advice from the United States and the feeling among many in the region that it’s the only way to avert war.
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ministers also recommended to summit leaders to reject any attack on Iraq that is not sanctioned by the United Nations.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the foreign ministers had managed to come to unanimous agreement, but offered no details.
``It does send a message to all concerned that we cannot support military action against Iraq and that we are for the full implementation of the (U.N.) Security Council resolutions,″ Moussa said.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Arab leaders to emerge from their summit with a call on Saddam to ``step down and get out of the way and let some responsible leadership take over in Baghdad.″
But Egypt, which was the main force behind moving up the annual summit of Arab leaders, underlined that the Arab League could not issue such a call.
``We are not in the business of changing the regime of one country or another,″ Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said. ``We can only ask all parties to abide by international resolutions in order to avoid war.″
Privately, however, Arab diplomats said the idea has been under informal discussion ahead of the summit at this Red Sea resort.
Diplomats had said the summit may send a high-level delegation to Baghdad carrying a message to Saddam with vague suggestions he quit.
Many Arab leaders are convinced the United States is determined to topple Saddam. If they were to move to get him to step down peacefully, they would be in a better position to help shape the profound changes to the region expected from a war.
But after two days of debate, the foreign ministers could not decide whether such a group should also go to the United States and Europe to stress the need to resolve the crisis peacefully.
Jordan Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher told The Associated Press that whatever the mission of such a delegation, it would be decided by the heads of Arab states.
The heads of state also will have to choose between two proposals addressing what role Arabs might play in any war, diplomats said on condition of anonymity. One calls on Arabs not to take part themselves in any attack; a second bars Arabs from allowing the United States to use their territory as a staging ground.
The Arab world has been deeply divided by the U.S.-Iraq confrontation. Some countries, like Kuwait, argue that war is inevitable and say the focus should be on planning for the aftermath. A second camp, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, argues war can be avoided if Iraq cooperates fully with U.N. weapons inspectors.
While Arab leaders have conceded they can do little to stop the United States if it decides to go to war, the summit allows them to show their citizens that they are doing all they can to avert a war.
Friday, thousands of people participated in anti-war protests in Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen.
Some observers say Arab leaders were acting too little and too slow to position themselves. Makram Ahmed Mohammed, editor of the Egyptian weekly Al-Mousawar, said the Arabs should try to get Saddam to step down peacefully so as to minimize U.S. involvement.
If Saddam leaves, ``Iraq will be saved from the humility of occupation and the area from evil dangers,″ Mohammed wrote in the magazine’s latest issue.