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Analysis: Leaders of Arab League Nations in Egypt Discuss Averting War in Iraq

Weekend Edition Saturday: March 1, 2003

United Arab Emirates Proposes Saddam Exile Deal


Now Arab leaders are meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, this weekend. They are still trying to figure out a way legislatively to avert a war. Members of the 22-nation Arab League are gathering there for a one-day summit and they have drafted a communique. Our Michael Sullivan is in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Michael, thanks for being with us.


Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And what can you tell us about the meeting today?

SULLIVAN: Well, the final communique is about what we expected. The Arab League members stated their opposition to any war against Iraq. They said they wanted more time for inspections to work, but also called on Saddam Hussein to abide by all UN resolutions. In addition, the resolution called on Arab countries not to participate in any war, if one begins. Now that falls short of what some longtime US foes, such as Syria and Iraq, wanted. They wanted those countries hosting US forces to kick them out. But, obviously, Kuwait, Bahrain and the Saudis weren't going to do that, so the resolution is basically a compromise.

SIMON: Now it would still permit, as it's read by people in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, for them to permit to use their soil as a staging area for military activities?

SULLIVAN: It gives them political cover for doing so, yes.

SIMON: What about what we're told was the kind of surprise move by the United Arab Emirates to call for Saddam Hussein to leave power?

SULLIVAN: That proposal was floated by the United Arab Emirates earlier today, and it came as a surprise to many people. The leader of the UAE called on Saddam Hussein to step down within 14 days and to go into exile in order to avoid a war. Under the proposal, his top aides were to have gone with him, and he would not have faced any future prosecution for any alleged misdeeds. This was the first time that a public call has been issued by an Arab head of state for Saddam to step down, which is significant, but in the end there is no mention of it in the final communique whatsoever.

SIMON: Michael, was the meeting contentious?

SULLIVAN: Mm, at the beginning of the meeting, things seemed to be going fairly well, but a few hours in, things did get a little contentious. In fact, after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi finished speaking, he and the Saudi representative, Prince Abdullah, got into a little bit of a tiff, and Prince Abdullah actually walked out after the exchange with Gadhafi, during which Gadhafi criticized Saudi Arabia for allowing US forces to be based on Saudi soil. The row got heated and the crown prince did walk out, but he later returned. But the whole episode just highlights the divisions here at the Arab League, and the fact that around this table today sat Arab leaders who are bitterly opposed to the US presence in the region, and across the table from them sat others who are not only allies of the US but have, as you mentioned, agreed to allow us to use their territory as bases for any future attack.

SIMON: Michael, did you get the impression that the 22 leaders of Arab states who were gathered there in Sharm el-Sheikh today believe that they have any influence that can be wielded at this point to avert a war, either by applying pressure to Saddam Hussein to leave or convincing the United States and the United Kingdom to establish a more generous timetable? Any options they have?

SULLIVAN: I don't think that the leaders here realistically believed that they had any real options for convincing either Saddam Hussein to step down or convincing the US and Britain to give Saddam Hussein more time to comply with UN resolutions. I mean, basically, the Arab League knows that it has very little power, but I think the best that they thought they could hope for is that they add their collective voice, which they did today in this resolution, to that of the French and the Germans and all the other countries who are calling on the US to give Saddam Hussein more time, to give the inspectors more time to see if this thing can work, and more time for Saddam Hussein to do what he's promised and failed to do so far.

SIMON: Michael, thank you very much.

SULLIVAN: You're quite welcome, Scott.

SIMON: NPR's Michael Sullivan speaking with us from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the site of the 22-nation Arab League meeting today.

And it's now 18 minutes past the hour.

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