Arabs say Iraq likely to approve resolution from U.N.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

CAIRO, Egypt -- Egypt's foreign minister said early today he expected Iraq to accept the U.N. resolution to disarm, but his Iraqi counterpart said "no decision has been taken."

Ahmed Maher spoke after his Iraqi counterpart briefed members of the Arab League in Cairo.

"I think we can expect a positive position by the Iraqis," the Egyptian said.

Several other Arab diplomats said Iraq had in effect already accepted the resolution, but Baghdad's envoy said Saddam Hussein was studying the U.N. measure, which requires him to eliminate weapons of mass destruction or face serious consequences.

The United States and Britain have threatened military action against Iraq if Baghdad does not fully comply with the U.N. resolution.

"No decision has been taken," Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told reporters at the Arab League meeting.

Saddam remained silent on Friday's unanimously adopted Security Council resolution, but the official Iraqi news agency kept up an Iraqi barrage of criticism of the United States for pushing through the strongly worded resolution, calling the document "bad and unjust."

"The whole world knows that the approval of this resolution was a result of U.S. blackmail and pressure exerted on the Security Council members," Baghdad's satellite TV channel said.

Sabri said, however, that in the long negotiations over passage the international community succeeded in diluting U.S. plans for aggression on Iraq.

Peaceful protest

Meanwhile, in Italy, hundreds of thousands of people marched through Florence Saturday in a peaceful protest against U.S. policy in Iraq as well as globalization, the subject of a forum being held in the city. Police said about 450,000 from all over Europe took part but organizers estimated the crowd at more than 800,000.

In Washington, President Bush applauded the 15-0 vote Friday, saying the resolution "presents the Iraqi regime with a test, a final test."

"This was an important week for our country and for the world," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

Bush said Iraq must now cooperate with U.N. inspectors and dismantle its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capabilities.

The Pentagon already is moving forces into position to ensure that it will be capable of launching swift strikes into Iraq, should Bush decide on war.

The New York Times reported Saturday on its Web site that Bush has approved a Pentagon plan for invading Iraq, should the new U.N. arms inspection effort fail.

Several White House officials reached Saturday declined to comment on the report, but defense officials said on condition of anonymity that the plan calls for a land, sea and air force of 200,000 to 250,000 troops, at least twice the number initially considered.

Arab officials and commentators said the resolution -- revised to satisfy French and Russian concerns -- had at least set back the chance of war. But some expressed fear that Washington still could use the document as an excuse to attack Baghdad at the earliest opportunity.

The Syrian foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, told Arab ministers Saturday that he received assurances from Security Council members that the resolution does not entail an automatic use of force, Maher said. Al-Sharaa did not speak to reporters after the meeting.

But as Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal left the Arab meeting Saturday shortly before midnight, he said, "I think everyone welcomed transferring the issue to the Security Council.

"And they welcomed Iraq's approval of this resolution with the confirmation that Syria received that there would be no automatic military action," he said.

Maher also said that the Iraqi acceptance would depend on the guarantees that "inspectors would act in a neutral ... and objective way, respecting strictly all the resolutions of the Security Council particularly those with regard to the respect of Iraqi sovereignty."

Spy accusation

Iraq had accused inspectors who were in the country during 1991-1998 of acting as spies.

The new resolution gives inspectors unrestricted access to any site, and that could remain a point of dispute. Iraq insists on respect for its sovereignty, an argument it has used in the past to restrict access to Saddam's palaces.

Maher said he hoped the resolution would avoid another war. "I think this resolution is an opening for everybody to avoid a dangerous situation and to put an end to the crisis."

Political analyst Abdel Moneim Said of Egypt's Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies said it would help Arab efforts to persuade Iraq to accept U.N. demands and avoid a war that could oust Saddam's regime.

"The issue was redefined as an issue of weapons of mass destruction, and no longer a regime change," he said. "Iraqis know that any little mistake will cost them a war."

Jordanian political analyst Labib Kamhawi said Bush would see the resolution and the GOP victory in congressional elections as erasing the last obstacles to a war to topple Saddam.

"He believes that he has his mandate both from his people and the United Nations to launch his war on Iraq," Kamhawi said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: