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Arab Summit May Be Canceled Over Libya-Lebanese Shiite Dispute - 2002-01-11

An Arab League summit is scheduled for Beirut in March, but there is speculation that the summit may not take place. League officials are confirming that discussions are under way to resolve a problem that could threaten the summit. The problem involves Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and Lebanese Shiites.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said that the summit will be held, as scheduled, in Beirut, but some Arabs are raising strong objections.

Lebanese Shiites are asking that the summit be postponed, while Muammar Gadhafi wants it moved from Beirut to Cairo. He has let it be known that if the summit is not moved, he may not attend.

Lebanon's powerful Shiite community and the Libyan regime are feuding over the disappearance of Lebanese Shiite spiritual leader Imam Mussa Sadr during a trip to Libya in 1978.

Lebanese Shiites have for years been demanding that Libya explain what happened to him, something that Libya has failed to do.

Senior Arab League officials have confirmed discussions are under way between Cairo, Tripoli, Beirut and other Arab capitals to resolve the problem so the summit can take place as scheduled. Postponing the summit or moving it to another location, analysts say, would embarrass the league.

Abdel Moneim Said is the head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, which researches Arab issues ranging from politics and economics to religion.

According to Mr. Said, if the Arab League is to be taken seriously, it must try to find a way to resolve the dispute between Tripoli and the Shiites. Holding the annual summit as scheduled, he said, is a test of how well Arabs can run their own affairs.

"This kind of mechanism called for some kind of optimism that probably Arabs can solve their problems, even over a period of time because of these kinds of regular meetings. Now, by putting this issue in question in terms of meeting, altogether, or meeting in another place, will really affect the legitimacy of the whole thing," he said.

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri said Friday the Arab League would do everything possible to quote, "smooth out the difficulties which could prevent Mr. Gadhafi from attending the summit."

Also on Friday Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said the summit in Beirut will be held as scheduled unless, he said, a differing Arab consensus should develop.