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EU May Join Arab League's Efforts to Avert Iraq War - 2003-02-04

With the threat of war with Iraq looming, Arab officials are increasing their efforts to prevent armed conflict. The Arab League has announced plans to hold its annual summit sooner than had been scheduled and has raised the possibility of sending a last-ditch peace mission to Baghdad. The Arab League has confirmed that it will hold its annual summit earlier than had been planned because of the threat of war against Iraq.

The summit had been scheduled for late March in Bahrain but Arab League spokesman Hisham Yousef says the 22-member organization is currently in the process of what he described as "intense discussions" to hold the summit possibly in late February or early March. He says a final decision will likely be reached when the League's foreign ministers meet later this month.

"Probably by the 16th or 17th of February. This is when the foreign ministers will probably meet," he said. "Then they will discuss all aspects of the situation including the preparations for the summit and then by that time they will probably have firmed up a possible date for the summit."

Mr. Yousef says the summit could produce a possible Arab peace mission to Baghdad in what he said would be "one last effort" to convince Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to make every effort to avert war.

Speaking in Beirut Tuesday, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said the European Union could join a possible Arab peace mission. Greece currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, and Mr. Papandreou is on a tour of the region to discuss the Iraqi crisis.

Other efforts to avert war are underway in the Arab world. Jordan's King Abdullah travels to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. It was also announced that the Jordanian king will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at an unspecified date to discuss the ramifications of possible war against Iraq.

In Baghdad, U.N. arms inspectors visited about a dozen locations, including a missile engine testing facility, a plant that makes solid fuel for missiles, a chemical complex and a water purification station.

Meanwhile, senior Iraqi officials say they are working to remove any obstacles to the inspection process and are, among other things, considering the use of non-Iraqis as witnesses to sit in on interviews with Iraqi scientists. The U.N. inspectors say that so far, no Iraqi scientist has agreed to be interviewed unless an Iraqi official is present during the interview.