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Arab League Expected to Issue Anti-War Statement - 2003-02-28

While political analysts believe there will be heated debate during Saturday's Arab League summit in Egypt, most say in the end, the Arab League will issue the same kind of anti-war statement it has issued before.

The Arab League, is facing a difficult task. Representatives of the 22 member organization are trying to maintain close ties with Washington and the west while facing an angry Arab public that is demanding its leaders do whatever is necessary to avert a possible U.S. led attack against Iraq.

The Arab League is also facing division among its own members. Several Arab countries would like the League to adopt a resolution banning any Arab state from providing assistance to U.S. forces in a war against Iraq. But such a resolution is not likely given the fact that several states including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar have already given American and British troops access to their territories.

Some political analysts say the large variety of countries in the League, and their often vastly different interests, have made the organization impotent to influence international policies.

The Arab League has repeatedly issued statements and resolutions condemning any military action against Baghdad, but has also called for full Iraqi cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors. Arab League spokesman Hisham Yousef told VOA the League is likely to produce a similar statement following Saturday's summit.

"We have indicated, time and time again, that the Arab world is against war," he said. "And it will want to see a political settlement to this issue, and have also urged Iraq to continue with implementation of Security Council resolutions."

The head of Cairo's al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Abdel Moneim Said, thinks the Arab League will try to adopt a resolution similar to one being proposed by at the United Nations by France and Germany, calling for more time for U.N. weapons inspectors to complete their mission.

"Number one is to have a common Arab position in this crisis. Number two is to support efforts that's trying, not to end the war option but to postpone it, hoping that if we have more time then we'll have more opportunities. So, that's the second value of this summit," he said.

But in the end, political science professor Walid Kazziha sees the League, once again, trying to balance the concerns of the Arab public with the need of Arab states to maintain their relationships with the United States and the west.

"I think they will have a compromised statement in which they would express, in the first part of it, that the Arab world, the Arab nation, definitely doesn't see any benefit in a war against Iraq," he said. "And the second part of it would say that we urge Iraq to respond to all Security Council resolutions and cooperate fully with the inspectors. That gives governments the pretext to tell their own public opinion that we have declared ourselves against the war in Iraq and at the same time they could tell the United States and Europe that we've also put pressure on Saddam to respond to the Security Council."

While analysts say they expect heated debate during the summit, Arab leaders have expressed frustration that they may not be able to force Saddam Hussein to cooperate with the inspectors, or to prevent an invasion of Iraq if he does not.