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Arab League Secretary-General Cancels Trip to Baghdad - 2003-03-18

A last Arab attempt to avert war in Iraq has been called off.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa has canceled a trip to Baghdad in which he was to meet with President Saddam Hussein in a final effort to avoid war.

Arab League spokesman Hisham Yousef told VOA the decision was made Tuesday morning, after President Bush gave the Iraqi leader and his sons 48 hours to leave Iraq or face certain war.

Mr. Yousef said the visit became impossible to take because of what he described as dramatically unfolding events in the region. The spokesman said it had been hoped Mr. Moussa's trip would help avert war even after President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam Hussein.

"We believe that it is a loss. And it would have been beneficial for this exchange to take place. And it might be somewhat late, but that's the situation," he said.

Mr. Moussa was to have visited Baghdad last Friday along with a group of senior Arab diplomats, but that trip was canceled at the request of Baghdad.

Mr. Yousef said the Arab League rejects President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam Hussein and accuses Mr. Bush of acting outside of international legality.

The Arab League spokesman said Arab states cannot accept such a final warning and said Security Council resolution 1441 does not contain a time limit. He said Iraq was cooperating in the inspection process and accused the United States of being intent on ending diplomacy despite what he called a real opportunity for a peaceful settlement.

Secretary General Amr Moussa, in an interview Tuesday with the Middle East News Agency, said while he believes the United States failed to respect the U.N. Security Council by failing to allow the weapons inspectors more time, he said it is now in the interest of Arab states to work with U.S. officials to resolve issues of concern to the Arab world.

Mr. Moussa cited the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, terrorism, and conflicts between civilizations as issues that need to be "clearly defined" in an effort to improve Arab-American relations.

To do otherwise, he said, would only lead to constant confrontation with what he said was the only superpower.