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Arab Debate Over Iraqi Governing Council Nearing Crucial Moment - 2003-09-08

The debate over just how the Arab world will deal with Iraq's new U.S.-backed governing council is coming to a crucial moment.

Newly appointed Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari does not have an invitation to the meeting of Arab League foreign ministers scheduled to begin on Tuesday. But Mr. Zebari is in Cairo and has announced his intention to claim the Arab League's vacant Iraq seat.

League ministers are due to debate the status of the Iraqi membership at a preliminary meeting. But league officials have said there is no set deadline for a decision. The issue of the Arab League's stance toward the Iraqi Governing Council could have major implications for Arab diplomacy.

Analysts say formal recognition by the league would make it politically possible for other Arab countries to begin officially dealing with the council. So far, diplomats from a handful of Arab countries have met with its representatives, and Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have both lobbied the Arab League to endorse the council. But most Arab countries have been reluctant to go any further.

The league has maintained a certain diplomatic distance from the Iraqi Council, refusing to grant formal recognition and also welcoming representatives of anti-council Iraqi groups. But Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa recently hinted that the league may have no alternative but to eventually include the Iraqi Council that was installed by the coalition that ousted Saddam Hussein.