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Arab League Leaders Reach Agreement on Basic Reforms - 2004-03-03

Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo have reached agreement on some basic principles for reforming the organization, but officials acknowledge detailed changes will take time.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher says a comprehensive project to reform the Arab League will be released later this month.

Arab League Spokesman Hossam Zaki declined to give specifics, but he said the ministers are looking toward more unity in economic and decision-making matters, and want to give the organization more authority.

"What has been agreed all revolves around the issue of compliance with the resolutions of the league and the credibility of its decisions and meetings and so on," said Mr. Zaki. "And it has a good set of goals for accelerated economic cooperation and integration among Arab countries."

The Arab League has been criticized for ineffectiveness and discord among its members in recent years. Many attempts at significant reform have failed.

A professor of political science at American University in Cairo, Walid Kazziha, says, this time may be different, because of American and European calls for democratic reform in the region.

"These countries feel themselves under tremendous pressure from the outside, and, therefore, they would like to close the ranks by now looking at the Arab League as an instrument, in which they can re-unify policies and implement them," Mr. Kazziha said.

The secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said good progress was made during two days of talks among officials from League member states, but he added that real reform could take some time.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria introduced a proposal that calls for the creation of new bodies within the Arab League. Some would focus on security and economic cooperation, others would formally approve and implement Arab League decisions.

Professor Kazziha says those three countries may be powerful enough to push the reforms through at the Arab League summit later this month.

"I think they will do something in the form of taking away the obstacles that existed before towards having unified decisions implemented," he said. "I imagine when these three countries come together determined to do that, they will be able to carry the rest behind them."

Foreign ministers from the 22 members of the Arab League are continuing their meetings in Cairo to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in Iraq and various plans to promote political reform in the Middle East.

Many Arab nations have rejected the U.S. proposal to promote democracy in the Middle East, saying change cannot be imposed from the outside.