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Arafat Opts Out of Arab League Summit - 2002-03-26

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he will not attend the Arab League Summit. Earlier, Egypt announced that President Hosni Mubarak will not attend the summit that begins Wednesday in Lebanon. But representatives from 22 Arab League member nations are arriving in Beirut with plans to discuss a Saudi Middle East peace initiative.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa has said the Saudi peace initiative will be introduced at the summit regardless of whether the Palestinian leader attends.

The Saudi proposal offers Israel full Arab recognition and normalization of relations in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from Arab territories occupied since 1967. It also calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

It is expected the Saudi peace plan will become the highlight of this year's summit. But the word "normalization" is being disputed as the term used to describe future Arab relations with Israel.

A proposal is being made by hardline Arab states to sever all ties with Israel until it ends its violence against the Palestinians. But Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa was quoted as saying, "the outcome of the summit will be a very clear statement of position insofar as peace is concerned."

The first delegation to arrive in Beirut was the vice chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council, Izzat Ibrahim. He is representing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein at the summit.

Iraq wants the Arab League to oppose a possible U.S.-led attack against Iraq, but there may be opposition from Kuwait.

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah has said Kuwait plans to demand that Iraq must first admit it was wrong for the 1991 invasion of Kuwait, guarantee Kuwait's sovereignty, pledge non-aggression, and account for 600 people missing since U.S.-led forces ended Iraq's occupation in 1991.

But there is overwhelming Arab support for a proposal that would condemn a possible U.S.-led attack against Iraq.

Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi has said he will not attend the summit. Last year, he came up with his own Arab-Israeli peace proposal that called for Israel to destroy its weapons of mass destruction and to allow the return of all Palestinian refugees.

The ailing leaders of Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are sending representatives to this year's meeting.