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Arab League Summit to Meet Saturday Despite Delay Requests - 2003-02-24

Even though Lebanon and Syria say they are in favor of an Iraqi request to delay the upcoming Arab League summit by two weeks, Arab League officials say the summit will be held Saturday.

The Arab League will go ahead with plans to hold its summit Saturday at the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, despite Baghdad's request that it be delayed two weeks.

Arab League spokesman Hisham Yousef told VOA that Iraq made the request because it is concerned about complying with a "much faster pace of demands" being made by weapons inspectors. He says Iraq is trying to assure Arab states it is doing all it can to comply with Security Council Resolution 1441.

"They were asking for the delay because they have all kinds of obligations in relation to the inspections, and they wanted to dedicate their efforts in the coming few days, probably week or two, in order to satisfy the requests coming from the inspectors," Mr. Yousef said. "And this would also be in accordance with requests coming from Arab governments, to Iraq, to continue to cooperate with the terms of the inspections in order to implement Security Council Resolution 1441." Mr. Yousef says Arab states have already agreed to convene the summit Saturday. The decision stands even though Syria and Lebanon endorsed the Iraqi call for a delay. He said the summit, among other things, may call for an Arab peace mission to Baghdad in an effort to avoid war.

In the meantime, weapons inspectors continue their inventory of Iraq's al-Samoud-2 missiles that chief weapons inspector Hans Blix says can fly beyond a U.N.-mandated limit of 150 kilometers.

Mr. Blix has ordered the missiles destroyed, beginning Saturday, despite Iraq's contention their range is below the mandated limit once they are loaded with guidance and control systems, and warheads.

General Hossam Mohammad Amin of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate said a decision on whether to destroy the missiles, of which Iraq says it has about 100, would be made "quite soon."

While the inspectors hunted for weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi officials were meeting with South African disarmament experts. The South African team arrived in Baghdad to lend its expertise in the disarmament process.

U.N. officials have cited South Africa as a model of disarmament after it voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons during the 1980s.