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Arab League Meeting Adjourns Without Unified Agreement on Reforms - 2004-03-04

Foreign ministers from Arab League nations say they have not come to an agreement on plans for political reform in the Middle East.

Arab League secretary Amr Moussa says the ministers decided to put off further discussions about reform until the Arab League Summit in a few weeks.

Mr. Moussa said many ideas for political reform in the Arab world and reorganization of the Arab League were discussed during the four-day meeting in Cairo. But he said those discussions will have to continue.

Analysts had anticipated progress on a political reform program for the Middle East, after Egypt introduced a pair of proposals, partly in response to U.S. proposals the Arab nations do not like.

One of Egypt's proposals was designed to make the Arab League more effective. The other was to create a regional plan for political changes, driven by countries in the Middle East, to counter the American proposal known as the Greater Middle East Initiative.

The deputy director of Cairo's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Mohammed El-Sayed Said, says external pressures may have made sorting out the details impossible.

"The American influence is a great shadow on the prospect of reaching consensus on the way to reform the Arab League. Even though the general ideas are more or less acceptable to all Arab states, the details are not," he said.

Mr. Said also says the Arab League makes decisions by consensus. Every country has veto power over any potential resolution, which can make progress impossible.

"The general tendency within the Arab League regional system is to always keep to this rule of general consensus," he explained, "which is seen by many to be a big hindrance to the evolution of a stronger regional system."

Officials say the next chance for agreement on the reform ideas will be at the Arab League Summit in Tunis at the end of this month.