Global Policy Forum

Arab Leaders End Meeting in Disarray


By Neil Mc Farquhar

New York Times
March 29, 2001

The meeting of Arab leaders billed as a step toward regional harmony pledged new financial support for the Palestinian government today, but the arguments on lifting United Nations sanctions against Iraq collapsed in bitterness.

The two-day meeting, an attempt to resume regularly scheduled annual gatherings for the first time since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, ended with the two countries trading accusations of who was responsible for the failure."The Kuwaiti delegation sought to prevent the summit from coming up with a resolution that would open the door to lifting the embargo," against Iraq, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi foreign minister, told a news conference.

The Kuwaitis, while agreeing with other nations that sanctions imposed against Iraq after the invasion should end, refused to accept any Arab League resolution that lacked an explicit Iraqi promise not to threaten Kuwait again. While Saudi Arabia backed Kuwait on the issue, Mr. Sahhaf of Iraq, said, "It's not from Iraq that the British and U.S. aircraft attack Iraq every day, killing Iraqi people and violating our sovereignty." Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti foreign minister, who headed his country's delegation, said, "Iraq has caused the Arab summit to fail and not Kuwait."

Iraq demanded that Arab leaders break the sanctions, condemn allied air patrols over Iraq and resume regular civilian flights to Baghdad. Mediators including King Abdullah of Jordan and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt worked until the last minute trying to bridge the differences between the two sides. But officials said that the Iraqis balked at language demanding that they fulfill United Nations resolutions passed after the Persian Gulf war.

On the question of support for the Palestinian Authority, officials said that leaders of the 22-member Arab League had agreed to lend them $40 million per month for the next six months. They had pledged $1 billion in aid last October, but little of it was paid because of misgivings over corruption in the Palestinian Authority.

Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, said he was pleased with the new pledges as well as other decisions at the meeting. These included resolutions condemning Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, a demand that Israel sign the treaty on the spread of nuclear weapons and a call for Arab states to avoid economic ties with Israel.

Despite the condemnations of Israel, the Arab leaders also voiced support for peace negotiations. The final communiqué said they were committed to the idea of peace in the Middle East based on the idea of exchanging land for peace.

The Authority is supposed to receive $65 million monthly from the Israeli government, representing items like customs duties and payroll taxes, said Saeb Erekat, a member of the Palestinian delegation.

That money has not been disbursed since October, when violence between the two sides rekindled. Mr. Erekat said that the withheld tax money usually went to pay the salaries of 114,000 government employees as well as for health, education and other services. In passing, the Arab leaders also welcomed an Iraqi pledge to donate nearly $1 billion to the Palestinians, although the Security Council, which must approve the spending of Baghdad's oil earnings, has rejected the proposal.

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