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Last Updated:  Saturday, 1 March, 2003, 13:26 GMT
Exile proposed for Saddam
Arab League summit
The Arab League is an important forum but wields little power

An Arab country has made the first official call for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to go into exile in order to avert a US-led invasion.

The United Arab Emirates submitted the proposal in a letter to the crisis summit on Iraq being held by Arab leaders in Egypt.

It would mean Saddam Hussein and the rest of the Iraqi leadership leaving their country within 14 days in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Iraq would then be put under the control of the United Nations and the Arab League.

President Saddam earlier this week dismissed suggestions that he should go into exile.

Saddam Hussein
We will die in this country [Iraq] and we will maintain our honour
Saddam Hussein

Speaking in an interview with veteran US television journalist Dan Rather, he said he would die in Iraq.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley says the UAE proposal is something of a diplomatic bombshell amid all the summit niceties and talk of Arab unity.

It seems certain, she reports from the summit, to deepen the divisions at this summit, where Arab leaders have been struggling to come up with a common stand.

Arabs divided over US action

The summit began on Saturday in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with a strong anti-war message.

"We oppose a war against Iraq or any other Arab country and will regard it as a threat to the whole Arab nation," Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said in the opening speech.

At the same time, he urged Iraq to "continue its co-operation with the United Nations in order not to provide any pretext that would lead to a war".

Arab League
Has 22 members ranging from Kuwait to Sudan
Includes "Palestine", which it recognises as an independent state
Its resolutions are only binding on those members who vote for them

Foreign ministers preparing for the summit struggled to reach a compromise on a draft resolution on the eve of the Arab League meeting.

Syria, backed by a handful of other countries, has been pushing for a strong stand.

The Syrians say war can only be averted if the Arabs deny the United States the use of their territory to launch an attack.

But Iraq's neighbours in the Gulf are already hosting more than 200,000 American and British troops poised for war.

Consequently, our correspondent says, Gulf countries are not going to agree to a resolution which can only embarrass them.

Under the Arab League's system of rotation, Bahrain took over the League's presidency on Saturday from Lebanon.

Limited options

It is thought the most likely compromise is one that will call for a peaceful resolution and urge Iraq to co-operate more fully with the weapons inspectors.

Abdiqasim Salad Hassan of Somalia (L) talks to Syrian President Bashar Assad
Syria is urging Arab states to close their borders to Western troops
There is also talk of sending Arab delegations to Baghdad, Washington and the United Nations.

The Arabs are desperate to avoid this war as they fear it will unleash popular anger and they do not like the precedent of regime change by American force.

But, our correspondent says, they know they can neither defy the US nor influence Saddam Hussein.

Iraq is represented at the summit by a senior official, Ezzat Ibrahim.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"This will only deepen the divisions at this summit"




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