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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 15:16 GMT
Arab League summit plan on hold
Syrian protester marches dressed as Uncle Sam with skull and mock oil drum
Many Arabs support the view Iraq is a war for oil

Arab League foreign ministers, meeting in Cairo, have failed to reach agreement on a date for holding an emergency summit on the Iraq crisis.

A weekend of discussions in Cairo have ended with the divisions among Arab League states painfully exposed.

The deadlock came as chief UN nuclear inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, warned, in an interview with Egyptian television, that inspections in Iraq can't go on forever.

He said the Iraqi Government had to prove it had no weapons of mass destruction.

After two days of talks the foreign ministers were unable even to agree on a date for the heads of government summit proposed by the Egyptians, although the Arab League Secretary General, Amr Moussa, insisted the summit would go ahead.

Watered down

These difficulties are symptomatic of the fact the Arab League membership includes countries already in the US coalition, such as Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, and others deeply opposed to any war, not least of course, Iraq itself.

Syria put forward a draft resolution, calling on all Arab states to refrain from offering facilities to assist in any attack on Iraq.

That language was watered down in the final communique by those countries which are going to do exactly that.

And among those Arab states which do want to join in a desperate last-minute diplomatic effort to stop the war, there are divisions.

Some want to put more pressure on Baghdad and some want to put more pressure on Washington.

Syria's ambassador to the Arab League said these differences had to be thrashed out before any heads of government meeting could take place.

A meaningless summit, he said, would be a disaster for the Arab nation.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Wood reports from Cairo
"The League's Secretary General...tried to put an optimistic face on the contradictions"

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24 Jan 03 | Middle East
03 Dec 02 | In Depth
15 Feb 03 | Middle East
15 Feb 03 | Middle East
16 Jan 03 | Media reports
10 Nov 02 | Middle East
21 Sep 01 | Country profiles
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