04 September 2002
Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and the collapse of Sudanese peace talks are dominating the discussions in Cairo during a two-day meeting of Arab League foreign ministers. At the same time, three key U.S. Arab allies have expressed support for a European plan for Palestinian-Israeli peace.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa wasted little time in his opening statement making clear the Arab position regarding Iraq.
Mr. Moussa said, "the critical challenge facing us now is the threat directed toward Iraq." He went on to say, "this constitutes a danger to the stability of the entire region."
Mr. Moussa also said Arab states are urging Iraq to work with the United Nations and allow the return of weapons inspectors. He said Iraq could then move on to discussions about trade sanctions being lifted and its territorial integrity guaranteed.
The meeting of foreign ministers from 22 Arab League states is held twice a year, but this meeting, according to several foreign ministers, has taken on new importance because of the potential threat of a U.S.-led attack against Iraq, the intensified Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the breakdown of peace talks aimed at ending 19 years of civil war in Sudan.
Several foreign ministers called for the quick return of peace negotiations following the Sudanese government's decision Monday to break off the talks after rebels seized a strategically important town in southeastern Sudan. Government troops were dispatched in an effort to regain control. Arab League sources say the two-day meeting will likely produce a final statement position against a military attack against Iraq or any Arab state and call for the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq. The sources say a statement of condemnation of Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian territories should also be expected.
Earlier Wednesday, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia expressed keen interest in a new plan for peace in the Palestinian-Israeli crisis that envisions creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. The plan was drawn up by Denmark and was endorsed by the European Union.
Among other things it calls for a new Palestinian constitution, negotiations on a state with provisional borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state within the next three years. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher called the plan "a roadmap that allows the parties to work for a solution that covers all aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including Syria and Lebanon."