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Baghdad refuses to OK Arab summit statement

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Zeina Karam
Associated Press / March 31, 2008

DAMASCUS - Iraq refused to endorse the final declaration of the Arab summit yesterday because it did not condemn terrorism in the country, a divisive end to a gathering marred by disputes and boycotts.

Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated government has long accused Sunni-led Arab governments of not taking a strong enough stance against Sunni Arab fighters who made up the backbone of Iraq's insurgency.

The Iraqi objections were aired when Arab League chief Amr Moussa read out the "Damascus Declaration" for the delegations to approve. The document called for "Iraqi brothers to stop bloodshed immediately and preserve the lives of innocent citizens" and for hastening the "end of the foreign presence" in Iraq.

"I express reservations on the text because this is not what we have agreed upon," Shi'ite Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi said. "It does not include the efforts of the Iraqi government for national reconciliation and it does not condemn terrorism and violence."

The two-day summit was controversial from the start. The leaders of three US-allied countries - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan - boycotted, accusing host country Syria of blocking the election of a new president in Lebanon. Lebanon sent no officials.

Arab leaders decided in 2000 to meet annually, hoping to encourage unity and confront the region's many troubles. But since then, almost every summit has been marred by low attendance, chaos, and walkouts.

Ten of the 22 Arab League heads of state stayed away from this year's summit. The summit ended with the leaders approving resolutions that were vague enough to please almost everyone, masking over the tough differences between the countries.

The leaders called on Israel to accept a 2002 Arab land-for-peace proposal and said "international momentum" from a US-hosted peace conference in November should be maintained.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas won key backing, with the Arab leaders saying his leadership should be respected. The statement said the situation in the Gaza Strip should "return to the status" before Abbas's Hamas rivals seized the territory in June.

The summit's final statement backed the Arab League compromise proposal for ending Lebanon's presidential dispute. It calls for Lebanon's army chief to be elected president and for a unity government to be formed.

But the summit may have only exacerbated Lebanon's crisis - a proxy struggle for influence between the United States and its Arab allies and Syria, which backs the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. During the summit, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, accused Syria of blocking the compromise proposal and called on the Arab League to punish Damascus.

President Bashar Assad of Syria acknowledged there were closed-door arguments over a wide range of problems in the region. But he insisted that was a sign of success.

"There was frankness, and the most important thing was that the frankness was accepted despite the differences at many times," he said in a speech yesterday.

Among the leaders who attended was Libya's Moammar Khadafy, who shocked and amused the delegations Saturday when he ridiculed a proposal for a joint nuclear program amid Arab disunity.

"How can we do that?" Khadafy said. "We hate each other."

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