Sunday, March 26, 2006

Fears of Iran's Role in Iraq Loom Over Arab Summit
Fears of an increasing Iranian role in Iraq appeared to loom over the annual summit of Arab leaders as the Arab League chief warned Saturday of marginalising the Arab role in the war-torn country. Foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab League started Saturday a two-day preparatory meeting ahead of Tuesday's annual summit in the Sudanese capital.

A resolution stressing the necessity "of not marginalising the Arab role in drawing the future of Iraq under any condition," will be discussed by the leaders, Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa said. READ MORE

"I don't think any dialogue taking place behind the Iraqis' and Arabs' backs can be fruitful," Mussa said, alluding to pending direct talks between Iran and the United States over Iraq.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday she was "quite certain" that direct talks would take place with Iran on the turmoil in Iraq, but did not say exactly when.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said Arabs should have a greater role in Iraq.

"There is a US-Iranian agreement to have dialogue over Iraq. There should be an Arab role," in the efforts to end Iraq's crisis, he said.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also demanded a serious and clear Arab commitment to help in stabilising his violence-plagued country.

Our demands "include Arab involvement in helping to stabilise Iraq ... (and) more (Arab) diplomatic representation," he said ahead of an Arab ministerial meeting to discuss the situation in Iraq.

"More Arab engagement with Iraq (is needed) especially at this very critical time, and we need serious and clear commitment from our brothers," added Zebari, who is a Kurd.

Mussa meanwhile said Arab leaders will urge Iraqis to form a national unity government soon.

The 18th regular summit, which has the conflict in Iraq high on its agenda, will be shunned by a number of key Arab leaders.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will not take part in the summit on March 28-29 and will send Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif in his place, a source in Egypt's delegation told AFP.

Saudi King Abdullah, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Oman's Sultan Qaboos will also not attend the meeting, an Arab League official said Friday.

In addition to the conflict in Iraq, the summit was also to focus on the future of the Arab-Israeli conflict in light of the January election victory of radical Islamist Palestinian group Hamas.

Arab leaders are expected to discuss alternative financial support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) in light of threats by the European Union and the United States to turn the cash pump off on a Hamas-led government if the militant group refuses to recognise Israel and renounce armed struggle.

Palestinian Minister of Economy Mazen Sonkrot said the PA was in need of some 100 million dollars monthly to cover a hole in its budget, and called upon Arab states to meet their financial commitments.

Sudan on its part is mobilising the Arab countries to provide funds for the troops deployed by the African Union (AU) in its western region of Darfur.

Its Foreign minister Lam Akol demanded these funds in order "to abort attempts to handover the mission (of the AU troops) to international forces," he said addressing his fellow ministers.

The UN Security Council has called Friday for faster preparations for the AU to hand over its peacekeeping mission in Darfur to the United Nations.

The three-year conflict has caused up to 300,000 deaths and displaced two million people.