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Arab summit opens amid acrimony over Iraq

Baghdad allies are balking at demand to defy sanctions

AMMAN, Jordan — Arab leaders were gathering in Amman on Monday amid acrimony over Iraq that could disrupt a summit designed to show support for Palestinians fighting Israeli rule.

Delegates said Egypt and Jordan were leading mediation efforts with senior Iraqi officials to rescue the two-day summit that opens on Tuesday from disunity.

Arab foreign ministers struggled over the weekend for a compromise that would satisfy Iraq and its Gulf War foes Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but no deal had emerged by Monday morning.

At stake is the wording of a resolution on U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Iraq wants the Arabs to bust sanctions in defiance of the Security Council, not simply to call for them to be lifted.

"The Iraqis are still obstinate and radical about their demands. They are rejecting compromises but the (other) Arabs are united and determined to respect their international commitments," one Jordanian official said.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz told reporters after meeting Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb that "intensive and exhausting" deliberations were continuing.

He said Iraqi demands were in line with international law, "not American legitimacy," and lashed out at "no-fly zones" enforced by U.S. and British aircraft.

"There is an aggression against Iraq in the north and the south," he said of the air patrols that bar Iraqi military aircraft from the Kurdish-held north and the mainly Shi'ite Muslim-populated south.

"This aggression has Arab partners," he said, referring to air bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait used by the allies. "If they want to correct the general situation, they should correct their participation and their role in this aggression."

Iraq is trying to ride a wave of anti-American sentiment among many Arabs who accuse Washington of punishing Baghdad while allowing Israel to oppress Palestinians with impunity.

Baghdad has offered the Palestinian Authority one billion euros ($885 million) in support of the Palestinian uprising, but summit delegates said some Arab countries opposed this.

They argue that the Security Council would have to approve the grant, which Iraq wants to take from the expanding proceeds of its oil-for-food deal with the United Nations.

The new U.S. administration of President Bush is seeking to modify the sanctions against Iraq to focus on curbing military programs rather than civilian supplies.

U.S. officials said last week Washington had made progress in talks with Arab states on revised sanctions, but written proposals were unlikely to be ready in time for the Arab summit.

The Washington Post newspaper said on Monday that the U.S. plan calls for posting U.N. monitors just outside Iraq's borders and at key foreign airports to prevent President Saddam Hussein's regime from importing military goods.

The row over Iraq threatens to drain attention from the summit's other main theme—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinians are seeking Arab political and financial support for their six-month-old uprising which has cost them at least 349 dead and thousands of wounded. Sixty six Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have also been killed.

Arab leaders promised the Palestinians $1 billion at an emergency summit in October, little of which has been paid.

Draft summit resolutions obtained by Reuters urge the United Nations to provide international protection for the Palestinians, an issue that has deadlocked the Security Council.

Council diplomats were due to make last-ditch efforts on Monday to reach a compromise on the Palestinian demand before U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan addresses the Arab summit.

Palestinians and their backers insist any U.N. call to end Israeli-Palestinian fighting must include considering sending an unarmed peacekeeping force to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel rejects any international intervention.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said ahead of the summit that Israel mistakenly believed "might is right," and cautioned that violence between Israel and Palestinians could spill over into other countries, Cairo newspapers reported on Monday.

Draft summit resolutions call on the United Nations to try Israeli officials as war criminals.

They condemn Israel for "continuing the occupation of Arab land, expanding the settlements and strangling Palestinians through blockade of their towns and villages."

The draft resolutions call on Arab governments to sever ties with any country that transfers its embassy to Jerusalem—a warning to Bush who has promised to initiate such a move.