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Arab leaders gather for summit

They're faced with creating a unified stance on Iraq

AMMAN, Jordan — Arab leaders convened a landmark summit Tuesday with calls for unity in the "one Arab family" following 10 years of dissension that prevented the heads of state from holding regular meetings.

But the Arab leaders faced the elusive task of forging a unified stance on Iraq's international isolation and Israel-Palestinian conflict.

"Let this summit be the beginning of a new era in joint Arab action. From this moment on, let our work be institutional and comprehensive in vision, let it not be reactive or emotionally driven," said Jordan's King Abdullah II.

The king, who takes over the one-year rotating presidency of the summit with this meeting, also urged leaders of the 22-member Arab League to stand by the Palestinians and issued a direct call for the lifting of U.N. sanctions on Iraq. "It is time to end this suffering," he said.

In his remarks, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat asserted that his people were victims of "state terrorism" but that the Palestinians were ready to return to the negotiating table to confront violence that has killed at least 435 people.

Arafat renewed a plea for financial support for the Palestinians, whose economy has been paralyzed by Israel security closures. Arab leaders are were expected to adopt a recommendation to pay the Palestinian Authority $40 million a month for six months to cover salaries, health and education costs.

The Amman meeting is meant to be the first of renewed annual summits — the league held just four in the past 10 years due to contention over Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Foreign ministers spent the previous three days in marathon talks, trying to iron out a new common Arab position on the future of relations between Iraq and Kuwait for the summit's final statement.

Egypt's Middle East News Agency reported Tuesday that Mubarak gave a compromised Iraq-Kuwait draft resolution to Izzat Ibrahim, deputy chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council, in a morning meeting. MENA said Ibrahim accepted the draft, and it will be submitted to Arab leaders for their discussion.

But privately Arab diplomats said the gaps were still as wide as ever and that the leaders would have to grapple with the weighty task themselves.

Iraq had initially asked that Arab countries override the U.N. sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Early in the talks, however, it negotiated its position to a demand that the statement flatly call for the lifting of the sanctions. It also wants the lifting of two no-fly zones patrolled by the United States and Britain, as well as the resumption of flights to and from Iraq.