Cairo, Egypt Arab League foreign ministers meeting in an emergency session here said Sunday that Iraq is likely to accept the U.N. resolution giving arms inspectors unrestricted access and demanding that Saddam Hussein destroy any weapons of mass destruction.
The Iraqi president has until Friday to officially accept or reject the resolution. If he accepts, the inspectors, led by Hans Blix, will return to Baghdad by next Monday to set up logistical facilities. They withdrew from Iraq in 1998 after being denied access to Saddam's palaces and being accused by the Iraqi president of being spies.
The Iraqi News Agency reported Sunday that Saddam had called an emergency session of parliament for Monday to consider the U.N. demands. But Arab diplomats noted that the parliament, which is made up of Saddam supporters, and the Revolutionary Command Council, which Saddam heads, are largely irrelevant. Saddam makes the decisions.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, after conferring with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his counterparts at the daylong meeting of the 22-member Arab League, told reporters in Cairo that "no decision has been taken." But Arab League sources said they had received Sabri's assurance of likely compliance and expected a positive response from Saddam.
In a final communique, the participants in Sunday's meeting called on Saddam to accept the U.N. terms as part of an effort "to solve all standing issues peacefully in preparation for the lifting of sanctions and the end of the (U.N.) embargo as well as the suffering of the Iraqi people." The foreign ministers also asserted their "absolute rejection" of any military action against Iraq.
The toughly worded U.N. resolution, written by the United States and passed unanimously by the Security Council on Friday, threatens "serious consequences" if Saddam fails to comply with its terms. Although the Bush administration has reserved the right to respond unilaterally if Iraq is in violation of U.N. demands, Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the United States would go back to the Security Council before taking any military action. The resolution, he said, is not a pretext for war.
It was that assurance, delivered by Powell in a letter to Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh, that persuaded Syria - the only Arab country on the Security Council - to cast a surprising vote in favor of the resolution Friday. Syria and other Arab states are portraying the resolution as the best way to avoid war in a region already rife with tension, much of it fueled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Arab League members were particularly blunt with Iraq's foreign minister at the Cairo meeting.
"We're telling Iraq the Americans are really serious and this time we're not with you," said a senior adviser to one Arab delegation. "If you reject the resolution, you're on your own. ."
Under the new resolution, Saddam must declare or surrender all programs for weapons of mass destruction by Dec. 8. The U.N. inspection teams must report to the Security Council by Feb. 21.