Cairo, Egypt Hoping to find a way out of the Iraq crisis, Arab ministers urged Baghdad on Wednesday to negotiate a return of weapons inspectors and warned Washington that an attack to oust Saddam Hussein would spark unrest across the Middle East.
In Baghdad, the Iraqi leader vowed his country would put up a tough fight if the United States attacked.
"We shall fight in a way that pleases you and makes the enemy angry," he told participants at a meeting of Arab parliamentarians convened in the Iraqi capital. "We shall not let you down if we have to fight a war."
In Cairo, foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League opened a two-day meeting Wednesday to discuss Iraq and other issues.
"The critical challenge that's facing us now is the threat directed at Iraq," Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told the ministers. "This constitutes a danger for the stability of the entire region
Moussa urged Iraq to work with the United Nations to resolve problems, starting with the return of the weapons inspectors and moving from there to Iraq's demands that U.N. sanctions be lifted and its territorial integrity be guaranteed.
Speaking at the end of the evening session, Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri said the Arab ministers "are in consensus" in objecting to a U.S. strike against Iraq, a stance he said would be reflected in a final statement to be issued today.
He dismissed comments made by President Bush earlier Wednesday that Saddam was a serious threat. "None of our neighbors say that we are posing a threat to (them) ...These are pretexts built on evil plans," he said.
Iraq said Tuesday that it was ready to discuss a return the inspectors, but only in a broader context of ending the sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The United Nations says the inspections must resume before the other issues can be addressed.
"I hope we will find a solution based on the Security Council's resolution, so I don't want to be a prophet of doom," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher when asked Wednesday what would happen if Iraq continued to block U.N. arms inspectors.
Arab governments oppose any U.S. attack, saying it would lead to destabilizing protests among ordinary Arabs already angry at a United States they see as biased toward Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians.
President Bush says he aims to remove Saddam because of his alleged drive to amass weapons of mass destruction, but says he has not yet decided whether to launch an attack.
The administration has given mixed signals on whether a resumption of U.N. arms inspections would be enough to avert military action. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said inspectors should return first, then the next move can be decided while Vice President Dick Cheney has said inspections could be counterproductive.