Cairo, Egypt The foreign ministers of 20 Arab nations jointly pledged Thursday to support Iraq in its showdown with United States, warning that American threats against Saddam Hussein's regime were threats to the entire Arab world.
Handing a diplomatic triumph to Baghdad at the conclusion of a two-day Arab League meeting here, the ministers issued a resolution declaring their "total rejection of the threat of aggression on Arab nations, in particular Iraq, reaffirming that these threats to the security and safety of any Arab country are considered a threat to Arab national security."
The ministers' stance is the latest and strongest sign of opposition among Arab nations to any U.S. military action aimed at toppling Saddam. The support of at least some Arab countries, particularly those that share land borders with Iraq, is regarded by many military analysts as crucial to a U.S. ground invasion.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri lauded the Arab ministers' resolution as he exited the closed-door meeting. Arab nations, he said, voiced a "total rejection of the aggressive intentions of the United States."
Although some Arab governments have urged Baghdad to permit U.N. weapons inspectors to return in an effort to defuse the crisis, the ministers' statement Thursday did not mention the inspectors. Taking a more deferential tone, the council of ministers instead said it "welcomes the initiatives by Iraq to forge a dialogue with the United Nations."
The ministers also echoed Baghdad's call for a "comprehensive settlement" of its disputes with the United Nations, calling for an end to U.N. trade sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Iraq, which insists that its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons have already been destroyed, has flip-flopped on whether it will allow weapons inspectors back into the country. After dismissing the idea, senior Iraqi officials said earlier this week that they would be willing to consider the return of inspectors if sanctions were lifted at the same time.
The Arab League's secretary general, Amr Moussa, said a military strike against Iraq would "open the gates of hell" in the Middle East. Western and Arab military analysts predict that Iraq may seek to respond to any U.S. attack by launching missiles at Israel in an effort to spark a wider conflict in the region.