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Arab World's Prospects Called Bleak on Eve of Summit

November 08, 1987|CHARLES P. WALLACE | Times Staff Writer

AMMAN, Jordan — "The future is bleak for us," Jordanian Foreign Minister Taher Masri said Saturday, summing up problems confronting the Arab world as its leaders gathered for a meeting here.

"We look on Iran as a real, real danger. We look at the social conflicts taking place in our societies as very serious and dangerous. It's time for this summit, . . . maybe even a little late."

Masri spoke to reporters on the eve of an emergency meeting of Arab heads of state, which is to open here today with a speech by Jordan's King Hussein.

First Summit Since 1985

The conference, the first meeting of Arab leaders since a summit in Casablanca in 1985, grew out of concerns in the Arab world, particularly among the oil-rich states around the Persian Gulf, about the increasing threat from the escalation of the war between Iran and Iraq.

As planning for the meeting progressed during the autumn, however, the informal agenda was broadened to include a consideration of the Middle East peace process and the rehabilitation of Egypt in Arab eyes eight years after the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty led to a formal break between Cairo and the 22-member Arab League.

As King Hassan II of Morocco remarked last week, the summit "will have to end with resolutions that will not please all and will anger some."

Saudi, Kuwaiti Unease

Saudi Arabia was moved to call for the conference after July clashes with Iranian religious pilgrims in Mecca left more than 400 people dead.

Kuwait has also become jittery since Iran began firing Silkworm missiles at ships moored near Kuwaiti oil export facilities, hitting two tankers and an oil-pumping platform.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia initially pressed other Arab leaders to show solidarity by breaking relations with Iran, but the move was opposed by other gulf states such as Oman and the United Arab Emirates and has been dropped from consideration, according to Arab officials.

Iraq, which has been fighting Iran since September, 1980, is expected to take the lead in drafting an Arab stand on the war. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Taha Yassin Ramadan said he expects the Amman summit to "show the Arab nation is able to cooperate in difficult circumstances."

Assad in Attendance

Syrian President Hafez Assad, who is a close ally of Iran and a bitter opponent of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, is also attending the conference.

The issue of the Iran-Iraq War, which now involves a U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf as well as the escalating Iranian confrontation with the Arab states, has proven so divisive that Saudi Arabia's monarch, King Fahd, has announced that he does not plan to attend the Amman meeting.

Others besides King Fahd who will not be in attendance include Libya's Moammar Kadafi and Tunisia's Habib Bourguiba, who was replaced Saturday.

Arab officials expect a draft resolution on the Iran-Iraq War that includes these points:

-- Support for U.N. Security Council Resolution 598, adopted in July calling for an immediate cease-fire.

-- Unanimous Arab support for Iraq and Kuwait.

-- A demand for Iranian withdrawal from Iraqi areas occupied in 1986.

-- A call for negotiations to settle the conflict peacefully.

Paradoxically, the flare-up in the gulf has improved the likelihood that Egypt will soon be welcomed back to Arab ranks after an eight-year absence.

Only Egypt among the Arab countries has a large military force that could be used against Iran if Iraq appeared near defeat or Tehran openly attacked Kuwait.

One conference source said the question of Egypt's rejoining the Arab League is now a "major issue" of the Amman summit.

"Many, many Arab states will demand the rehabilitation of Egypt to the league," said one official. "Others, such as Syria, will object vehemently. No matter what happens, for those who are willing to resume diplomatic relations with Egypt, it will be easier to do so."

After the Camp David peace agreement, only Somalia, Sudan and Oman maintained relations with Cairo. King Hussein restored relations three years ago.

While most Arab countries, with the exception of Libya and Syria, maintained informal ties with Egypt, the government of President Hosni Mubarak has been pressing for formal recognition, which would help Egypt to regain its lost stature as the leader of the Arab world.

The only other significant issue facing the conference is the question of an Arab stand on the recent approaches to Middle East peace.

King Hussein wants the Arab world to join ranks behind his proposal to hand the problem over to an international conference attended by Israel and the Arabs under the auspices of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council--the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France and China.

The Arab world has not formally endorsed Hussein's position since he broke off cooperation in early 1986 with Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, after Arafat's failure to accept U.N. resolutions recognizing Israel's right to exist. Western diplomats believe that Arafat could embarrass the Jordanian monarch by offering a resolution calling for equal and independent Palestinian representation in a Middle East peace conference.

The summit conference is being portrayed in Jordan as the culmination of Hussein's efforts over the past 18 months to promote Arab unity.

He is one of the few Arab leaders with good relations among all Arab factions. In the last year, he served as mediator in trying to reconcile Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Syria's Assad, as well as Lebanon's President Amin Gemayel and Assad.

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