Competing summits seek to save Saddam

Sunday, January 19, 2003

NICOSIA Syria and Turkey have launched separate diplomatic efforts to prevent a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Arab diplomatic sources said Syria wants to save the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein while Turkey is leading efforts for his exile.Both countries plan to convene foreign ministers of Middle East countries over the next week.

On Friday, Iraqi envoy Ali Hassan Majid met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

Majid was to have met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Saturday to discuss "personal" issues on behalf of Saddam. But Arab diplomatic sources said the United States warned that it would press for Majid's capture as a war criminal suspect, Middle East Newsline reported. Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," has been accused of killing hundreds of thousands of Kurds in chemical weapons attacks in the 1980s.

The senior aide to Saddam dismissed reports that he was seeking to explore an Arab plan for the Iraqi president's exile. Majid, a cousin of Saddam and member of the Iraqi Revolutionary Council, said the reports were fabricated by the United States.

"This is absurd," Majid said. "It's a psychological war technique. If you ask an infant in Iraq he wouldn't believe such reports."

But the diplomatic sources said Saddam has relayed a series of conditions for agreeing to leave Iraq. They include U.S. guarantees that he will not be prosecuted and that the U.S. military will leave the Persian Gulf region.

Majid delivered a message from Saddam to the Syrian president that was said to have dealt with U.S. threats against Iraq.

Syria has invited the foreign ministers of Iran and Turkey as well as those of three Arab countries. They are Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk A-Shaara has been touring Arab capitals to ensure support for the conference. A meeting is expected to take place on Tuesday.

For its part, Turkey has been promoting a plan for Saddam's exile to avoid a U.S.-led war against Iraq. Ankara hopes to host Arab representatives over the next week.

"Saddam Hussein must stop being a threat to the region and the world," Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said. "And he has to prove that. Our primary objective as countries in the region is to exert pressure on Saddam in this direction."

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