Live spat between Saudi prince, Khaddafy spoils Arab summit

Sunday, March 2, 2003

CAIRO An Arab League summit convened to support Iraq foundered amid a televised spat between two leading members.

The leaders of Libya and Saudi Arabia hurled invectives toward each other as Tripoli accused Riyad of joining a U.S.-led alliance against Iraq. Later, Libya renewed its intention to withdraw from the Arab League.

The summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm e-Sheik was convened to demonstrate solidarity with Iraq amid the expected U.S. attack, Middle East Newsline reported. Instead, the meeting quickly turned into a shouting match between Libyan ruler Moammar Khaddafy and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz.

Later, Arab diplomatic sources and analysts said the summit was regarded as an embarrassment. They said the Arab League meeting demonstrated paralysis regarding the future of Iraq.

In a live broadcast, Khaddafy accused the Saudi kingdom of inviting U.S. troops more than a decade ago for the first Gulf war in 1991. The Libyan ruler, recalling an unspecified conversation with Saudi King Fahd, said Riyad had signed a pact with the devil.

"I told King Fahd that American forces are moving into Saudi Arabia," Khaddafy recalled. "He replied 'America is a big country and we cannot prevent this.' I told him: 'How can this happen to Saudi Arabia, an independent country?' Later, in a telephone conversation, the king told me that Iraq intended to invade the kingdom. I asked him how he knew. He said: 'We saw Iraqi forces deployed on the front. That means the Iraqi threat was a source of concern and threat for the kingdom and all the Gulf states. America has pledged to protect this region because it is an important source of energy.'"

At that point, Abdullah began to heckle Khaddafy. The Saudi prince alleged that Khaddafy was brought to power by Israel and said Libya had no business meddling in Gulf issues.

"The lie is in front of you and the grave is before you," Abdullah said.

Egyptian television ended its broadcast as Abdullah walked out of the conference hall. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other Arab leaders appealed to Abdullah to return. After an hour, the meeting resumed.

The summit closed with a resolution that expressed support for Iraq and opposition for the intervention in the internal affairs of any Arab nation.

But the summit, amid a threat by Baghdad to walk out, refused to discuss a United Arab Emirates proposal for President Saddam Hussein to abdicate. The summit also rejected a Syrian resolution to ban any Arab nation from helping the United States.

But Arab diplomatic sources said Saudi Arabia has become a leading advocate of a proposal for Saddam to enter exile. The sources said Riyad is attempting to lobby Egypt to support the campaign.

"The Arab nation with all its capabilities, its strategic position and its active influence in the world economy should have an audible voice based on wisdom and logic," Bahraini King Hamad Bin Khalifa said.

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