CAIRO, Egypt – Egypt's foreign minister said Saturday that he expected Iraq to accept the U.N. resolution to disarm but that Baghdad had not yet made a formal decision.
"I think we can expect a positive position by the Iraqis," Ahmed Maher told reporters after Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri explained Iraq's position to the foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab League.
"We heard the Iraqi point of view and the history of relations with the United Nations and the inspectors and their readiness to cooperate ... already expressed in September, but they haven't yet taken the formal decision on their attitude toward the resolution," Maher said.
Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian representative at the meeting, said Iraq had in effect accepted the resolution, but Arab foreign ministers still wanted assurances that the Security Council blueprint did not contain an automatic trigger allowing the United States to wage war on Iraq.
However, Sabri later told reporters "no decision has been taken" on the resolution that demands Iraq eliminate its weapons of mass destruction or face "serious consequences."
The first word of the Iraqi position came when Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal left the meeting shortly before midnight Saturday, saying, "I think everyone welcomed transferring the issue to the Security Council, and they welcomed Iraq's approval of this decision with the confirmation that Syria received that there would be no automatic military action."
In a surprise move, Syria joined other U.N. Security Council members in voting for the resolution on Thursday, making passage of the resolution unanimous.
During the session, Sabri met privately with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, who apparently briefed him on assurances from the United States that it would not use force before giving Iraq a chance to prove its cooperation with weapons inspectors.
Earlier Saturday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher met with both Sabri and the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, David Welch, who pointed out the resolution was consistent with Arab League decisions urging Iraq's compliance with U.N. resolutions.
Sabri gave no hint on how Iraq would respond to the latest resolution, which requires Baghdad to reply within seven days, allowing U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country with a tougher mandate to seek out hidden weapons.
"Baghdad will study the resolution and we will take a decision later," Sabri told reporters after meeting Maher.
In Baghdad, the official Iraqi news agency kept up an Iraqi barrage of criticism of the United States for pushing through the strongly worded resolution, calling the document "bad and unjust."
Sabri said, however, that in the long negotiations over passage the international community succeeded in diluting U.S. plans for aggression on Iraq.
While Arab officials have made clear they expected Iraq to accept the resolution within the seven-day deadline, Arab League spokesman Hisham Youssef made a bow to Iraq when he described how the Arab diplomats were dealing with the question in their meetings.
"They will hear Iraq's comments on the resolution, and every country will give its reading of the situation, but the decision will be made in Iraq," he said after Saturday's session got underway.
Maher, the Egyptian foreign minister, pointed out that Iraq already had said it would accept the arms inspectors back unconditionally and added he saw that as a signal for what the Iraqi decision would be.
"I think that after the issuing of the resolution, Iraq will deal with it in the same spirit. This is what we hope," he said.
Political analyst Abdel Moneim Said of Egypt's Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies said the resolution would help Arab efforts to persuade Iraq to accept U.N. demands and avoid a war that could oust Saddam's regime.
"The issue was redefined as an issue of weapons of mass destruction, and no longer a regime change," he said. "Iraqis know that any little mistake will cost them a war."
Arab officials and commentators said the resolution -- revised to satisfy French and Russian concerns -- had at least set back the chance of war. But some expressed fear that Washington still could use the document as an excuse to attack Baghdad at the earliest opportunity.
Jordanian political analyst Labib Kamhawi said President Bush would see the resolution and his Republican Party's victory in congressional elections as erasing the last obstacles to a war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"He believes that he has his mandate both from his people and the United Nations to launch his war on Iraq," Kamhawi said.