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Philippine Official: Some Arab Governments Urging Saddam to Step Down

Some Arab governments are urging Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to step down and seek asylum in a third country to avoid war, the Philippines' foreign secretary said Wednesday.

Foreign Secretary Blas Ople said he was told on Monday of the Arab governments' actions by their ambassadors in Manila. He refused to name the Arab countries, and said the Philippines, a U.S. ally, would take no position on the proposal.

"They (Arab ambassadors) told me that some Arab governments are trying to influence Saddam Hussein to voluntarily step down, go to a third country that will host him and that will save his life and well as the lives of many others, including the people of Iraq," Ople said.

Asked by reporters which countries could possibly accept Saddam, Ople named Libya.

Libyan Ambassador to Manila Salem Adam said the possibility of his country harboring Saddam if he were to step down was "totally speculative," but he added that Libya and other countries have been appealing for a peaceful solution to avoid bloodshed in Iraq.

In Moscow, however, Iraq's ambassador said Saddam would not seek asylum but "fight to the last drop of blood."

"Saddam Hussein enjoys excellent health, he is in a determined mood, is in perfect control of the situation and believes in our victory," the Interfax news agency quoted Abbas Khalaf as saying in an interview.

"I'd like to assure you that (he) will continue to defend his homeland. He is one of the leaders who will never leave his country and will fight to the last drop of blood," said Khalaf, who recently returned from Iraq, where he and other Iraqi ambassadors met with Saddam.

On Thursday, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton was expected in Manila for talks on Iraq and other security issues.

U.S. battle planners were heading from their permanent headquarters in Tampa, Fla., to Qatar to be in position to carry out any attack order from President Bush, senior American officials said Tuesday.

They stressed that the move to Qatar, a small nation occupying a thumb-shaped spur of land on the Arabian Peninsula, does not mean war is imminent or inevitable. The move was called an important step in assembling troops, weapons, supplies and technology needed to carry out an invasion if ordered.

The United States accuses Iraq of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and says it will use force if necessary to disarm the Arab nation. Iraq denies the charges and insists it already has destroyed its biological and chemical weapons and halted its nuclear program and the making of banned missiles.

Baghdad claims it hasn't been working on weapons of mass destruction since the 1991 Gulf War. An international inspection team returned to Iraq in late November to determine whether Iraq possessed such weapons.

According to a U.N. resolution, any omissions or false statements in Iraq's required declaration of its weapons in conjunction with the inspectors' return, coupled with a failure to cooperate with inspectors, could provoke further action against Saddam's regime.