CAIRO, Egypt – The Arab League unanimously granted the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (search) a seat on the pan-Arab body early Tuesday -- delivering a major boost to the Bush administration's postwar occupation.
The decision ended weeks of debate within the 22-member League over whether to recognize Iraq's interim authority, with opponents fearing that acceptance could be seen as a sign of support for the American invasion.
"That's good," James Cunningham, Bush's deputy U.N. ambassador, said of the landmark decision. "That's a positive step."
A State Department spokeswoman said the United States hadn't been officially notified of the development, but said it would be welcome. She said U.S. officials will follow up with the Arab League Tuesday on details of the step.
The council was appointed July 13 after U.S. forces deposed Saddam Hussein's regime as an authority able to represent Iraq on the regional stage.
Washington has said a new, democratically appointed government in Iraq could also act as a catalyst for reform throughout the Middle East, where most countries have been ruled for generations by royal families or regimes.
Arab League (search) foreign ministers issued a communique after six hours of debate saying the Governing Council had been granted a seat until an Iraqi government is formed and a new constitution drawn up.
"This decision was agreed upon unanimously," the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told reporters following the meeting.
The Arab League, which opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq, had been reluctant to welcome the Governing Council into its fold, fearing any recognition of it would be seen as a sign of support for the American invasion of an Arab state.
But Tuesday's decision paves the way for Hoshyar Zebari (search), the Iraqi Kurdish leader appointed foreign minister when the Council's first Cabinet was named Sept. 1, to sit alongside Arab envoys when a two-day foreign ministerial conference begins later in the day.
The Iraqi seat on the Arab League has been vacant since the war that toppled Saddam's regime.
On arriving Monday in Cairo, Zebari, making his first trip abroad since being appointed foreign minister Sept. 1, told reporters that he was not seeking recognition from the league.
"This is our right. We are claiming our legitimate right to be here and to be represented," he said. "Our message is: We're the representatives of de facto Iraqi authority."
The effects of the council's recognition could be far reaching.
An emboldened Governing Council is expected to be a modifying influence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a stark contrast to the anti-Israeli position of Saddam's regime.
The council's increased political standing regionally could be transferred to wider stages, paving the way for it to be Iraq's official U.N. representative. The Security Council has already indicated broad acceptance of the council a transitional body.
China, a veto-holding member of the Security Council, supported the League's decision, with its U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, calling it "a good move."
And the League's decision was also expected to give the Iraqi council greater influence in the country's important oil industry. Venezuela and some other OPEC members have refused to deal with U.S.-picked panel, saying its hadn't been internationally recognized.
An example of some of the opposition faced by the council came when 30 Jordanian lawmakers on Monday presented a petition urging the government to block the Iraqi representative "assigned by the U.S. occupation" from the Arab League meeting.
But approval came after strong indications that Iraq would gain a seat.
The foreign ministers of Sudan and the Comoros welcomed Iraq's participation, saying the Governing Council should be dealt with until a permanent government was in place.
"The Iraqi people need the Arab League ... and it's important that we, as Arabs, deal with this transitional situation ... and support it, "Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail told reporters.
Other countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, have said they would deal with the interim Governing Council.
In Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, the foreign ministers of six Gulf countries issued a statement of support for the new Iraqi interim administration.
Kuwait asked the Arab League earlier this month to allow Iraq to take part in its meetings. On Sunday, the Emirates said they had informed Zebari that it supported his participation in the meetings and "all (efforts) that aim at returning stability and security to Iraq."