Arab Summit: Feuding Over Call for Hussein to Step Down

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An Arab summit aimed at finding unity over the Iraq crisis showed sharp divisions Saturday as Saudi Arabia's crown prince and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi shouted insults at each other and the United Arab Emirates called on Saddam Hussein to step down.

The Emirates' proposal marked the first time an Arab nation has openly called for the Iraqi leadership to go into exile to spare the region war. Other nations did not adopt the proposal, though some officials have supported it in private.

After the angry exchange between the Libyan and Saudi leaders, a live international broadcast of the summit was cut off, and diplomats said other leaders had to persuade Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah not to leave the gathering. The summit ended with a vague anti-war declaration that was short on specifics, the diplomats said.

The Libyan-Saudi spat apparently wrecked any opportunity for the leaders to settle on a strategy toward Iraq. But Arab nations had come into the Arab League summit in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheik already deeply split.

Some countries -- particularly in the Persian Gulf -- argue war is inevitable and say the region should be planning for the aftermath. A second camp, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, insist war can be avoided if Iraq cooperates fully with U.N. weapons inspectors. A third camp -- led by Syria -- wanted the summit to make an unequivocal anti-war declaration.

UAE President Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan proposed that Arab states press Saddam and his leadership to give up power in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Al-Douri, speaking to CNN from New York, repeated that Saddam would not resign.

Observers emerging from the Arab leaders' closed discussions said without elaboration that Iraqi delegates reacted angrily to Sheik Zayed's proposal.

During an open session, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam's top deputy, ignored the proposal and accused the United States of wanting to destroy and colonize the Arab world.

"Curses upon America, curses upon the American administration, but not the American people," Al-Douri said.

A U.S. ally, Sheik Zayed issued his proposal one day after White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the only way for Iraq to avoid war is "disarmament and regime change."

In contrast, Syrian President Bashar Assad, during the summit's opening session, accused the United States of seeking not to topple a dictatorial regime but to secure Iraq's "oil and redrawing the region's map and destroying Iraq's infrastructure."

"We are all targeted ... we are all in danger," Assad said.

Later, Gadhafi, a sharp critic of what he calls lack of Arab unity, said in his speech that Saudi Arabia had formed "an alliance with the devil" when it asked U.S. troops to protect it from Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War.

Abdullah interrupted angrily from across the room, calling Gadhafi "an agent for colonizers."

"Don't talk or get involved in things which are not your business," Abdullah told the Libyan.

Soon after that exchange, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa declared the summit over and read a final communique in a closed session.

Diplomats said the statement affirmed Arabs' "total rejection of any attack on Iraq," and called for the crisis to be resolved under an international umbrella. The statement did not spell out how Arabs would contribute to finding a solution.

The final statement demanded weapons inspectors be given "ample time" to determine whether Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction. Iraq denies U.S. and U.N. allegations about its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs.

The final statement also stressed that Arabs "not participate in any military action aimed at Iraq's or any Arab country's safety and territorial integrity."

But it did not address the tens of thousands of U.S. troops being given logistical support in the region, mostly in Kuwait, ahead of a possible war.

Arab diplomats had said the summit might send a delegation to Baghdad carrying a message to Saddam with vague suggestions he quit. They also had raised the possibility of a softer message, only pressing Iraq to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, and of delegations going to the United States and the United Nations to press for a peaceful solution.

The Emirates' Sheik Zayed, in his 80s and in poor health, did not attend the summit but sent his vice president and proposed his initiative in a letter.

He said Arabs should "play a major role in (persuading Saddam to step down), something which might amount to the miracle needed to overcome this looming danger" of war.

The letter did not name Saddam but said the entire "Iraqi leadership should step down and leave Iraq ... within two weeks of adopting this Arab initiative."

Iraq should then be governed by the Arab League and the United Nations until it could return to "its normal situation according to the will of the brotherly Iraqi people."

Sheik Zayed said the Iraqi leadership should be given legal guarantees that it would not face prosecution but did not specify any charges. Iraqi dissidents accuse Saddam of crimes against humanity for bloody crackdowns on minorities, including using chemical weapons on rebelling Kurds.