UNITED NATIONS – Arabs sought on Sunday to head off a war between Iraq and the United States, but also pressed the United Nations for action on another destabilizing dispute in their region, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Arab countries joined other nations that have called on Iraq to comply with U.N. resolutions to avert a showdown with Washington. And Saudi Arabia, the richest Arab state, signaled a policy shift likely to put more pressure on the Iraqi government.
Saudi Arabian leaders previously had ruled out any use of Saudi bases by U.S. forces to attack Iraq. But Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Sunday in a televised interview that if the U.N. Security Council authorizes military action against Iraq, "Everybody is obliged to follow through."
In another interview, with the London-based newspaper Al Hayat, Saud urged Saddam Hussein's regime to quickly allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq to head off a new Security Council resolution that could open the way for military action.
President Bush demanded last week that the United Nations force Iraq to comply with resolutions requiring U.N. supervision of the destruction of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He warned that America will act, alone if necessary, if the Security Council doesn't.
Jordan, a neighbor of Iraq that faced an influx of refugees during the 1991 Gulf War and worries about the repercussions of another war, also called on Iraq to implement Security Council resolutions, including the return of U.N. weapons inspectors. Compliance would spare the region "the dire consequences" of war, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher told the U.N. General Assembly on Sunday.
Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, said late Saturday he hoped the crisis could be resolved without new action by the council.
Although the Iraq crisis has taken center stage at the current session of the General Assembly, Arabs said the conflict with Israel continues to dominate their lives, as it has since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.
Syria's foreign minister accused the world of "blind bias" in dealing with Iraq while ignoring what he said was Israel's refusal to abide by similar international demands.
"Is it reasonable for the world to request Iraq implement Security Council resolutions while some assist Israel in being above international law?" Farouk al-Sharaa asked in a speech Sunday to the General Assembly, clearly referring to the United States, which Arabs consider Israel's main protector.
Arab countries maintain a war in Iraq could destabilize a region already tense over Palestinian-Israeli violence.
The United States is pushing for a Security Council resolution that would set a quick deadline for Iraq to allow the return of weapons inspectors and comply with all previous resolutions. If Iraq did not comply, the Bush administration wants the council's authorization to take military action.
Secretary of State Colin Powell met with council members last week to garner support for a tough resolution.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Saturday joined a meeting of the 22-member Arab League at the United Nations to urge them to individually pressure Iraq.
Arab diplomats later said Iraq's Sabri told them his country was ready to let inspectors return, but after certain conditions were met. Washington has rejected any conditions.
Weapons inspectors who were seeking out the elements of Iraq's projects on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons left the country before U.S. and British airstrikes in 1998 and have not been allowed to return.
Saddam's regime maintains it has fulfilled all U.N. obligations and wants an end to U.N. sanctions imposed after the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Syria, like other Arab countries, has frequently complained that Israel is not held to account for refusing to implement U.N. resolutions calling for Israeli withdrawal from Arab territories captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
In his speech Thursday, Bush reaffirmed Washington's support for creation of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel and said America will continue to encourage efforts to reach a "just and comprehensive settlement" to that conflict.
At the General Assembly on Sunday, Sharaa repeated Syria's opposition to an attack on Iraq and then took aim at Israel.
"Making Israel abide by Security Council resolutions amounting to 28 resolutions" is the only way out of the Middle East crisis, Sharaa said.
Bahrain's foreign minister also urged U.N. action to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
"The oppression to which the Palestinian people are subjected to ... requires the immediate intervention of the Security Council and the international community to stop Israeli practices against the Palestinian people," Sheik Mohammed bin Mubarak told the General Assembly.
Jordan's Muasher called for Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian cities and for the resumption of peace negotiations.
Senior officials from the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the Israel-Palestinian situation.