Kuwait, Bahrain Join UAE Call for Hussein to Step Down

The United Arab Emirates won support Sunday from several Persian Gulf nations in its call for Saddam Hussein to quit power to avert a war, while Iraq poured scorn on the Emirates, calling it a tool of Israel.

The king of Bahrain said he backs the call for Saddam to go, according to the Emirates state news agency. Kuwait's Cabinet also backed the measure, the official Kuwaiti news agency said.

Kuwait has allowed tens of thousands of U.S. troops to deploy in its territory ahead of a possible invasion of neighboring Iraq. The tiny Gulf island of Bahrain also is a key U.S. ally, hosting the base of the American 5th Fleet.

The Emirates' proposal -- first made Saturday at an Arab summit -- further highlighted the deep divisions in the Arab world over how to deal with the Iraq crisis and U.S. threats of war.

Arab leaders Saturday refused to discuss the proposal, which was the first open call by an Arab nation for Saddam to go into exile.

The Emirates on Sunday sought backing among its fellow Gulf nations, the most receptive audience in the Arab world for the Iraqi leader's removal. Other Arab nations, however, have rejected the idea of pressuring Saddam to quit, saying they cannot interfere in Iraq's domestic affairs.

Several nations, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, want to press Iraq to comply with U.N. disarmament demands; another bloc, led by Syria, wants to express staunch support for Iraq and reject any war.

The Emirates insisted Sunday that pressuring Saddam to leave Iraq was the only way to avert military action.

"Rejecting these ideas put forward by the U.A.E. is acceptance of the remaining option, which is war," Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Emirates information minister, told The Associated Press.

The Bahraini king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, met Sunday with the Emirates president in Abu Dhabi.

The Emirates proposal "is the only Arab way out to protect Iraq and spare its people and the whole region the threats" of war, the Emirati agency quoted Sheik Hamad as saying.

Bahraini officials were not immediately available for comment.

Kuwait's Cabinet said the Emirates proposal aims to "spare the region a destructive war that would destabilize peace and security," the Kuwaiti news agency said.

The Emirates submitted its proposal at a ministerial meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday. It also plans to propose it at Wednesday's gathering of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, also in Doha.

Iraq -- which has repeatedly said Saddam will not step down -- derided the Emirates.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Sheik Zayed's proposal must have originated from Israeli leader Ariel Sharon.

The proposal "found its way quickly to the garbage pail," Sabri said Saturday. "There's not one honest Arab who will accept a message from Sharon to the summit."

In a front-page editorial Sunday, Baghdad's popular daily newspaper Babil, run by Saddam's eldest son, Odai, accused Sheik Abdullah of having "a Satanic U.S. heart and tongue."

At the Sharm el-Sheik summit, Arab leaders rejected a war on Iraq and decided to send diplomats to the United Nations and to Baghdad to lay out the Arab position.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Sunday he was working to settle the makeup of those delegations, which will leave "within days." But diplomats said questions still remained over what message the delegates would take to Baghdad.

Arab diplomats said the delegation first would go to New York. The Baghdad mission will be more difficult, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Arabs were divided over the purpose of a Baghdad visit or even whether to make one.

Syria, Lebanon and Yemen proposed that a delegation head only to Washington with a firm anti-war message. But other Arab League members wanted a delegation to go to Baghdad to urge Saddam to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors or advise him to step down.