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Arab Leaders Blame Crisis On Baghdad, Support U.S. Airstrikes

THURSDAY, FEB. 12, 1998

American efforts to line up Arab support for military action against Iraq gained ground Wednesday as Persian Gulf allies unanimously blamed Baghdad for its standoff with the United Nations and Egypt’s president warned that President Saddam Hussein’s defiance of U.N. arms inspections could provoke a violent American response.

Foreign ministers of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Qatar - said after meeting here that “the current crisis is a direct result of Baghdad’s reluctance to cooperate” with U.N. efforts to destroy its capabilities for making nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

In Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sounded an ominous tone after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, who along with other Iraqi officials is touring Arab capitals in a last-ditch effort to head off U.S. airstrikes that could begin later this month.

“What I fear is, if Iraq does not implement the resolutions this would lead to a strike and no one can prevent the United States from (doing) that,” he said.

“I have talked to the Iraqi foreign minister and told him that the situation is dangerous, and it is important to implement Security Council resolutions to avoid a crisis.”

With the possible exception of Kuwait, none of Washington’s Arab allies is enthusiastic about the prospect of military action, fearing that anything short of a death blow to the Iraqi government - a goal the Clinton administration has disavowed - will merely prolong the agony of a fellow Arab state. All have emphasized their desire for a diplomatic solution and are deeply apprehensive about the effects of American bombing on Arab public opinion, particularly if Iraq suffers heavy civilian losses.

At the same time, Washington retains great leverage over moderate Arab states, especially Gulf Arab countries for whom U.S. military forces are the principal deterrent against perceived threats from Iran and Iraq. These conflicting pressures have generated confusion as to the real motives of friendly Arab countries, some of which have publicly condemned the military option while privately assuring U.S. officials of their support.

During his tour of the region this week, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen secured varying degrees of cooperation from the Gulf oil monarchies, although only Kuwait and Bahrain have consented to the use of their territory as launching pads for U.S. airstrikes.

Kuwaiti leaders, whose hatred of Saddam stems from the 1990 Iraqi invasion of their country, apparently lost little sleep over their decision to permit the basing of American strike planes at Jabir Air Base here. “It’s not a difficult decision,” said a source close to the Kuwaiti emir, Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah.


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