Arab allies back Hussein against U.S. action

Iraq recognizes Kuwait, agrees not to invade again

March 29, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Saddam Hussein secured broad Arab support yesterday in heading off any U.S. military action against his country when the region's leaders declared here that an attack on Iraq would be considered an attack against all Arab states.

In return for this support, given at the close of a two-day Arab League summit meeting, Iraq accepted policies it vehemently rejected in the past.

The Iraqi government agreed to recognize Kuwait as an independent state and to not invade again. It also said it would work with the United Nations in implementing post-gulf war cease-fire provisions and would join an Arab initiative, approved here, that envisions peace with Israel.

Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia took the unusual step of publicly bringing Iraq's representative in front of the television cameras, sealing the idea that the Arabs are ready to begin welcoming Iraq back into their fold.

This very public embrace appeared to be a rebuff to the Bush administration and another sign of its limited influence in a region it chose largely to ignore during its first months in office.

In Washington, the State Department expressed grave doubts about the accord between Iraq and Kuwait.

"If true, that would be good," the State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said. "But Iraq has never evidenced real intent to respect Kuwaiti sovereignty."

He noted that Iraq had a long history of flouting U.N. resolutions and other agreements. "We have to remain profoundly skeptical that Iraq will treat this agreement any differently than the many other times it's agreed to do this," he said.

The Arab leaders declared yesterday that they reject "the threat of an aggression on some Arab countries, particularly Iraq, and assert the categorical rejection of attacking Iraq or threatening the security and safety of any Arab state, and consider it a threat to the national security of all the Arab states."

The government in Riyadh is sensitive to the idea that it would be once again seen as an ally in any attack by the United States on Iraq, a Muslim nation. That sensitivity is partly the result of a widespread domestic impression that America's war on terrorism has actually been an assault on Islam.

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