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Iraq Back In The Arab Fold

For the first time since invading Kuwait in 1990 and dividing the Arab world, Iraq is chairing a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo. John Howard reports.

Amid calls for Iraq-Arab reconciliation from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Arab League Secretary-General Abdel Meguid, Iraq is trying to bury the past and make a fesh start with some of its fiercest Arab critics.

Setting a courteous tone towards Saudi Arabia, Iraq Foreign Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, addressed his counterpart as "your highness Prince Saud al-Faisal."

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Morocco and other Gulf states took part in the US-led force that expelled Iraq from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf war. While Palestinians, Yemen, Sudan and Jordan were considered to have taken Iraq's side.

Arab diplomats say it is a success to see Gulf Arab foreign ministers like Faisal at the meeting where Iraq is calling for an Arab summit to prove its good intentions.

Yasser Arafat urged "Arab brothers to turn the bitter page of the past, and open another one in cooperation and cohesion, drawing lessons from the experience of division." The Palestinian leader also sent his greetings to President Saddam Hussein.

However, there were no immediate signs of a warming of ties with Kuwait whose foreign minister did not attend. But apparently this was due only because of current responsibilities as interim prime minister.

Iraq has now promised to be a team player at meetings of Arab countries and will not formally ask for its demand for a lifting of the UN embargo to be put on the agenda of meetings. That issue, however, is likely to be discussed in informal talks.

The Arab foreign ministers are being asked today to vote on measures condemning Israel's weapons of mass destruction and its military cooperation with Turkey.

Iraq's new chairmanship of meetings has sparked concern from Western nations about its ability to now influence decisions in the Arab world. The US embassy in Cairo will neither confirm nor deny those concerns.


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