Arabs ponder their powerlessness.

Arabs ponder their powerlessness.

Arabs ponder their powerlessness.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 10 2003 3:05 PM

Divided Nations

The latest Gulf War has had its first casualty, and it's not truth, but rather Donald Rumsfeld's family unity. According to London's Sunday Telegraph, the defense secretary's German relatives, who reside in a Bremen suburb, are furious with him: "We think it is dreadful that Donald Rumsfeld is out there pushing for a war against Iraq," remarked Karin Cecere, a distant cousin. "We are embarrassed to be related to him."

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Rumsfeld spent Saturday warding off protests at a Munich conference on security, among them a rousing "I am not convinced" about the need for an Iraq war from German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. But it is the Franco-German plan to increase the number of arms inspectors in Iraq and to accompany them with U.N. peacekeepers that has especially roiled the Bush administration. The plan, first mentioned in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, may be unveiled Feb. 14 after arms inspection chiefs Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei appear before the U.N. Security Council. Beirut's pro-Syrian Al-Sharq called the plan a "diplomatic window," pointing to the fact that Russia and Belgium also approved of it, though the paper added that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had quickly poured cold water on the idea.

In the London-based Al-Hayat Sunday, the paper's U.N. correspondent Raghida Dargham wrote that Britain was preparing a second Security Council resolution whose aim was "to give President Saddam Hussein a last chance to leave before military operations commence, to show international public opinion that it is his choice whether to avoid certain war." She claimed U.S. officials believe there is a 50 percent chance that a second resolution will be passed.

The Arab press also focused on a meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, who, outlandishly, arrived with a row of medals pinned on his white double-breasted suit. The meeting, which Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal joined, was called to underline Arab resolve to avoid war; thanks to Mubarak it projected powerlessness. The English-language Riyadh Daily highlighted Mubarak's post-reunion lament: "There is the American Congress, the [U.N.] Security Council, the British Parliament, the American administration and so many parties, and those are the ones who can put off, accelerate, or carry out the war. It is not in [Arab] hands."

The next step will be to see whether Arab states can agree to hold an early summit, probably in Cairo in early March. The uncertainty led Munir Shafiq, a Palestinian commentator in Qatar's Al-Sharq, to write, "Nothing can explain the failure to convene a summit as soon as the war clouds start gathering over Iraq." In fact, many things would explain it, including an inability to come up with a new solution to the Iraq imbroglio, with Arab regimes reluctant to collectively offer Saddam an exile plan.

Exile is what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Bush administration intend for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, if Israel's Yediot Ahronoth is to be believed. The paper claimed Sunday that Israel and the United States have agreed in writing to expel Arafat from the occupied territories after an Iraq war, unless he agrees to transfer power to a prime minister. Ha'aretz's military correspondent reported that the head of Israel's National Security Council (and former Mossad official) Ephraim Halevy confirmed in Munich that exile was probable: "When asked by [U.S.] Senator Joseph Lieberman … whether his impression that most of the leaders in the Middle East would be happy to see Arafat replaced was correct, Halevy answered affirmatively and predicted that the PA chairman would indeed be ousted in 2003."

To avoid being ousted, the Saudi monarchy is promising domestic reforms, a cornerstone of which may be a request that U.S. forces leave the kingdom after an Iraq war, the New York Times reported Sunday. The regime's sincerity is uncertain, with Egypt's English-language Al-Ahram Weekly quoting one source: "Saudi Arabia might accept a multi-party system that allows Islamist parties: Wahhabi, moderate ... etc, but it will never accept a secularist one—no matter how much pressure the US exerts."

Several papers published an official Saudi denial of the Times story: "What some media agencies are circulating is mere speculation and has no truth to it." However, a U.S. official implied something was afoot when he said, "After the removal of Saddam Hussein we would clearly want to discuss the restructuring of our security presence, without reducing our commitment to the stability and security of this strategic region."