updated 3/28/2006 9:02:27 AM ET 2006-03-28T14:02:27

Secretary-General Amr Moussa called on Arab leaders Tuesday to move toward a goal of “entering the nuclear club” and making use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.

The absence of at least 10 heads of state, including President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, raised concerns of a lackluster summit in a year where many had hoped to see serious efforts at dealing with regional troubles.

The 22-member Arab League is contending with complex issues involving Iraq’s future and how to deal with a Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories.

The U.S. State Department has urged Arab leaders to “be as supportive as possible of the new Iraqi government” by sending ambassadors and providing economic assistance to Baghdad.

Arabs irked by Iran
For their part, Arab governments — already suspicious of non-Arab Iran — have been irritated by plans for talks on Iraq between Iranian and U.S. officials.

Moussa was particularly emphatic about Iraq in his address.

“Any solution for the Iraqi problem cannot be reached without Arabs, and Arab participation,” he said. “Any result of consultations without Arab participation will be considered insufficient and will not lead to a solution.”

Moussa called on Arabs “to enter into the nuclear club and make use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” a plea that comes as the world is wary about nearby Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In his opening speech, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, host of last year’s summit, called on Iraqis to close ranks to avoid a sectarian conflict pitting the country’s Shiite majority against the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority.

Iraq’s neighbors, he said, should “honestly cooperate with the Iraqi people to preserve the country’s integrity and unity.”

Sudan denounces Israel
The host, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, used his opening speech to praise Palestinian elections and denounce Israel and Western countries that have threatened to cut off aid in response to the victory of the militant Hamas.

“We say no to robbing the Palestinian people of their democratic choice, no to punishing the Palestinian people for exercising their right to choose who rules, and no to succumbing to Israel’s violations of all the promises it made,” he said, winning the applause of the audience of heads of state and delegates.

Hamas’ landslide election victory in January has raised fears of a halt in the Mideast peace process. The United States and European Union have threatened to cut direct financial aid vital to keeping the Palestinian Authority running, and Washington has pressed its Arab allies to follow suit.

However, a resolution to be adopted by the leaders meeting in Khartoum will pledge continued Arab funding for the Palestinian Authority.

Al-Bashir also condemned “terrorism in all its forms” and called for the use of all means to fight it. But he asked for an international conference to “agree on an objective definition of terrorism” — a long-standing demand by several Arab nations.

Sudan is also hoping to win Arab backing for its position on the conflict in its Darfur region, where it is resisting Western pressure — and a U.N. resolution — for the African Union peacekeeping force there to be replaced by a bigger U.N. force.

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