Egypt says it will host Arab summit

/ Source: The Associated Press

Egypt will host an Arab summit as soon as the 22 nations can agree on a time, President Hosni Mubarak's office said in a statement Sunday.

The statement criticized Tunisia for its overnight decision to postpone indefinitely the two-day Arab summit that was to have begun in its capital Monday.

The Tunisian Foreign Ministry said the cancellation stemmed from the "difference of views" that emerged during the meetings of Arab foreign ministers Friday and Saturday.

In a statement, Mubarak's office expressed "surprise and regret" for the Tunisia decision, "which is outside the rules adopted by the kings and Arab heads of state that the summit should be convened annually in March to face the responsibility and challenges of our Arab nation."

"Egypt welcomes the convening of the summit in the country of the headquarters of the league (Egypt) at the earliest possible time that can be agreed on," the statement added.

Conflicting agendas
Saturday night's cancellation was the first time an Arab summit had been aborted since 1983. The preparatory meetings in Tunis revealed that while some states, such as Egypt, wanted to focus on U.S. proposals for political reform, others such as Syria put the priority on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel's assassination of the Palestinian leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin has dominated Arab newspapers and demonstrations during the past week.

The statement from Mubarak's office made clear Egypt regarded the differences as insufficient grounds for calling off the summit.

"If the foreign ministers' meetings resulted in some different points of view, this is considered natural and logical," the statement said.

"As our nation, at this critical stage, faces challenges that we cannot ignore or postpone, the Arab Republic of Egypt thinks it is necessary to convene this summit as early as possible to discuss the issues," the statement added.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Sunday the Egyptian proposal would be pursued.

"It's important to have a summit, and the effort is continuing. I hope the summit will be held soon," Moussa said in Tunis.

Mubarak discussed a summit with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the phone Sunday, Egypt's semiofficial Middle East News Agency.

The official Yemeni news agency SABA said Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh urged Mubarak on Sunday to hold a summit "in the next few days."

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher called for a new date for the summit to be fixed as soon as possible, and welcomed the Egyptian offer to host it, the official Petra news agency reported.

Tunisia was reported in January to be backing away from taking its turn to host the summit. Tunisian officials never gave a reason in public, but they were said to be worried about becoming entangled in a dispute among the participants.

Egypt was suggested as an alternative venue at the time, but the Tunisians then strengthened their commitment to the summit.