Arab foreign ministers urged Saddam Hussein on Sunday to accept the U.N. Security Council resolution ordering new, tougher weapons inspections and demanded that Arab arms experts be included on the U.N. teams.
The ministers adopted the eight-point statement shortly after the Iraqi leader ordered his nation's parliament to meet to recommend a response to the U.N. resolution, which was adopted Friday and gives Baghdad a seven-day deadline for acceptance.
The United Nations is not obliged to heed the Arab ministers' demand on weapons inspectors, adopted at the end of a two-day meeting of the 22-member Arab League in Cairo.
Arab foreign ministers, including Iraqi minister Naji Sabri, worked into the evening on a final communique that demanded Iraq and the United Nations work together and called on the United States to commit to pledges Syrian said it was given that the resolution would not be used to justify military action.
The Arab ministers "called on the permanent Security Council members who presented Syria with assurances to commit to what they presented, that the resolution is not used as an excuse to wage war on Iraq and does not constitute automatic military action," the statement said.
The Arab League document did not specify how many Arab experts it wants on inspection teams or say which countries they should represent.
However, Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is an Egyptian, and would be on the advance team of inspectors headed to Iraq if Saddam accepts the resolution. ElBaradei's agency is in charge of looking for clandestine nuclear arms programs.
A spokesman for the U.N. inspection operation said a list of inspectors and their country of origin was not immediately available.
The Arab League document also demanded "the continuation of U.N.-Iraq cooperation to solve all standing issues peacefully in preparation for the lifting of sanctions and the end of the (U.N.) embargo as well as the suffering of the Iraqi people."
It put forward a united Arab position of "absolute rejection" of any military action against Iraq, saying it represents a threat to the security of all Arab nations.
In addition, it called on the Security Council to require Israel to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction because they "constitute a serious threat to Arab and international peace and security."
Arab foreign ministers have said they fully expect Iraq to accept the U.N. resolution. However, Iraqi state-run media, which reported Saddam's order convening parliament did not say when the session would be held, making uncertain when official acceptance would come.
In Washington, President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, dismissed the prospect of Saddam seeking parliament's advice as "ludicrous."
"Saddam Hussein is an absolute dictator and tyrant, and the idea that somehow he expects the Iraqi parliament to debate this — they've never debated anything else," Rice said Sunday in a broadcast interview. "I'm surprised he's even bothering to go through this ploy."
Iraq's parliament is stacked with Saddam's allies. Should parliament recommend acceptance to the Revolutionary Command Council, led by Saddam, he would have some cover for retreating from previous objections to any new language in a resolution governing weapons inspections.
In brief remarks to journalists on Sunday, Sabri said only that the Arab position is firm in rejecting any U.S. use of military force. He said Saturday that "no decision has been taken" by Baghdad on cooperating with the resolution. But if Saddam fails to follow through, U.S. officials have said a Pentagon plan calls for more than 200,000 troops to invade Iraq.
Britain sent similar signals, with Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon telling Sky News on Sunday that his country is prepared for possible military action against Iraq should diplomatic efforts to disarm Saddam fail.
Earlier Sunday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said he expected a positive response from Iraq, and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal also indicated Iraq would agree to the resolution.
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said he received a letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell "in which he stressed that there is nothing in the resolution to allow it to be used as a pretext to launch a war on Iraq and that if the U.S. administration had any intention of resorting to military action, this resolution wouldn't have taken seven weeks."
Syria, now holding one of the rotating seats on the U.N. Security Council, has taken on the task of selling Iraq and other Arab nations on the resolution.
Syria sided with the United States to allow the Iraq resolution to pass unanimously on a 15-0 vote, but al-Sharaa said it will work to ensure Iraq's concerns aren't overlooked.
Syria, he said, will try to persuade the U.N. Security Council to appoint some Arab inspectors "because the decision of war will be based on what the inspectors say," al-Sharaa said.
Iraq had accused inspectors in the country from 1991-1998 of acting as spies.
The new resolution gives inspectors unrestricted access to any site and the right to interview Iraqi scientists outside the country or without official Iraqi presence, points that could be disputed by Baghdad. Iraq insists on respect for its sovereignty, an argument it has used in the past to restrict access to Saddam's palaces.