Summit bolsters Arab unity, bringing Syria and Iraq a bit closer

Arab leaders meeting in a special summit have made unexpected progress in shoring up Arab unity by nudging Iraq and Syria closer together. But the outcome of four days of closed-sessions talks, which concluded yesterday, is unlikely to be significant enough to influence the leaders of Iran to end the seven-year Gulf war. The Arab heads of state issued a joint communiqu'e yesterday as the summit ended, declaring solidarity in the face of threats from Iran and Israel.

But Arab and diplomatic analysts say the real significance of the summit will depend on the answers to three questions.

Will Syrian President Assad honor his pledge to continue to improve his relations with Iraq?

Will he use his good relations with Iran to pressure it to accept UN peace efforts and help end the Gulf war?

Will the Gulf states and Iraq renew diplomatic relations with Egypt - as widely expected - despite the summit's failure to call unanimously for the return of Egypt to the Arab League?

The conference appeared to open the door for renewed ties with Egypt, but left it up to each member state to decide for itself.

Reports were circulating during the conference that a major breakthrough might be achieved between Syria and Iraq, possibly leading to a renewal of diplomatic relations. Assad's resistance was apparently softened by the Gulf states' pledge of financial aid to Syria.

Despite the reported aid package, it now appears that the most that has been achieved is that the two longtime adversaries may agree to mute their public criticism of each other. Given the deep animosity which has characterized the relationship between Syria's Assad and Iraqi President Sadam Hussein, the fragile rapprochement might easily break down if the Gulf war intensifies.

Iran has warned that a major Iranian attack on Iraq is imminent. Iraqi pilots flew 98 bombing missions Monday along the Iran-Iraq border. In addition, Kuwait has stepped up defensive measures with antimissile equipment following last month's Iranian attacks on Kuwaiti territory. [Reuters reports Iranian gunboats attacked and set on fire a Japanese-owned tanker Wednesday as the biggest US-protected convoy sailed into the Gulf.]

Analysts say that time may show that the major achievement of the summit will be the decision of the Gulf states plus Iraq to restore relation's with Egypt.

The summit is widely seen as a personal triumph for Jordan's King Hussein, who hosted the event. It reaffirmed the necessity of including the PLO in any future peace talks ``on equal footing.'' But King Hussein said yesterday that while the PLO must be invited to attend such a conference, actual face-to-face negotiations with Israel could be conducted by a joint delegation comprised of Jordians and non-PLO Palestinians.

The summit's main objective was to draft a strong resolution on the Gulf war to complement UN efforts to convince Iran and Iraq to accept a cease-fire. In its final draft resolution, the conference condemned Iran for occupying part of Iraqi territory and for its delay in accepting the UN cease-fire. It urged Iran to accept the resolution in its original order, rejecting Iranian proposals that war guilt be established prior to a cease-fire.

The Arab leaders endorsed international action to pressure Iran into a cease-fire, without naming an arms or trade embargo. They expressed ``full support'' for Kuwaiti actions taken to protect itself from Iranian threats.

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