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Meeting Between E.c., Arab States Postponed over Arab Differences

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A ministerial-level meeting between the European Community and the Arab League states that was to have opened near Venice next week has been postponed, apparently because of deep divisions in the Arab world over policy toward Iraq.

The postponement was announced by Italian Foreign Minister Gianni de Michelis, current chairman of the E.C. Council of Ministers, who had proposed it originally at a meeting of the 12 E.C. ministers in Rome early in September.

The ministers issued a statement at the time reaffirming their “determination to consolidate and reinforce the historic ties of friendship which bind them to the whole of the Arab world.”

Twenty of the 21 Arab League member states were invited to the meeting, plus the Palestine Liberation Organization.

One objective was to try to forge a common stand against Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

Iraq, the target of international sanctions for its invasion of Kuwait, was not invited.

De Michelis billed the meeting, scheduled for Oct. 7-8, as a “political initiative” taken in the framework of the delegation of responsibilities between the E.C. and the United States.

But the Arab world is so deeply split over the Persian Gulf situation that the Europeans began to express doubts that the meeting would be of value at this time.

Even Egypt, which has called repeatedly for a Euro-Arab dialogue, took the position that it is necessary for the Arab world to solve its own problems first.

That view was consolidated in discussions between E.C. and Arab League diplomats attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York. It became apparent that only 12 Arab states actively oppose Iraq, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya have not been hostile toward Baghdad and were expected to boycott the meeting.

European sources here said the meeting would be postponed for several weeks “in order to continue its preparation and the broadening of subjects to be discussed.”

No new date was announced.

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