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Hard-line States Gain Strength at Arab Summit Meeting in Baghdad

May 30, 1990
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Israel found much cause for concern in the warlike rhetoric emanating this week from the Arab summit meeting in Baghdad.

In addition to open talk of military attacks against Israel, there were calls for coordinated action to stop the immigration of Soviet Jews to Israel and the administered territories.

The harsh tone of the public statements appeared to signal that the hard-line Arab states, led by Iraq, were gaining strength over the more moderate forces, led by Egypt, which have argued that it is in the Arabs’ interest to pursue the peace process, rather than the military option.

Tough words also were directed against the United States for what the Arabs contend is its uncompromising support for Israel.

The Arab leaders reportedly were furious over a 16-page letter the U.S. State Department sent last week to the Arab League, urging Iraq to “moderate both its action and its rhetoric” and refrain from using “excessively ardent language.”

In recent weeks, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has made several statements threatening war against the Jewish state. In one case, he vowed to “destroy half of Israel” with chemical weapons if it contemplated a pre-emptive strike against Iraqi weapons installations.

His words this week were little different, and they set the tone of the proceedings in Baghdad, which Hussein personally hosted.

“If Israel attacks, we will hit back strongly, and if it uses weapons of total destruction against our nation, we will use against it the weapons of total destruction which we have,” Hussein told the heads of the 15 Arab countries participating in the summit.


Iraq is said to be in the process of amassing a deadly stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. There also have been reports that Iraq is building an underground nuclear reactor to replace the one destroyed by Israel nine years ago.

In Washington, the State Department said Tuesday that the words it used previously to describe Hussein’s threats against Israel could be applied to his latest remarks. The department had called the Iraqi leader’s earlier threats to destroy Israel “irresponsible, inflammatory and outrageous.”

Hussein’s tough stance at the summit was echoed by Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. In an aggressive speech at the summit’s opening ceremony, Arafat seemed to part with his previous declarations about making peace with Israel.

Arafat also called for the Arab nations to impose sanctions against countries that abet the immigration of Soviet Jews to the Israeli territories.

“We are duty-bound to use all weapons-including sanctions, economic boycotts, and political and psychological pressures — against states, establishments and companies that participate in aggression against Arab territory,” the PLO leader said.

“The ordeal of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation is an intolerable strain on its patience,” he said.

He called for the revival of the Arab Joint Defense Council, which he said should meet within a month to confront Israeli “challenges and threats” to Arab security.


The council, made up of the foreign and defense ministers of the Arab nations, was formed in 1950 but has scarcely been used since. It was last convened, unsuccessfully, by Hussein during Iraq’s eight-year war with Iran.

Arafat chided the U.S. Congress for its resolution declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, and said that East Jerusalem “is part of the Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation. It is the capital of the state of Palestine.”

On Tuesday, the Arab leaders met behind closed doors for almost three hours to discuss ways to impede Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel, including Arafat’s suggestion to revive the defense council.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the only country to have diplomatic relations with Israel, urged the Arab states to deliver “a humane and rational message” on the immigration question.

He was said to have told his colleagues that they can expect the United States to take “a series of calculated steps to limit the negative effects of the (Soviet Jewish) immigration” in the next few months.

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