CAIRO, AUG. 8 -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today called an Arab summit meeting and said he would support an all-Arab security force to supervise the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, if a pullout can be negotiated. But he said he would not send Egyptian soldiers to Saudi Arabia to back U.S. forces there.
The president's press secretary, Muhammad Abdel Moniem, said several Arab leaders have accepted the invitation to the meeting, scheduled for Thursday evening. At least 11 Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco and Jordan, said they would be represented.
Mubarak, in an emotion-charged speech that had undertones of desperation, made clear that he does not want to be drawn into a military strike against Iraq.
"I'm not going to help foreign troops, but I will help Arab troops," Mubarak said, referring to his proposal for an Arab League peace-keeping force that would stand between the Americans and the Iraqis as the Iraqi army withdraws.
However, if Mubarak's 11th-hour bid for an Arab solution to the crisis fails, his government is likely to find itself under increasing U.S. pressure to respond favorably to American requests for substantial military assistance in the widening Persian Gulf conflict.
Mubarak's proposal appeared to be intended to offer Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a fig leaf that would allow him to withdraw from Kuwait under Arab supervision rather than directly as a result of U.S. intervention.
Mubarak urged Saddam to attend the summit, which he said should aim to "reach a solution and discuss the issue, and not be an Arab summit to exchange accusations and insults and tear at each others' throats."
The prospects for such a meeting succeeding, however, appeared to dim with Iraq's announcement today that it had annexed Kuwait. That announcement, which came an hour after Mubarak's speech, was interpreted by some Egyptian commentators as Saddam's response to Mubarak's proposal.
Immediately after the speech, a senior presidential aide said Mubarak was adamant in his refusal to send Egyptian troops to Saudi Arabia. The aide denied U.S. reports that Egyptian units were there already or would being sent soon.
Mubarak has authorized overflights of Egypt by U.S. military aircraft, diplomatic sources confirmed, and he issued special permission for the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Eisenhower, to pass through the Suez Canal early today on its way from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.
Mubarak alluded, almost defensively, to the Eisenhower, saying, "I can't prevent anyone from passing through the canal unless we are at a state of war with that country."
However, his refusal to commit himself -- publicly at least -- to providing substantial military assistance to the U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia seemed certain to capture the attention of the Bush administration, which provides Egypt with more than $2 billion a year in military and economic assistance.
A U.S. interagency group is meeting in Washington Friday to consider rescheduling Egypt's nearly $7 billion military debt.
"We have not taken any financial aid from anybody just to stand by them," Mubarak said. "I'm trying to uphold Arab dignity as best I can," he added, referring to his efforts to find an Arab solution to the crisis.
The Egyptian president, who flew from his summer retreat in Alexandria to Cairo this morning to make his speech, was visibly agitated during the address, waving his arms and pounding the lectern with his fist. Egyptian observers said he frequently lapsed into regional dialect as he bitterly accused Saddam of scuttling an Arab peace summit that was to be held in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, last Sunday.
Mubarak said any Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait would have to be accompanied by the return of the emir, Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah, and his ruling family.
"It's not a matter of only a royal family. It's a matter of principle. How can a neighboring nation remove the leadership of another nation?" Mubarak asked.
Mubarak said that when he learned last Thursday that the Iraqi ruler had reneged on his assurances that he would not attack Kuwait, "my thinking got paralyzed. I couldn't believe it. Iraq and Kuwait, they are both Arab nations, in the Arab League."
He said the night before the invasion he had thought to himself: "I hope August will be a peaceful month, because throughout my presidency it hasn't been."
Military analysts have said that the United States and its allies would need a force of up to 300,000 troops in Saudi Arabia to counter a full-scale attack by Iraq -- many more than could be airlifted to the Middle East in the first few months of any hostilities.
Inevitably, the analysts said, the United States would look to Egypt's 500,000-man army for manpower and possibly even armor, artillery and other heavy weaponry with which Washington has equipped Egypt over the years.
Under Mubarak, a former air force officer, Egypt has emphasized the quality, rather than the size, of its armed forces, helped by billions of dollars in financial aid from Washington. In contrast to the late president Anwar Sadat's policy of cutting the army's budget and restricting its role in public life, Mubarak has increased the military's contribution to Egypt's economic development, using the army for many public works projects.
With a central role in maintaining internal security and law and order, the Army is regarded by many Egyptians as one of the few institutions in the country that works.
One military analyst here said he thought the Egyptian army could best be used for supply and logistical support of the U.S. forces in the gulf and for air combat support.
However, joint U.S.-Egyptian exercises that have been held annually over the last decade in the desert west of here appeared to envision a more combat-oriented role for the Egyptians. The exercises have included mechanized infantry maneuvers with low-level, live bombing runs by U.S. B-52s and Egyptian-piloted combat aircraft.
The training maneuvers, called Operation Bright Star, were designed to prepare for the defense of the gulf oil fields. The exercises have taken place here partly because the Saudis have refused to grant the United States military basing rights.
Because of the difficulty in quickly transporting heavy weapons more than 7,000 miles from the United States to the gulf, Washington could be expected to seek a role for Egypt's reported 2,500 main battle tanks and 1,600 mobile artillery pieces, military analysts said.
It was impossible to ascertain tonight whether Mubarak is likely reconsider his declared unwillingness to commit Egyptian troops to Saudi Arabia to assist the U.S. forces.
The president's aides said he was earnest in his reluctance to become openly involved in foreign intervention in the Arab world.
Tasim Bashir, a former diplomat whose commentary often closely mirrors government thinking, noted in an interview: "As a rule, we never declare any military action before the event," and then added that Mubarak would be "unlikely to give anybody the pretense to say that Egypt is part of an imperialist plot."