CAIRO, SEPT. 1 -- Foreign ministers who gathered for an emergency session of the deeply divided Arab League voted today, by a narrow majority, to harden the league's condemnation of Iraq and to call on Arab nations to submit all peace proposals to the league for collective action.
The demand for league action on a flurry of draft proposals being circulated throughout the region, both by opponents and supporters of Iraq, appeared likely to be viewed as an audacious move, in part because of the pan-Arab organization's currently weakened and fractious state. Arab and Western diplomats here said, nevertheless, that the move seems to have little prospect of being carried out. In a series of resolutions, the foreign ministers reiterated and strengthened the league's denunciation of Iraq and called for its withdrawal from Kuwait.
The resolutions split the Arab nations into two camps -- a conservative group, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and a radical faction, headed by Iraq and North African countries. The division was viewed as likely to doom any possibility of a unified Arab political settlement of the Persian Gulf conflict.
The foreign ministers also demanded that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein take no steps that would alter the demographic composition or administrative divisions of occupied Kuwait, which Saddam has proclaimed as Iraq's 19th province. League members apparently fear that Iraq may transfer some of its population to Kuwait and modify its border in an attempt to erase its political identity.
Only 13 of 21 Arab foreign ministers in the league answered a call by Egypt to attend the emergency meeting here, and one of them -- Libya -- voted against every resolution.
The boycott by eight league members -- Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Sudan, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Mauritania and Yemen -- was an embarrassment for Egypt, which has led a coalition of conservative Arab nations against Iraq since its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
The 12 states endorsing today's resolutions were the same as those that voted at an Aug. 10 summit of Arab heads of state for the creation of an all-Arab deterrent force to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against a possible Iraqi attack. In addition to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, those nations are Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon, Djibouti, Oman, Qatar and Somalia.
Today's resolutions, announced by Arab League Secretary General Chadli Klibi, also called on Iraq to annul its annexation of Kuwait, pay reparations to Kuwait for damages caused by the invasion, allow all foreign nationals to leave Iraq and Kuwait, ensure the safety of all civilians in Kuwait, and allow embassies and diplomatic missions in Kuwait to operate freely under international law.
Some Arab diplomats have warned that divisions that have arisen in the league since the Iraqi invasion will prevent the organization from surviving in its present form, and they have said the league will have to be restructured.
A Western diplomat with wide experience in the Middle East sought to explain today's league meeting by saying, "They need to be seen trying everything. They're talking to history, and when the books are written, they want to be able to say that they tried everything."
"I don't think we will see the end of the Arab League," Klibi said. "But there is certainly a difference of opinion in the Arab League."
He added, "Opinions are divided, with a majority taking one position. At least, we have a majority. This majority feels -- rightly, I think -- that it has right on its side. Other members are not for the occupation of Kuwait, but they have a different position. . . . The difference is a question of the way of handling this crisis."