CAIRO, NOV. 11 -- King Hassan II of Morocco urged Arab leaders today to hold a "last-chance" summit conference to head off war in the Persian Gulf, saying they should not be spectators "as if at a football match."
But his appeal got a cold reception from Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, who insisted that the Palestinian issue also be on the agenda -- a condition that would greatly complicate such talks.
Hassan's impassioned plea, broadcast live by Moroccan radio, gave voice to an emerging sentiment that Arab leaders should play a more active role in attempts to find a peaceful settlement to the gulf crisis lest they be left on the sidelines while the decision of war or peace is made by President Bush.
Although expressed for some time, particularly by Jordan's King Hussein, the feeling has taken on more immediacy since the Bush administration's announcement Thursday that up to 200,000 more U.S. troops are being sent to the gulf region. When they arrive over the coming weeks, they could raise the total of U.S. forces there above 400,000, giving Bush what he said was enough strength to wage an offensive war against Iraq if necessary.
"A war between Arabs is drawing near, and the drums of war are beginning to throb," Hassan warned, beseeching Arab leaders "to give peace a last chance and meet at a summit on the basis of what the international community has decided."
Within hours, Iraq said that Saddam's ruling Revolutionary Command Council rejected the idea as presented for fear another summit conference would only deepen already serious Arab divisions because it has not been preceded by adequate consultations.
A statement relayed by the official Iraq News Agency said such a summit could not be held "under the weight and threat of foreign forces violating the sanctity of Arabs and Moslems" in Saudi Arabia, implying that U.S. withdrawal from the gulf also would be a precondition. In a glimpse at Saddam's concern for his own security, Iraq added that the "venue and circumstances" would have had to be worked out in advance to enable him to attend and that the Palestinian issue would have to be part of the discussion.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, reacting to a similar suggestion from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev for an Arab solution, said last week that another Arab summit conference would only be a shouting match unless Iraq is ready to withdraw from Kuwait.
Saddam, in an interview broadcast today, maintained his refusal to commit himself to such a withdrawal. He told the British Independent Television News, however, that he is ready for a "deep dialogue as to the requirements for security in our region," including Palestinians' demand for an independent state.
In another move to avert war, Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen held talks in Baghdad with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tareq Aziz. Qian said he was in Baghdad to listen and had brought no specific peace proposal.
A Chinese diplomat in the Iraqi capital, quoted by the Associated Press, said Qian would tell Saddam that while China, which has veto power in the Security Council, would not support a U.N. resolution authorizing force, it would not veto it either.
The Moroccan monarch's proposal coincided with intensive consultations by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia said by the official Damascus press to include an attempt to formulate an Arab position aimed at averting a conflict. The ministers conferred Friday and Saturday in Damascus, pursuing three-way talks that opened formally 10 days ago in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.
Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel-Meguid of Egypt, on his return to Cairo, said all three countries agreed on the necessity of "working for a peaceful solution." Abdel-Meguid said Foreign Ministers Farouk Charaa of Syria and Saud Faisal of Saudi Arabia will go to Cairo soon to join him for a third round of talks.
Along with Morocco, Syria and Egypt have sent troops to Saudi Arabia as part of the U.S.-led multinational force arrayed against Iraq. All four countries have demanded steadfastly that Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait as the first step in any solution to the gulf crisis.
The official Syrian newspaper Al Thawra said today, however, that President Hafez Assad's Damascus government opposes use of force to push Iraqi occupation troops out of Kuwait. "This would serve no pan-Arab or national cause," it said.
The official Damascus radio said Saturday that all Arabs should "work seriously to avoid a catastrophe that would strike the brotherly state of Iraq and the region as a whole." It added, "A unified Arab position should be reached on a just and peaceful settlement that would stop the drums of war, which are beating every day."
Hassan said he is willing to be host to an Arab summit conference within the week. But he said any other site would be fine as well. What is important, he declared, is to get started on a high-level Arab solution to the gulf crisis before it slides into a war with unforeseen consequences.
"Who would not react if Baghdad was attacked, or Dhahran, Riyadh or Bahrain was bombed?" he asked. "Which Arab head of state would remain calm and be just a spectator as if at a football match if war breaks out?"
In a gesture toward Iraq, Hassan clearly linked solution of the Persian Gulf crisis with resolution of the Arab-Israeli dispute over Palestine. As he did today, Saddam repeatedly has said his invasion and annexation of Kuwait can be discussed only in the context of regional security problems including Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Syrian land and Syrian and Israeli occupation of Lebanese land.
The United States has strenuously opposed linking the gulf crisis with the Arab-Israeli dispute, insisting that mixing the two would hinder solution of the immediate gulf standoff and that Saddam is using the Palestinian issue to deflect attention from his aggression against Kuwait. But the Iraqi position has attracted many Arabs who ask why the United Nations has massed an international force in the gulf to enforce Security Council resolutions against Iraq while similar resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict have remained dead letters for 23 years.
Hassan, who has shouldered particular responsibilities for Jerusalem in the Moslem world, first endorsed the connection after 17 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces Oct. 8 during rock-throwing riots near the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
"We want to find a way leading to an overall Arab platform to clear the air and find a solution to the present problem and to the Arab cause for the liberation of the occupied territories, including Jerusalem," Hassan declared today.
Outlining his own views, he insisted Iraq had no right to annex Kuwait after the Aug. 2 invasion. Although he did not specifically declare that Iraq must withdraw from all Kuwaiti territory, he said Arab leaders should discuss "what the international community has decided," a reference to Security Council resolutions demanding Iraqi withdrawal and restoration of Kuwait's sovereignty.