CAIRO, FEB. 15 -- Arab governments in the allied coalition quickly dismissed Iraq's conditional peace offer today, calling the proposal "not serious" and saying it failed to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.
But some Arab nations outside the coalition, including most of the North African states that have been highly critical of allied prosecution of the war, welcomed the Iraqi offer.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, winding up a three-day visit to Egypt, expressed joy at the offer, saying it would "allow the Kuwaiti people to decide their own fate." He contended that the failure of U.S. troops to liberate Kuwait after nearly a month of fighting amounted to a U.S. defeat. "America's teeth were broken, its feathers plucked and its horn broken in the gulf," Gadhafi told a press conference.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel-Meguid, reading a statement by eight foreign ministers of Arab countries opposing Iraq who were meeting here today, said the proposal by Baghdad "adds new conditions that are unacceptable" and "is rejected in its entirety and in detail."
Abdallah Bisharah, secretary general of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, told the gathering that the Iraqi proposal was "an attempt to undermine the will of the international community."
Amid such divergent views, Iraq's conditional offer to withdraw from Kuwait appeared likely to be achieving one of its possible aims: heightening divisions in the Arab world and threatening to widen a gap between some Arab governments supporting the allied coalition and restless Arab populations.
Officials and analysts here saw the Iraqi proposal as an attempt to salvage political victory from military defeat by creating a new wedge between the United States and Arab allies. But even those who rejected the proposal acknowledged it seemed to indicate a new awareness by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that the gulf conflict may be a losing venture.
Some Arabs who strongly opposed Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion described the proposal as positive.
"It is the best news since Aug. 2," said Tahseen Bashir, former Egyptian presidential spokesman and retired diplomat. "Whether it's a ploy to gain more time or to gain some attached conditions does not really matter. These conditions are all sweeteners to the pill, and the pill is that Saddam Hussein is ready to get out.
"The allied coalition will not be easily divided. He will be put to the test of withdrawal. He might try many tricks on the way out, but he's a defeated man."
Others criticized the quick rejection by the United States and its Arab allies.
"Bush's reaction is very disappointing," said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a sociologist at the American University in Cairo. "He could have said, 'All right, it's a good sign, and if Saddam is serious we'll be willing to halt the fighting,' or offered some kind of counterproposal. Instead, all we got was a very negative statement. A lot of people believe the Iraqi people have suffered disproportionately."
Reaction on Cairo streets was jubilant at first, but later turned somber after news reports emphasized conditions Iraq attached to its offer.
"It's too late to put those conditions on withdrawing," said Magdi Shehata, a truck driver who was among Egyptians gathered around a radio at a downtown cafe to listen to the news. "Saddam has no right to make conditions after he has already destroyed his people and his country."
The Iraqi proposal overshadowed the opening day of the meeting of foreign ministers of Egypt, Syria and states in the Gulf Cooperation Council -- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates -- to discuss postwar security and economic arrangements. It also added an element of uncertainty to the deliberations.
Until now, most postwar planning has hinged on an unspoken assumption that Saddam would be driven from office or killed or that Iraq's massive army would be devastated. But a successful Iraqi withdrawal might leave both the Iraqi president and his army more or less intact.
"This is another difficult factor for us," said a senior Arab official, who asked not to be identified. "We may have to put more emphasis on security considerations and less on economic ones."
The foreign ministers are weighing a joint Egyptian-Syrian-Saudi proposal that Egypt and Syria maintain ground troops in the gulf to head an all-Arab peace-keeping force after the fighting ends. They also are considering a proposal to establish a $15 billion Middle East development fund to help rebuild Iraq and Kuwait after the war and to funnel money from oil-rich gulf states to poorer Arab countries such as Egypt.
The plan has support from U.S. and West European officials, who have encouraged the Arab allies to come up with formulas for future security arrangements that would allow Western ground troops to leave the region as soon as possible after fighting ends.
The eight countries attending the two-day session are the backbone of Arab support for the anti-Iraq coalition. Morocco, which has sent a token force of 1,500 troops to the gulf, rejected an invitation to attend. No public reason was given, but officials said King Hassan II is attempting to maintain a low profile in response to public demonstrations in support of Iraq.