DOHA, Qatar, March 4 -- Iran offered a plan today to avert war in Iraq by holding elections supervised by the United Nations -- one of several proposals emerging as Muslim leaders prepared for a summit focused on the U.S.-led effort to oust Saddam Hussein.
Arab and Muslim leaders gathered in Qatar for a meeting of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, the third high-level meeting in a week seeking to avert war.
Calls for the Iraqi president to consider a life in exile have grown as the leaders of the Persian Gulf region wage a determined diplomatic effort to resolve the crisis. Iran, which announced it was sending a deputy foreign minister to the meeting, called for the United Nations to conduct free elections in Iraq and urged the Iraqi opposition to reconcile with Hussein as part of a plan aimed at averting war.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi announced the plan in Tehran, but it was not clear whether Iran would present the ideas to the summit. "We want a referendum to be held in Iraq and the Iraqi opposition [to] reconcile with the current regime in that country under the supervision of the United Nations," Kharrazi said.
Organizers of the Qatar summit said the Iraq-U.S. crisis would top the agenda of the meeting, which opens Wednesday. But they said it was up to the leaders to decide whether they would discuss Iran's proposal or an initiative by the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Nahayan, urging Hussein to step down to avoid a U.S.-led attack.