NEWS

No place in Iraq for a puppet government, says Arab League head

Both Costas Simitis, head of the Greek presidency of the European Union, and Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, have undertaken the extremely difficult task of salvaging some vestiges of unity in a deeply divided political family. The war on Iraq has found Arab governments tragically divided, although it did unite people across the Arab world in major demonstrations against the invaders. Moussa was in Athens yesterday for consultations with the Greek EU presidency about the war in Iraq and the Palestine question. In an interview with Kathimerini, he comments on the strenuous resistance put up by the Iraqis, warns of the risk of broader regional conflict and says that the people of Iraq will not accept a puppet government under any circumstances. What is the purpose of your visit to Athens? The purpose is to meet Greece and the president of the European Union, so I am going to meet with the prime minister and the foreign minister. We’ll be speaking about Iraq, Palestine, the Mediterranean, and the general relationship between the Arab world and Greece. Do you think there is any chance of a common initiative by the European Union and the Arab League to stop the war in Iraq? Everything is possible, but what we need is coordination and consultation. We are ready to do everything we can in order to help stop the war. And I know that Europe is also interested in stopping the war. In general, public opinion in the European Union is not in favor of military action. So there is an opportunity that we can do something together in favor of peace and a peaceful solution. A retreat by the American and British troops at this very moment would be a huge political humiliation for the sole superpower. So aside from rhetoric, is there any chance of doing something practical? At this stage, perhaps it is difficult to talk about a solution to the crisis, while war is continuing. The diplomatic efforts should not stop. We should not help this war. At the same time, the situation in Iraq is not conducive to any end in sight. There are foreign forces, but there is also strong resistance, and that must all be taken into consideration, together with the role of the United Nations, the role of the Arab League, the role the European Union. There are many unresolved issues to discuss. How would you describe the US-led aggression against Iraq? The council of foreign ministers of the Arab League formally characterized it as an aggression by the US and the UK against Iraq. However, at least three Arab League member states are providing the invaders with military assistance. What is the position of the Arab League on this? Of course, it has weakened the position of the Arab League, there is no question about that. But the Arab League is against the war, calling on all countries not to participate. But it has weakened the overall Arab position, of course. In the past you were foreign minister of Egypt. How do you feel when you see Nasser’s country allow American troops to go through the Suez Canal? The Suez Canal is a different story. It is governed by the Constantinople Convention and there are certain obligations. The war effort should not be helped in any way. What is happening in Iraq is absolutely unacceptable. It’s unacceptable for anyone to see a city of 5 million people being bombarded 24 hours a day and with many civilian losses. The situation is untenable. And that is why the Arab countries and the whole world cannot tolerate this situation. Both in Palestine and in Iraq both ordinary people and officials expect more from Europe than from their brother Arab countries. Isn’t this a little frustrating? Yes, it is frustrating. But the help is much better organized than before. There were some obstacles, some complaints, but all the [Arab League] countries have promised to contribute to the Palestinian authority. In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the Arabs used the oil embargo against the West and apparently it was successful. Do you think there is any chance of them using this weapon now? I really don’t know. But I’ll tell you that the prevailing view in the Arab and Muslim countries is that oil is a commodity, and not a weapon.