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Yugoslavia: Iran, Iraq, Other Musim Countries Resent NATO Bombing

Prague, 1 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Middle Eastern states are taking a cautious approach to NATO's strategy of bombing Yugoslavia to stop the killing of Kosovo's Muslim ethnic Albanians.

Many governments in the Middle East, joined by Tehran, have demanded an end to Belgrade's attacks on Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who converted to Islam under the Ottoman Empire. Some also have dispatched aid to help the more than 100,000 Kosovar refugees who have fled into neighboring countries over the past week.

But few of the governments have openly supported NATO's policy of trying to bomb Belgrade into accepting an international peace treaty for the troubled south Serbian province. Instead, they have called for a political settlement, and several states are looking to Moscow to broker a peaceful way out of the conflict.

Analysts say that Arab states and Iran are torn between their conflicting desires to see a swift end to what many consider ethnic cleansing of their co-religionists in Kosovo and fear of seeing the western military alliance setting new precedents for intervening in foreign countries.

That reluctance reflects the fact that, in the past year, the United States has launched military strikes against three other countries prior to Yugoslavia. They are Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, all states within the Muslim world.

Yezid Sayigh -- a professor of international politics at Cambridge University in England -- says many Muslim countries fear NATO is in the process of unilaterally defining its role to operate beyond the constraints of the United Nations system.

"The Arab countries -- despite their predictable sympathy for the Kosovars as fellow Muslims -- are concerned that NATO action against Serbia has been undertaken entirely at the initiative of NATO members. The ability of NATO countries to act militarily without recourse to the international community, without a mandate from the Security Council, without a means through which Russia, China or individual Third World countries could have a say, is cause for unease."

Sayigh also says that many Arab countries worry that the strikes on Belgrade are a sign that NATO is increasingly moving beyond its traditional sphere of influence as the alliance debates what its role should be following the Cold War. That role used to be confined to repelling attacks against member states. But now -- first over Bosnia and now Kosovo -- NATO is intervening in territory once considered outside Western Europe, raising fears that one day it even could intervene beyond Europe.

So far, very few Arab states have publicly supported NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia. One, the United Arab Emirates, has called the strikes the "only option" left for the international community. Kuwait, too, has indirectly endorsed the strikes by saying Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is to blame for any escalation in the conflict.

But most states have taken a middle ground, speaking little about the NATO bombing even as they fiercely criticize Milosevic's actions and send aid to his victims.

A statement by Jordan's royal court (March 30) said King Abdullah condemned what it called the ethnic cleansing of the Albanian people of Kosovo and instructed his government to provide humanitarian and medical assistance to the refugees.

Egypt has also avoided the subject of air strikes as it has said it will send aid.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has called for a political solution to the conflict. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal is reported to have discussed the Balkans crisis and other issues in Moscow on a visit there, which ended March 30.

Analysts say these Western-leaning states do not fear NATO will intervene in their conflicts. But they still have mixed emotions about seeing the alliance target Yugoslavia. One reason is that Belgrade was once a key member of the non-aligned movement, which some of them helped found. Yezid Sayigh says:

"Most Arab countries have a very long relationship with Yugoslavia going back to deceased Yugoslav leader Marshall Tito's days and the founding of the non-aligned movement. So, it is distressing ... for the Arab countries to see one of their own in a sense being reduced to this state of affairs, even while feeling terribly distasteful about Serbian actions previously in Bosnia and now in Kosovo."

Several Middle Eastern countries are now looking to Russia to be a broker between NATO and Belgrade.

Iran -- which has consistently denounced the air strikes as illegal -- has repeatedly called on Moscow to use its influence with Belgrade to find a political solution to the current crisis. Tehran also is the current head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which groups most of the world's Muslim countries.

Resentment against NATO's action is particularly strong in Iran and two other Muslim countries under international sanctions, Iraq and Libya.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said last week that the air strikes are -- in his words -- a brutal aggression. Iraq has been the target of U.S. and British punitive strikes for its refusal to cooperate with U.N. arms inspectors, and clashes continue on an almost daily basis as Iraq challenges Western-imposed "no-fly" zones over the north and south of the country.

Libya has been equally outspoken. A Libyan state television commentary immediately after the strikes began Wednesday night said that they expose international peace to grave dangers.