1720 PST, Thursday, March 25, 2010
SIRTE: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari to quit an Arab summit in protest at a meeting this week between Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi and Iraqi opposition figures, a top Arab diplomat told a foreign news agency on Thursday.
But Zebari, who is in the Libyan Mediterranean city of Sirte to attend a meeting of Arab foreign ministers and to represent Iraq at a summit on Saturday and Sunday, later told AFP he had not decided on his next move.
"No decision now. Later," he said as he walked out of the foreign ministers' meeting with his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Mohammed al-Sabbah. "I am here now. I am hungry, I'm going to eat something," he said as he headed for lunch.
According to the diplomat, Maliki ordered Zebari to pack up and go home as the foreign ministers began meetings to prepare for the weekend summit.
"Maliki instructed Zebari to leave by the end of the day Thursday in protest at a meeting granted by Kadhafi to a delegation of Iraqi opposition figures," the diplomat said.
He ordered that the Iraqi delegation to the Arab summit be scaled back, leaving behind in Sirte Iraq's permanent representative to the Arab League.
The head of the 22-member pan-Arab organisation Amr Mussa met privately with Zebari over breakfast on Thursday to try to contain the diplomatic spat between Libya and Iraq, and convince the Iraqi foreign minister to remain for the summit.
Several Arab foreign ministers also tried to persuade Iraq's top diplomat to stay but were told by Zebari that he had no choice but to return home, the diplomat added.
Libya's official JANA news agency said that Kadhafi received a high-ranking delegation of Iraqi opposition leaders on Sunday, including former members of the outlawed Baath party of now executed dictator Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi delegation included former oil minister Issam Shalabi as well as ex-Baathist Salah Omar al-Ali.
Iraq is due to host next year's Arab summit, after forgoing its turn to hold this year's amid political tensions and security concerns.