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Iraq Transition

UAE official: Hussein was open to exile

UAE deal died at Arab League meeting days before Iraq war

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Saddam Hussein had agreed in principle to leave Iraq days before the U.S.-led invasion, a UAE official says.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- Days before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussein agreed in principle to accept an offer of exile from the United Arab Emirates, but the deal fell through, a UAE government senior official told CNN.

The reported offer came before an emergency Arab League meeting in Egypt in discussions between UAE officials and a Hussein aide, said the senior official, who was then a member of the UAE delegation to the Arab League.

The Iraqi president issued conditions, and the proposal went nowhere, the UAE official said.

The Hussein aide, Abed Hmoud, is now in jail in Iraq.

The UAE official's account was repeated by another source who attended the Arab League summit and, separately, by a senior UAE government official. (Watch: Exile plan faltered -- 2:58)

At the time, President Bush was calling for regime change in Iraq.

Hussein wanted guarantees and international assurances, including a resolution by the Arab League giving its approval for his exile, the senior official said.

News of the reported offer from the UAE emerged last week during an interview broadcast by the Arab network Al-Arabiya with Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahayan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, one of the United Arab Emirates.

The offer was spearheaded by his father, then-UAE President Sheikh Zayed Ben Sultan Al Nahayan, who died November 3. (Full story)

"During those days, the circumstances we worked under needed a very swift decision, an immediate response," the crown prince said in a documentary broadcast by the network.

"We had secured the approval of the main players, everyone who was involved, and the man concerned -- Saddam Hussein -- in 24 hours," he said. "So we came to the summit to lay down all the facts at the conference table. There would have been results if the issues were brought up but, again, this is all part of the past right now."

Even if the issue had been pursued at the summit, it was not clear whether Saddam Hussein would have followed through with any agreement. In the same documentary, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak describes the Iraqi leader as "a difficult man; no one knew what he was thinking."

Arab League Ambassador to the United States Hussein Hassouna told CNN that the summit leaders were surprised by the proposal because it had not been on the agenda and league members had not been consulted.

"In my own view, there was not enough consultations prior to seizing the summit with the very sensitive issue," he said. "After all, you have to realize this was, in fact, putting an item whereby the Arab League would ask the head of state of a member state to go into exile."

The senior UAE official said representatives of certain Arab League countries "killed the suggestion," arguing that the UAE president was not influential enough to make such a suggestion.

The league members opted not to even put the item on the meeting agenda, the senior official said.

U.S. State Department officials told CNN they knew about the proposal but did not consider it seriously because they knew the Arab League was not doing so.

UAE sources said Adnan Pachachi, a UAE national and a prominent Sunni then in exile from Iraq, knew about the deal.

Pachachi, who spent more than 20 years in Abu Dhabi after he left Iraq, was the UAE president's legal adviser. He told CNN from London that he was not aware of its details or whether Hussein had agreed to exit Iraq.

Still, fragments of the story were public even then.

CNN reported in March 2003 that an exile plan for Hussein appeared to be gaining support among his Persian Gulf neighbors and that during the Arab League meeting the UAE president had submitted a proposal calling for Hussein to surrender power within 14 days and leave Iraq under the temporary control of the Arab League.

The emergency meeting of the Arab League ended March 1. Hostilities began March 19. (Full story)

CNN's Caroline Faraj and Brian Todd contributed to this story.

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