"There is no justification for delaying the summit and for one party imposing its views unilaterally without consulting others," Egyptian President Husni Mubarak told Orbit television in an interview that was published on Monday in the Egyptian press.

Mubarak was scheduled to discuss a new bid to hold the summit with the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Cairo on Monday. Mubarak said he would also discuss the matter with Bahrain’s amir, who holds the rotating chair of the Arab summit.

In Amman, Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khadir said the proposed date for the summit was 16 April but it had not been confirmed.

Tunisia suddenly announced late on Saturday that the summit had been indefinitely postponed as the preparatory meetings of foreign ministers had revealed unbridgeable differences. The division concerned how to respond to a US plan for democratic reform in Arab states and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Venue

Tensions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict reached new heights after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon authorised the assassination of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Shaikh Ahmad Yasin last week. It was Israel's highest profile assassination in the three-year Intifada, or uprising, aimed at ending Israel's occupation.

Husni Mubarak urged Arabs not
to give up hope

Egypt has offered to hold a summit as soon as a date can be agreed. The rules of the 22-nation Arab League allow Egypt, as the site of the league's headquarters, to convene a summit if the scheduled host is unable to.

While several countries welcomed Egypt's move, Tunisia protested, saying it should still host the next summit.

"If the [Arab] presidents want to meet again in Tunisia, I have no objection," Mubarak said. "We're not imposing anything on anyone. We just want to salvage the situation."

'Shock'

"I couldn't believe that a summit could be simply cancelled without consultation with others. I was shocked by that," said Mubarak.

"An unpleasant statement was issued," by the Tunisians, he added, "and we don't want to get into argument for the sake of argument."

Asked about the differences that emerged in the ministerial meetings, Mubarak said that if he had heard of the problems, "I would have gone to Tunisia, and we would have been able to overcome what happened and found solutions to the disputes."

"The summit has to succeed," he stressed.

Many Arabs despaired of their leaders and the Arab League after the Tunis summit was cancelled. But Mubarak sounded upbeat.

"I tell the Arab people that there is always great hope. We shouldn't lose hope at all. There is no problem that hasn't a solution," he said.

Egypt is the most populous Arab country and has traditionally been viewed as the leader of the Arab world.