Arab summit struggles to heal rifts- UPDATED

Arab leaders struggling with an array of foreign policy disputes opened an annual summit to try to forge a common stand on regional crises

Arab summit struggles to heal rifts- UPDATED

World Bulletin/News Desk

Warning of "enormous" dangers, Kuwait urged fellow Arab leaders on Tuesday to resolve a lengthening list of disputes complicating crises such as Syria's war and political strife in the biggest Arab state, Egypt.

The annual summit of the 22-member Arab League also heard an appeal from the U.N. peace mediator for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, for an end to the flow of arms to the combatants in the war, which has killed over 140,000 people and displaced millions.

Brahimi did not name the suppliers, but Saudi Arabia and Qatar are believed to be the main Arab funders of military assistance to rebels in Syria, while non-Arab Iran is the main regional power backing President Bashar al-Assad.

"The whole region is in danger" of being dragged into the conflict, Brahimi said, calling for renewed efforts to find a political settlement to the crisis, now in its fourth year.

Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, urged Arab states to overcome rifts he said were blocking joint Arab action. "The dangers around us are enormous and we will not move towards joint Arab action without our unity and without casting aside our differences," Sheikh Sabah, the summit host, said.

He named no country. But he was alluding to worsening disputes among Arab states over the political role of Islamists in the region, and over what many Gulf states regard as interference in their affairs by Shi'ite Muslim Iran, locked in a struggle for regional influence with Sunni rival Saudi Arabia.

Participants said there were divisions over Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, how to deal with the Syria crisis and how to define "terrorism" in the region.

The summit follows an unusual dispute within the Gulf Cooperation Council alliance of Gulf Arab states over Qatari support for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and a spat between Iraq and Saudi Arabia over violence in Iraq's Anbar province.

Gulf states tend to keep their disputes private, making a move by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain this month to recall their ambassadors from Qatar highly sensitive.

Kuwait has offered to mediate: Shortly before the gathering Kuwaiti Sheikh Sabah, smiling broadly, stood between Saudi Crown Prince Salman and Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, holding hands with them in an apparent attempt to convey a mood of reconciliation.

Crown Prince Salman left Kuwait on Tuesday, the state news agency SPA said, soon after he delivered a speech at the opening session. Veteran Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal remained in Kuwait, an aide said. 


But a Kuwaiti official said the dispute between Qatar and its neighbours was not on the summit's agenda.

"Gulf reconciliation and Gulf issues are something for inside the Gulf house," said Khaled al-Jarallah, Kuwaiti undersecretary for foreign affairs, ahead of the meeting.

Government officials said Kuwait's emir did not carry out any mediation attempts on the sidelines of the main meeting.

Arab summits are often dominated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a unifying topic for Arabs. The "Arab Spring" uprisings that began in 2011 have polarised the region, however.

Syria's war has stirred tension between Sunni Muslims, notably in the Gulf, and Shi'ite Muslims in Iraq, Lebanon and non-Arab Iran, whose faith is related to that of Assad's Alawite minority.

Reiterating that he saw no military solution to the war, Brahimi said Lebanon was in particular danger of being sucked into the conflict.

This appeared to be a reference to recent clashes between Alawites and Sunnis in northern Lebanon and bomb attacks by Sunni militants in areas controlled by Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah, which has been helping Assad in his war against Sunni-dominated rebels.

Saudi Crown Prince Salman called for "changing the balance of forces" on the ground there, adding that the crisis in Syria had reached catastrophic proportions.

On Monday Lebanon's foreign minister called on Arab states to support the Lebanese army to counter fallout from Syria's war, which he said threatened to tear the small country apart. 


The meeting was expected also to address other challenges such as Iran, whose long frosty relations with the West have thawed since the election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

Syrian opposition leaders have been lobbying the Arab League to give them Syria's seat on the pan-Arab body, and to push Arab states to approve the delivery of military hardware to them.

Syria's seat remained vacant during the summit session on Tuesday, something Ahmed al-Jarba, head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said would benefit Assad.

"Leaving Syria's seat empty sends a message to al-Assad...'kill, kill, (and) the seat is waiting for you once the battle is settled'," Jarba told the summit.

He asked Arab states to press outside powers to provide heavy weapons to "our revolutionaries" and increase humanitarian support to Syrians affected by the conflict.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 25 Mart 2014, 17:14