Saudis lead boycott of Syrian summit|
Khaled Abu Toameh , THE JERUSALEM POST
Mar. 25, 2008
Syria's hopes of hosting an Arab summit in Damascus next week suffered a
major setback Monday with Saudi Arabia's announcement that King Abdullah bin
Abdel Aziz would boycott the gathering.
Arab diplomats in Cairo and Amman said several Arab heads of state were
expected to follow suit and stay away from the summit. "If the Saudi monarch
isn't going, that means that many other leaders won't go," one diplomat told
The Jerusalem Post.
Another diplomat said he would not be surprised if the Syrians decided in the
last minute to call off the summit to avoid embarrassment.
Noting that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah II and
the leaders of the Gulf states were also considering boycotting, the diplomat
said, "Syria is facing increased isolation in the Arab world because of its
alliance with Iran and its meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs."
He added that Washington's allies in the Arab world were also worried by
Syria's continued support for Hamas, Hizbullah and other radical groups in the
"Together with his friends in Teheran, Bashar al-Assad is trying to become a
major player in the region," he said. "They want to undermine Washington's
allies not only in Lebanon, but also in the Palestinian territories, Jordan,
Egypt and the Gulf."
Many Arabs hold Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responsible for the ongoing
deadlock surrounding the election of a new president in Lebanon. Lebanon has
been without a president since November 24, 2007, when the term of President
Emile Lahoud expired.
Under pressure and threats from Damascus, the Lebanese parliament has since
been forced to delay the elections for a new president 16 times.
The Syrians are also accused of standing behind a string of assassinations
targeting numerous anti-Syrian political figures in Lebanon, including former
prime minister Rafik Hariri, over the past few years.
The Lebanese Prime Minister is also set to boycott the summit, according to
reports in a number of Beirut-based newspapers.
The reports said that Prime Minister Fuad Signora, who is not on good terms
with Syria, was offended by the manner in which the Syrians chose to invite him
to the summit. The invitation was sent to Signora through his pro-Syrian Foreign
Minister Fawzi Salloukh.
"This step shows that the Syrians don't have good intentions toward Lebanon,"
a senior government official in Beirut told the daily Al-Balad newspaper.
Another daily, An-Nahar, said that the "ambiguous invitation" will
likely reinforce the Lebanese government's decision to boycott the summit.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit was quoted earlier this week as
saying that if no Lebanese president is elected before the summit, as is likely,
participation will be weak.
"I'm afraid that the Lebanese issue will reflect negatively on this summit,"
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the Arab League said he will represent his
country at the upcoming summit.
"I will represent King Abdullah, and Saudi Arabia will abide by decisions"
taken at the summit, Ahmed Kattan told reporters in Damascus, where he is
attending preparatory meetings for the March 29-30 summit.
"I hope that the strain between Damascus and Riyadh will end," he said. "We
hope that the ice will melt between Syria and Saudi Arabia."
The majority of the Arab governments have decided against a complete boycott
of the summit because they can't afford not to have some kind of presence at
such an important gathering. "Their major concern is that a total boycott would
only escalate the crisis [in Lebanon] and push Bashar al-Assad closer to
Teheran," said a Cairo-based political analyst.
"In any case, Assad is about to suffer a blow to his standing because it
appears that he will be sitting with low- level officials and not Arab monarchs
Lebanese opposition parliamentarian Wael Faour called on the Arabs not to be
lenient with Syria because of its negative role in Lebanon.
"If the Arabs overlook the Syrian regime's obstructionist policies in
Lebanon, they will loose this country," he said. "We and the Syrian people are
victims of the same regime. The day will come when the battle of the Lebanese
and Syrian people will be united against this regime in Damascus."
Original article: Jerusalem Post
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