Divisions to overshadow next Arab summit

Jan. 26, 2004 at 6:29 AM
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TUNIS, Tunisia, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- The next Arab summit scheduled in March in Tunisia will be overshadowed by sharp divisions over key issues, including Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Observers fear the lack of a common stance regarding major Arab issues will reflect on the upcoming meeting of the leaders of the 22-member Arab League.

The controversy over the venue of the summit was settled on Sunday by Tunisian Foreign Minister Al-Habib Bin Yehya who declared from Riyadh that the conference "will convene in Tunis in the second half of March."

"Preparations are already under way to ensure a unified Arab stance regarding the separation wall Israel is building in the West Bank and Arab-Israeli conflict in general," Bin Yehya was quoted as saying.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher also denied new reports that a mini-summit might convene in Cairo grouping Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria, Morocco and Jordan only.

"There is no Arab summit on schedule expect the next summit to be held in Tunisia," Maher said.

Regardless of its venue, the Arab summit will be held in difficult conditions that make agreement on a single Arab stance much unlikely, according to a Tunis-based Arab diplomat who spoke to UPI on condition of anonymity.

Inter-Arab rifts, such as the one opposing Egypt and Libya and the lack of an Arab agreement on a single formula to deal with Iraq dissipated hope for a unified Arab position that would strengthen the Arab front against Israel, the diplomat said.

"A quick reading of developments exposes undoubtedly the fragility of Arab cooperation and coordination despite unanimity that the situation in the Middle East is extremely dangerous and necessitates the closing of Arab ranks," he said.

The diplomat revealed that new ideas for dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict would be raised at the summit as an alternative to the Arab peace initiative adopted unanimously at the Beirut summit in 2002.

The Beirut initiative proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah offered full normalization of Arab relations with Israel in return for the Jewish state's withdrawal from Arab territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

The diplomat did not elaborate on the new ideas being contemplated.

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