Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Riyadh Summit

Al-Hayat leads its Riyadh-summit coverage with this:
High-level sources participating in the Arab solidarity summit that started yesterday in Riyadh told Al-Hayat that the summit "Launched a climate aimed at reclaiming Arab "qaraar" [word meaning in this case "firm decision-making power"], which in the past had been eroded in a way that led to a multiplication of foreign interventions and allowed the initiative to fall into non-Arab hands". And the sources added: "Exchanges in the sessions and between sessions all indicated a common desire to regain the initiative in all of the open files, from Palestine to Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and Somalia, and this involves unifying our discourse in addressing the great powers, and also in addressing the neighboring states.

This atmosphere of taking back Arab decision-making powers appeared in the opening statement [of the Saudi king] ...when he said: "When credibility returns, a new wind of hope will begin to blow over the ummah, and we will not allow powers foreign to our region to design the future of our region. No flags will fly in Arab lands but Arab flags". And the king touched on the need to end the oppressive blockage against our brothers the Palestinian people, at the earliest possible time. And he took up too the "illegal foreign occupation" of Iraq, and the "hateful sectarianism which threatens the unity of its people".
The theme of the conference, in other words, according to Al-Hayat, was a common desire to see the Arab regimes take control of strategic decision-making in the region, with the implicit admission that their credibility in this had reached a very low ebb. On this reading, the reference to the illegal foreign occupation of Iraq was not really an about-face in Saudi policy vis-a-vis the Bush administration. Rather it was part of a attempt by the Saudi king to show leadership in permitting the Arab regimes to claw back some degree of credibility in the Arab world. The king "took up" the issue of the illegal American occupation of Iraq in the same way that he "took up" the problem of "hateful sectarianism" in that country, and the need to lift the Palestinian blockade: These are problems that have resulted from foreign interventions in our region (so goes this reading); we leaders have in the past been lax in allowing openings for these foreign interventions to occur; we recognize that; and from now on we will be making our own decisions, to roll this back and make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again. Given the fact that the "foreign interventions" can be understood as Iranian in addition to American, this isn't a theme from which policy moves automatically flow. It is a general statement of principle.

Al-Quds al-Arabi, for its part, adds to its summit coverage this:
Israeli newspaper Yehdioth Ahrunoth reported on Wednesday that the Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel have held secret meetings at which they have drawn up a new proposal for solving the question of Palestinian refugees. The paper said this includes a proposal for financial compensation for refugees displaced in the 1948 war, in exchange for their staying in the countries where they currently reside. And the paper said the proposal would permit those who didn't agree [to the financial compensation offer] to return to Palestine. And it said the US and Saudi and other Gulf states would provice multi-billion-dollar financing to improve the quality of life of those who choose to stay in the countries where they now live.
The reporter doesn't comment on the YA report, limiting himself to background on the number of refugees involved, and so on. I haven't seen the YA story referred to anywhere else.

The Al-Quds al-Arabi lead editorial says the important practical effect of the Riyadh summit has been to initiate a new stage in the process aimed at Arab-country recognition of Israel, a crucial step, the editorialist says, in laying the groundwork for confrontation with Iran "whether political or military", in his words. Specifically, on the Israel-recognition question, the editorialist says this:
If reports are true about a joint meeting of the foreign ministers of the "international quartet" with those of the "Arab quartet", along with the contending parties Israel and Palestine, then we can expect the start of an unprecedented new round of normalization [of Arab states with Israel]. This is because the Arab quartet includes two states that don't currently have relations with Israel, namely Saudi Arabia and the UAE..."
Similarly, the editorialist says, the Rice meetings with Abbas and Olmert, quite apart from any substance, have had as their aim the further creation of a climate of opinion putting Israel on the side of the Arab states ahead of an eventual confrontation with Iran.

So there you have part of the assortment of Arab views on the Riyadh summit, from the regimes pulling up their socks to regain credibility (Al-Hayat), to another step in the adoption of Israel as an ally against Iran (Al-Quds al-Arabi).

The American coverage puts all of this in kids-story mode. While King Abdullah did call the US occupation "illegal", the NYT misleadingly implies this was some kind of a policy about-face, lifting it out of its context of overall self-criticism. The more-colorful Juan Cole writes: "King Abdullah is hopping mad to talk this way...It augurs ill for US-Saudi relations....[The king] is so angry he sounds a bit like Harith Al-Dhari, who is connected in some shadowy way with the Sunni guerillas fighting the US," focusing on this as if it was meant as a specific threat to the Green-Zone government.


Anonymous Veronica said...

These "moderate" US puppet dictators and kings have no shame. They would throw their people, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Somalia .... to the wolves and would conspire and make friends with Israel, if it all suits them and keeps them in power. The Saudi King and that "hopping mad" King Abdullah must be making Bush and Cheney shake with fear in their boots.

Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi who is boycotting the Riyadh summit which is expected to renew an offer of full peace and normal ties with Israel, summed it up quite well when he said, "The US has already specified the outcome of the Arab League summit taking place in Riyadh. Arab leaders should not attend the summit. They should stay at home - issues have already been decided from outside. Condoleezza Rice gives orders to Arab leaders. She brought the decisions and the Arab summit's agenda ... Why do they [Arab leaders] bother themselves and attend the summit if everything has been already decided in Washington?"

5:32 PM  

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