World / Middle East

Arab summit struggles to heal rifts

By Agencies in Kuwait City, Kuwait (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-27 08:52

Arab summit struggles to heal rifts

The summit host, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah

Warning of "enormous" dangers, Kuwait urged fellow Arab nations on Tuesday to resolve disputes complicating crises such as Syria's war and unrest in Egypt, but diplomats said tensions rose behind the scenes at their annual summit.

The gathering of the 22-member Arab League also heard an appeal from the UN-Arab League peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, for an end to the flow of arms to combatants in the Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 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 in a speech delivered on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Brahimi called for renewed efforts to revive the peace process launched earlier this year in Geneva to resolve the crisis, now in its fourth year.

"I appeal to members of the League of Arab States, working with the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Nations, to take clear steps to re-energize Geneva II," he said, referring to the talks that collapsed in February after two rounds of talks mediated by Brahimi.

The Syrian opposition, meanwhile, called for "sophisticated" arms at the Arab summit while Saudi Arabia said the military balance needed to change to "end the impasse" in Syria's civil war.

But Brahimi insisted on the need for a "political solution", urging an "end to the supply of arms to all parties".

Opposition Syrian National Coalition chief Ahmed Jarba repeated calls on the international community to supply rebels with "sophisticated weapons".

"I do not ask you for a declaration of war," said Jarba, urging Arab leaders to put pressure on world powers to fulfill pledges to supply arms.

Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz said the world was "betraying" rebels by failing to arm them and leaving them as "easy prey".

The summit host, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, urged Arab states to overcome rifts he said were blocking Arab initiatives. "The dangers around us are enormous, and we will not move toward joint Arab action without our unity and without casting aside our differences," he 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 Shiite Muslim Iran, locked in a struggle for regional influence with Sunni rival Saudi Arabia.

Arab countries need to "confront any attempt to stir problems between our people and countries", Egyptian President Adly Mansour said. They should support the national choices of each state "and refrain from being drawn to search for influence or a role that would only lead to dividing the Arab ranks".

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

"Behind closed doors there is tension, but it's all under the table", and no public confrontation was made, one of the diplomats said. "There are clear divisions over what Saudis and the Qataris think."


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