From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sun Mar 29 2009 - 06:24:38 EST
Arab summit to back Bashir, ease divide over Iran
Sun Mar 29, 2009 7:13am GMT
* Summit seeks to back Sudan over Bashir warrant
* Aims to ease Arab rift over Iran
By Andrew Hammond
DOHA, March 29 (Reuters) - An Arab summit in Qatar on Monday will seek to
give backing to Sudan over an international arrest warrant for its president
and ease a deep rift among Arab states over how to deal with ascendant
Shi'ite power Iran.
Arab governments have struggled to respond to Iran's political clout since
the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, bringing long oppressed Shi'ite Muslims
there to power.
The leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia see Iran's hand behind the strength of
Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories -- Islamist
groups who refuse to renounce armed action in the historic Arab conflict
Other Arab countries with good ties to Iran, such as Syria and Qatar, back
the populist view in the Arab world that the policies of Hezbollah and Hamas
are legitimate responses to Israel, which rejects returning Arab lands it
seized in 1967.
Israel's recent war on Gaza exposed the divisions, with Qatar hosting a
crisis summit that brought together Arab leaders plus Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and leading figures from Hamas. The meeting threatened
to revoke an Arab peace proposal to Israel, championed by Washington's Arab
Egypt and Saudi Arabia refused to attend, saying an economic summit of Arab
leaders that had already been planned before the Gaza war would suffice.
Egypt is the Arab world's most populous country and Saudi Arabia is the
world's biggest exporter of oil and the birthplace of Islam, making them
"The Doha summit is still a battleground between the emerging de facto
alliance between Qatar, Syria and Iran, on one side, and the Saudis,
Egyptians and Jordanians, on the other," said Ali al-Ahmed, a U.S.-based
Saudi opposition figure. It was not clear if any Iranian officials would
attend as observers.
EGYPT SPOILS THE SHOW?
Plans by Qatar and Arab League chief Amr Moussa to make the meeting a
reconciliation summit were spoiled by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's
surprise decision not to attend -- apparently over continuing rancour at the
Gaza summit chaos.
The Egyptian and Saudi leaders pulled out of last year's summit in Damascus
in protest at Syria's backing for Hezbollah in Lebanon, which they believe
was done at Iran's bidding.
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad flew to Riyadh this month for
fence-mending talks with King Abdullah ahead of the Doha summit. Observers
had assumed the mini-summit also mollified Mubarak, who flew to Riyadh that
Jamal Khashoggi, editor of Saudi daily al-Watan, said Mubarak's absence
would not affect Saudi- and Egyptian-led attempts to get Hamas to join a
unity government with the Fatah faction led by U.S.-backed Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas.
"The others will carry out the plan developed by the mainstream countries.
The only position in Doha is the Egyptian-Saudi policy. It's the only one on
the table," he said.
Other points of dispute such as Syrian policy in Lebanon, which has
elections soon, and Damascus' alliance with Tehran would not be on the
table, he said. Analysts surmise the Riyadh summit cut a deal to prevent
these issues exploding in Doha.
Saudi Arabia has been keen on a truce with Syria and Qatar and is concerned
that Arab divisions allow Iran to trumpet itself as the champion of the
Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the leader of mainstream Sunni Islam,
fears that the United States will come to a historic agreement with Iran
recognising it as the Gulf regional power, thus creating a possible threat
to Al Saud family rule.
Tensions between the Saudi authorities and minority Saudi Shi'ites bubbled
to the surface last month with clashes in Medina and rare talk by a
firebrand Shi'ite cleric that Shi'ites in the oil-rich Eastern Province may
one day seek secession.
Goodwill feelers put out to Iran by new U.S. president Barack Obama have
created further unease.
As'ad AbuKhalil, a politics professor at California State University, said
Riyadh had lost faith in Washington's resolve to defend its corner in
"The Saudi government and the rest of the so-called 'Arab moderate camp' are
fully aware that the United States is going to be too distracted with
financial troubles and Iraq and Afghanistan to fight inter-Arab affairs."
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's indictment by the International
Criminal Court in The Hague over atrocities in Darfur is set to present a
further challenge for leaders of the 22-member Arab League, whether Bashir
defies international justice and turns up or not.
After the demise of Saddam Hussein, international justice for the Sudanese
leader would set another precedent for leaders accused by opposition and
rights groups of ruling by repression.
C Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved
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