Arab, South American leaders meet in Riyadh
LONDON - Riyadh hosted the Fourth Summit of South American-Arab Countries (ASPA), which involved leaders and top officials from the distant regions meeting to enhance and further develop economic, political and cultural ties.
The summit, which brought together representatives of 22 Arab states and 12 South American countries, involved high-level Arab participation including Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
While the South American presence was less robust, it included President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, Peruvian Prime Minister Pedro Cateriano, among others. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was also in attendance.
A central issue at the meeting was the Arab-Israeli conflict, with a joint statement issued calling for Israel to immediately withdraw from occupied Arab lands. The final communiqué also emphasised that Israel’s continued occupation hindered the two-state solution and condemned attacks on civilians in the Gaza Strip.
In his opening remarks, Saudi Arabia King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud commended Latin American countries for their support of Arab causes, particularly the Palestinian issue, noting that most Latin American countries recognise the state of Palestine.
The king also emphasised the importance of tackling major joint issues, “notably, the fight against terrorism and extremism and the spread of the culture of peace and dialogue”.
Echoing the same sentiment, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said the Palestinian issue was essential to peace and security in the Arab world.
“We are gathered here to make a decision about what we can do to stop the bloodshed, occupation and violations of international law by Israeli settlers and the army,” he said.
Ban underscored that Latin America has the biggest Arab diaspora in the world and noted that several past Latin American presidents were of Arab descent. Chile has hosted approximately 350,000 Palestinian immigrants, while more recently, Brazil has hosted more than 2,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war since 2011.
Ban went on to say that Latin America’s “history — largely one of harmony, integration and achievement — sends a powerful message at a time when the world is wrestling with the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war”.
Ban also stressed that the Arab world can take inspiration from the historical experiences of Latin American countries that have transitioned from turbulent states to relatively stable nations.
“The hopes generated by the ‘Arab spring’ have been dashed by conflict, instability and authoritarian governments from Syria to Libya and elsewhere,” he said.
“Latin American countries have largely made the transition that so many people across the Arab world yearn to make for themselves.”
With regards to issues raised by Latin American leaders, Uruguay President Tabare Vazquez said South America was fighting to eradicate poverty through sustainable development projects, while also stressing the effects of the current price of crude oil.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Luiz Iecker Vieira spoke about the large number of people of Arab origin living in South America, while also calling for Latin American countries to open their borders to Syrian refugees.
Vieira stressed that more joint efforts were needed to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East, describing terrorism as a disease that needs more international efforts to neutralise.
Over the past year, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain have been sites of terrorist attacks from the Islamic State (ISIS), which also took over parts of Iraq and Syria.
The ASPA summit was launched ten years ago and is the brainchild of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose country hosted the conference’s inaugural meeting in 2005. Meetings were held in Doha in 2009 and Lima in 2012 after it rescheduled the 2011 summit due to the “Arab spring” uprisings.
Peru, which hosted the 2012 meeting, recently became one of 12 Pacific Rim countries to seal the world’s largest free trade area, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Argentina and Brazil are Group of 20 members, along with Saudi Arabia. Trade between the Middle East and Latin America is estimated to have jumped from $6 billion in 2005 to more than $30 billion in 2015.