Arab summit denounces Iran’s ‘blatant interference’ in the region, re-endorses Arab Peace Initiative

The Arab summit’s final statement reiterated the rejection of “Iranian interference in the internal affairs of the Arab countries.”
Sunday 22/04/2018
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit (L) and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir attend a press conference at the end of the Arab summit in Dhahran, on April 15. (AFP)
United stance. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit (L) and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir attend a press conference at the end of the Arab summit in Dhahran, on April 15. (AFP)

LONDON - Iran’s “blatant interference” in the region factored heavily in the Arab League summit at a time when tensions between Saudi Arabia and Tehran continued to escalate.

“We renew our strong condemnation of Iran’s terrorist acts in the Arab region and reject its blatant interference in the affairs of Arab countries,” Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said in his opening address at the summit April 15 in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

“We condemn its hostile attempts aimed at destabilising security and spreading sectarian sedition, considered a threat to Arab national security and a flagrant violation of the principles of international law,” King Salman said.

King Salman’s strong condemnation at the meeting came when Arab relations with Tehran hit an all-time low due to Tehran’s involvement in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

“We hold the Iran-backed Houthi militias fully responsible for the emergence and continuation of the Yemeni crisis and the human suffering that has afflicted Yemen,” King Salman said.

He stressed that Iran-made missiles fired by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia were evidence of “the danger of Iranian behaviour in the region, its violation of the principles of international law and ignorance of the values, ethics and good neighbourliness.”

King Salman also called on the United Nations to take a decisive position on the issue.

The Arab summit’s final statement reiterated King Salman’s rejection of “Iranian interference in the internal affairs of the Arab countries and (condemned) the aggressive attempts to destabilise the security and fuel sectarian sedition in the Arab countries, including Iran’s support and arming of the terrorist militias in a number of Arab countries as it violates the principles of good neighbourliness.”

The summit included 17 leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa meeting the day after the United States and its allies launched a missile attack on Syria in response to the Assad regime’s suspected use of chemical weapons in Douma.

Although reaction to the Western strikes was absent from the summit’s final communique, the chemical attack was condemned by the Arab League, which called for an international investigation in Syria. Damascus was absent from the summit because its Arab League membership was suspended seven years ago when the war began there.

“We, the leaders, have followed what Western powers did in Syria. As we affirm the importance of coordinating all efforts to reach a political resolution to the Syrian crisis, we utterly condemn the use of chemical weapons against the brotherly Syrian people. We demand an independent international investigation, including enforcing international law against anyone who uses chemical weapons,” the summit declaration said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, appearing at a news conference April 17 in Riyadh with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said Saudi Arabia was prepared to send troops to Syria as part of a wider US effort to stabilise the war-torn country.

“We are in discussions with the United States and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis (in 2011) about sending forces into Syria,” Jubeir said.

Jubeir revealed that talks were under way about the kind of forces that could be deployed in eastern Syria.

The Wall Street Journal reported that US President Donald Trump wanted to ease the burden on US troops by replacing them with an Arab military force based in north-eastern Syria. The United States has also wanted Arab allies to make financial contributions to help stabilise that region.

“In terms of financial contributions, Saudi Arabia has always maintained its share of the burden,” Jubeir said without elaborating.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and US plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv were heavily criticised at the summit.

“The Palestinian cause is our primary cause and will remain so until the Palestinian people receive all their legitimate rights, at the head of which is an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” King Salman said.

“We reiterate our rejection of the US administration’s decision relating to Jerusalem and we hail other nations rejecting it. We affirm that East Jerusalem is part of Palestinian territory.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech, called for an international peace summit to “decide on the state of Palestine’s membership in the United Nations and to form a multilateral international mechanism to sponsor serious negotiations.”

“[The summit] should commit to the resolutions of international legitimacy and agree on implementing agreements within a specified period of time to end the Israeli occupation, which started in 1967, and to establish the independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital that lives in peace and security alongside the state of Israel,” Abbas added.

King Salman announced that Saudi Arabia would donate $150 million to Jerusalem’s Islamic endowment programmes and for maintenance of the Islamic holy sites, as well as $50 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

The next Arab Summit is scheduled for 2019 in Tunisia.