Arab allies gather in Jordan, potential signal to Israel and Iran

The meeting sought to build consensus among Arab states on regional security issues.

January 31, 2019 16:48
3 minute read.
Arab allies gather in Jordan, potential signal to Israel and Iran

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi welcomes Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir ahead of informal talks between Arab foreign ministers on the latest regional developments at the King Hussein Convention Centre at the Dead Sea, Jordan January 31, 2019.. (photo credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED / REUTERS)


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The foreign ministers of a growing alliance of Arab states gathered in Jordan on Wednesday and Thursday, with Egypt, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia participating.

The meeting sought to build consensus among Arab states on regional security issues, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on the sidelines of the meeting, according to the Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad. The meeting was “positive and constructive,” according to local reports, and focused on “common Arab interests.”

Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan of the UAE attended along with Sameh Shoukri of Egypt, Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah of Kuwait, Adel al-Jubeir of Saudi Arabia and Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain.

Local reports and reports in the region, such as Kuwait’s Al-Jarida, provided scant details on what was discussed.

The National in the UAE noted that there was no further information on the meeting except that it “will take place at the King Hussein Convention Centre at the Dead Sea.”

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt all cut ties with Qatar in June 2017, and relations between Qatar and these countries remain strained. Qatar has become a close ally of Turkey, and is accused by Riyadh of supporting extremism in the region. However, Kuwait and Jordan have more amicable relations with Qatar. This rift runs deep, including alleged Kuwaiti support for Qatar in a recent soccer match with the UAE that provoked anger among officials.

Al Jazeera, based in Doha, said that the meeting showed a “growing willingness to reconcile with the government of Syrian president Bashar Assad,” asserting that these countries support having Syria re-admitted to the Arab League after it was suspended in 2011. Syria’s intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk went to Egypt in December.

THE MEETING at the Dead Sea comes amid other regional concerns. The US is withdrawing from Syria, but Foreign Policy has reported that it may keep troops at Al-Tanf, a desert base near the Jordanian-Iraq border. Several of the countries meeting in Jordan also fear Iran’s growing power in the region.

Of particularly interest is the apparent absence of a Palestinian delegation at the meeting. The Palestinian issue does not appear to be high on the agenda. Jordan was a key interlocutor with the Trump administration in 2017 on Palestinian issues. However, angered by the US embassy move, Jordan also sent high level delegations to Turkey in the wake of the 2017 decision. At meetings at the Manama Dialogue conference in October 2018, the Jordanians spoke about the importance of the Israel-Palestinian issue.

There is concern about US aid reductions to the Palestinians, and the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are locked in a struggle that lacks reconciliation.

The opaque quality of the Dead Sea meeting raises questions about what might come next. There are important regional issues at the moment – including the coming defeat of ISIS in Syria; the continuing war in Yemen that may be trending towards a settlement; and the Iranian role in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Holding a high level meeting so close to Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas and not highlighting this issue appears either to conceal details that were not provided to the media, or a purposeful attempt to ignore Israeli and Palestinian issues. Israel, for instance, has relations with Jordan and Egypt, two of the attendees.

Two Israeli ministers visited the UAE last year, and reports also indicated that the US was supporting the possibility of Bahrain-Israel relations. Other foreign reports said that Bahrain supported Israel’s anti-tunnel operation against Hezbollah’s tunnels.

Ayman Safadi tweeted that the two-day event was positive and fruitful. He called the other foreign ministers his brothers. He hoped to “overcome our regions crises and achieve security and stability.”

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