Arab leaders convene at Doha summit

Top officials will discuss Palestinians, Iran; ignore arrest warrant against Sudanese leader Bashir.

By BRENDA GAZZAR
March 30, 2009 01:25
4 minute read.
Arab leaders convene at Doha summit

doha arab summit 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Arab leaders convening in Doha, Qatar, on Monday are expected to discuss a range of thorny issues, including Arab and Palestinian reconciliation, the influence of Iran in the region and how best to deal with the next Israeli government led by Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu. Arab League members will also confront the situation in Sudan and the international arrest warrant issued earlier this month for President Omar al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Despite the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court on March 4, Bashir received a warm welcome from Qatar and other Arab states when he arrived on Sunday. The 22-member Arab League has already said it will not enforce the arrest order. However, the circumstances of the 21st Arab summit are as controversial as some of the items on the agenda. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has elected to dispatch his minister of legal affairs, Mufid Shehab, to lead his country's delegation and the leader's conspicuous absence from the two-day summit raises questions about how much progress can be made in reconciling divided Arab states. Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim a-Thani said Saturday that Qatar respected Egypt's decision concerning the level of representation at the summit. "I cannot say that Qatar-Egypt relations are excellent, but there are roots of fraternal ties with Egypt as a big country that we respect," he was quoted by the Qatari News Agency as saying on Saturday. Tensions between Qatar and Egypt erupted during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and reignited during Israel's recent war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in which Qatar sided with the Islamist movement. In January, Qatar also held a controversial Arab summit on Gaza that was attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Damascus-based Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal. On the other hand, Assad, who is being courted by Western-backed Sunni states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia in an effort to get him to weaken ties with Shi'ite Iran, was among the first leaders to arrive in Doha on Saturday, where he reportedly conducted talks with the Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani. This is the fourth international trip that Bashir of Sudan has taken since his arrest warrant was issued, but his trip to Doha represents a particularly significant challenge to the decision of the International Criminal Court. Arab countries have been critical of the international tribunal's decision to issue an arrest warrant, arguing it would further destabilize Sudan as the Darfur conflict enters its seventh year. The Arab-dominated Sudanese government's battle against ethnic African rebels in the western region has killed up to 300,000 people and driven 2.5 million from their homes since 2003, according to the UN. "Security and peace necessitate that the ICC and UN Security Council should reconsider this decision," the Qatari prime minister said on Saturday. Also on Saturday, in a preparatory meeting ahead of the summit, Arab foreign ministers reached a joint draft resolution to reject the decision of the ICC to arrest Bashir. "The leaders reject attempts to politicize the principles of international justice and using them to undermine the sovereignty, unity and stability, of Sudan," said the draft resolution. In a news conference on Saturday, Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa said the league would "continue our efforts to halt the implementation of the warrant," including asking the UN Security Council to close the case against Bashir. Following Bashir's trip to Cairo last week, Amnesty International head Irene Khan said that Egypt and other Arab League states "should not shield President Bashir from international justice." His presence in Egypt, she said, should have been an opportunity to enforce the arrest warrant. "By declaring that President Bashir has immunity from the arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the league has undermined international law, which provides no such immunity for anyone, even a serving head of state, for such grave crimes," she said. Despite Mubarak's absence, the majority of Arab League member leaders are expected to attend the summit, according to the Qatari News Agency. While Ahmadinejad was not invited, Iran is expected to send its Foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki to attend as an observer, according to Gulfnews.com. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) were among those who had arrived in Qatar to attend the summit. The Palestinian delegation is hoping to secure "full Arab backing for Egyptian efforts in the [Fatah-Hamas] dialogue" and for Arab states to reiterate their commitment to the Arab peace initiative, chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat told The Jerusalem Post from Doha. While Mubarak's absence would not go unnoticed, Erekat said, Arab states needed "to move in the direction of having common ground on reconciliation and supporting Egyptian efforts in the area." He also said that the next Israeli government should accept the two-state solution, accept previous agreements signed with the Palestinians and halt settlement activities. Tibi, who arrived on Sunday, will likely be absent from Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony for the new Likud-led government as a result of his attendance at the summit, said his assistant, attorney Reda Jaber. In response to a report that at least one Knesset member was considering opening an investigation into Tibi's actions in Doha, Jaber responded that "it's not the business of the extremist, fascist Right with whom MK Ahmed Tibi will meet." AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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