Mubarak and Assad will seek to repair rift at Saudi summit

Egyptian sources to Post: Meeting will address "whole regional scene," including future of Arab-Israeli conflict.

mubarak 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
mubarak 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In another effort at inter-Arab reconciliation, the leaders of Egypt and Syria will visit Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to meet with King Abdullah to try to end a years long rift and blunt Iran's influence in the region. The mini-summit is part of King Abdullah's efforts to improve relations between the three Arab countries, an anonymous Saudi diplomat told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Saudi Arabia's official press agency said that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syrian President Bashar Assad will meet with the Saudi King on Wednesday, but did not specify whether they would meet together. Egyptian sources told The Jerusalem Post that the meeting will allow the leaders to address "the whole regional scene" and issues of concern to all the participants, including the future of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Wednesday's meeting continues the process of inter-Arab reconciliation that was launched by the Saudi king at the economic summit in Kuwait in January, analysts say. Divisions in the Arab world were brought to the fore during Israel's three week military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which clearly pitted moderate countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt against those who sided with the Islamist movement, such as Iran, Syria and Qatar. The meeting is also an opportunity to further encourage Syria to step away from Iran, as the Arab country has increasingly done in recent months, said Abdel Monem Said Aly, director of the Cairo-based Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Syria either persuaded Hamas or allowed the Islamist movement to accept a ceasefire following Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip and does not object to Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, he said. "All that could not have been done without Syrian approval and all of these steps were against Iranian wishes," Said Aly said. "In a way, there is a gap growing between Syria and Iran." In addition, Syria did not object to the Palestinian Authority's representation at the Gaza reconstruction summit in Sharm e-Sheikh earlier this month even though Hamas was not invited, he said. Last week, Saudi Arabia's top diplomat, Prince Saud al-Faisal, called for a unified vision in dealing with the "Iranian challenge," specifically concerning security in the Persian Gulf, as well as Iran's pursuit of nuclear capabilities. Morocco severed ties with Iran last Friday, accusing Iran of "intolerable interference" and trying to spread Shi'ite Islam in the Sunni Arab country. However, the most pressing issue for the three countries is the next right-wing government in Israel that will be led by Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu, said Said Aly. The meeting is expected to be an opportunity for these Arab countries to signal their desire for peace to the United States and to devise a strategy to deal with the next government, he said. "To have a Netanyahu-Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu chair Avigdor Lieberman) coalition is very ominous in Arab capitals," he said. "There won't be a peace process…Lieberman said several times that Israel should bombard Egypt…We will have a troublesome period ahead in our relationship with Israel." Meanwhile on Monday, the UN nuclear watchdog chief called on Arab countries to become actively involved in resolving the nuclear dispute with Iran. "I find it surprising that the Arab countries are not engaged in dialogue between Iran and the West. The neighbors so far have been sitting on the fence. Any solution to the Iranian issue has to engage the neighbors," Mohamed ElBaradei told a foreign policy forum in the Austrian parliament late Monday, according to AFP. Earlier this week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, accompanied by the country's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, reportedly visited Riyadh and delivered a message to the king, though its contents are not known. Diplomatic sources in the Saudi capital speculated that the visit may have had to do with the organization of a potential mini-Arab summit ahead of the larger Arab summit to be held in Qatar at the end of this month, Al-Jazeera reported.