UN envoy holds ‘substantial’ talks with Syrian FM in Damascus

A handout photo released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on April 14, 2019 shows Deputy Prime Minister of Syria Walid Muallem meeting with United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen in the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 15 April 2019
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UN envoy holds ‘substantial’ talks with Syrian FM in Damascus

  • The UN Security Council remains deeply divided over the way forward in Syria

DAMASCUS: The UN envoy for Syria held “substantial” talks on Sunday in Damascus with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on efforts to find a political settlement to the country’s eight-year-long war.
“We have had very detailed substantial discussions,” Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen told reporters after the meeting.
“We are now addressing all the issues so all the issues are at the table,” he said, without specifying.
The envoy said he was set to hold more talks with Syrian officials later in the day.
“Let’s see how we are able to proceed later this afternoon,” he added.
State news agency SANA said Pedersen and Muallem discussed ongoing efforts to advance Syria’s political process, including moves to form a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution.
They also spoke about the envoy’s diplomatic activities since his last visit to Damascus in March, SANA added.
Pedersen arrived in Damascus on Saturday, in his third official visit to the country since assuming his post in January.
He became the fourth UN negotiator aiming to resolve Syria’s conflict following the resignation of his predecessor Staffan de Mistura.
Since early January, he has traveled extensively to meet with the government, opposition and others.
The UN Security Council remains deeply divided over the way forward in Syria.
Veto-wielding Russia, a key backer of President Bashar Assad, has taken a lead role in diplomatic efforts through the so-called Astana group with Iran and Turkey that has largely sidelined UN diplomacy.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since the conflict began with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
The regime has made a military comeback with Russian military support since 2015, and now holds almost two-thirds of the country.


Saudi Arabia: Kushner’s Palestinian initiative ‘a great opportunity to bring prosperity and opportunities’

Updated 6 min 8 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia: Kushner’s Palestinian initiative ‘a great opportunity to bring prosperity and opportunities’

  • UAE’s Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al-Tayer said "we should give this initiative a chance."
  • Tony Blair insists to Jared Kushner that there must be a two-state solution

MANAMA: Saudi Arabia's Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said Wednesday the Kingdom will support whatever economic plan will bring prosperity to the Palestinians.

Speaking on the second day of an international conference on a US initiative to improve the economic plight of Gaza and the West Bank, Al-Jadaan said he was “very, very optimistic” about the plan. 

“The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope and we and our colleagues share the view that whatever brings prosperity to this region, we will support it,” he said, alongside US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin and the Bahraini and Emirati finance ministers.

“We have been a great supporter of Palestine for decades … so its not something we are going to shy away from and we will continue supporting the Palestinians,” Al-Jadaan added.

The initiative was outlined by Donald Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner on Tuesday as the conference in Bahrain got under way. The $50 billion economic formula would see investment in infrastructure, tourism and education.

Palestinian leaders have accused the plan of legitimising Israel’s occupation of their territory and for being secondary to a political resolution to the conflict. But on the second day of the conference, both Arab and western political leaders, ministers and  business chiefs discussed what needed to be done to make the plan work.

Al-Jadaan said the plan was a “great opportunity” and that there was a “significant international commitment” to support the people of Palestine to bring prosperity and opportunities.

“You need political commitment, you need clear transparency, you need predictability for the private sector to join, you need the rule of law … and you want to make sure that there is proper governance in place,” he said. 

The UAE’s Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al-Tayer said "we should give this initiative a chance."

Earlier, Jared Kushner discussed the initiative with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who insisted there still must be a two-state solution to the conflict. The White House has not said it backs the principle, and the political element of its plan has not yet been revealed.

"It's absolutely foolish to believe you can have economics without sound politics, but it's likewise completely futile to think politics will work without economics buttressing it," Blair told the gathering.

The foreign minister of Bahrain also reiterated the need for a two-state solution but said the plan was an "opportunity not to be missed".

"I think if we take this matter seriously it could be a very important game-changer," Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said.

In an earlier panel, Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas said the initiative “will definitely require a lot of work but it is definitely achievable.”

Bahrain’s Labor Market CEO Osama Al-Absi, told the panel, entitled Empowering the People, “we must look at how post-war economies were built” in order to make the plan work.

International Monetary Fund managing director, Christine Lagarde, said generating economic growth in conflict-riven countries can be a struggle.

The IMF puts unemployment at 30 percent in the West Bank and 50 percent in Gaza, which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades and recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas' rival in the Israeli-occupied West bank.

"Gaza right now is feeling a lot of pain because of bad leadership and the sanctions that have been imposed on them because of it," Kushner said. "So the question that (Hamas)leadership has to ask themselves is...do they hate their neighbour in Israel more than they love their citizens and their people?"

The 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects in the plan include a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza, which has been floated before and stalled for lack of underlying political or security agreements.

Palestinian businessman Ashraf Jabari, chairman of the Palestinian Business Network, told the gathering it is difficult to build an economy with a "siege and unstable situation".

"Frankly, we demand an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967," said the businessman from Hebron who has co-founded a trade group to boost business between Palestinians and Israeli settlers."

*With Reuters