First Arab-EU summit billed as chance to cooperate in troubled region

The Arab League Headquarters, where the 4th EU-League of Arab States Ministerial meeting between Arab and European foreign ministers, will be held. (REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo)
Updated 22 February 2019

First Arab-EU summit billed as chance to cooperate in troubled region

  • President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will host the two-day summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh
  • EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says the gathering is about much more than migration

CAIRO: European and Arab leaders are to hold their first summit Sunday, in what the top EU diplomat sees as a chance to boost cooperation across a troubled Mediterranean region.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will host the two-day summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss topics like security, trade, development and migration.
Wars and conflicts in places such as Syria and Libya are on the agenda at a summit guarded by the security forces who are fighting a bloody jihadist insurgency a short distance to the north.
But analysts voiced doubts over how much progress can be made, with Europe split over migration and Arab countries still grappling with the fallout from Arab Spring revolutions.
European leaders first mentioned the summit in Austria in September amid efforts to agree ways to curb the illegal migration that has sharply divided the 28-nation bloc.
But checking migration is only part of Europe’s broader strategy to forge a new alliance with its southern neighbors.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini insists that the gathering in Egypt of more than 40 heads of state and government is about much more than migration.
“We will have frank, open discussions, not only on migration, definitely not,” Mogherini told journalists in Brussels on Monday.
“We will have first of all discussions on our economic cooperation, on our common region,” she said.
“That is a troubled region but also full of opportunities.”
Attending will be Donald Tusk, president of the European Council of EU member countries, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.
EU officials said 25 European heads of state and government will attend.
These include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who could also discuss the stalemate over Brexit on the sidelines.
Apart from El-Sisi, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri will attend from the 22-member Arab League, which is based in Cairo. It is not yet clear who else will be present.
A UN official warned that Europe’s failure to bridge divisions on migration “risks blocking all the other discussions” at the summit.
“How do you discuss an issue if you can’t even mention it!” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He said EU countries like Hungary refuse to mention migration because they oppose asylum seekers and migrants, particularly from Muslim countries.
The EU has struck aid-for-cooperation agreements with Turkey and Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli, which has sharply cut the flow of migrants since a 2015 peak.
But the official said broader cooperation with the Arab League, which includes Libya, is limited without the EU being able to speak in one voice.
Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Tunisia and Libya, said the summit will struggle “to establish a dialogue between two sides who are confronted with their own challenges.”
The meeting comes as “the Arab countries are still feeling the effects of the revolutions started in 2011,” Pierini told AFP.
“Arab League unity is in trouble,” said Pierini, now an analyst with the Carnegie Europe think tank.
With expectations low for EU-Arab progress, the focus may shift to EU efforts to break the logjam over Britain’s looming exit from the bloc on March 29.
Britain’s Philip Hammond said May would have an “opportunity” in Egypt to discuss Brexit with her EU counterparts who have balked at her requests for concessions to sell the divorce to her parliament.
But officials in Brussels and London have played down the prospect of a Brexit “deal in the desert” to try to ensure an orderly departure.


Iran backtracks on plan to send flight recorders to Ukraine

Updated 55 min 28 sec ago

Iran backtracks on plan to send flight recorders to Ukraine

  • An Iranian official said “the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out”
  • He said Iran is working to recover the data and cabin recordings, and that it may send the flight recorders to Ukrain or France

TEHRAN: The Iranian official leading the investigation into the Ukrainian jetliner that was accidentally shot down by the Revolutionary Guard appeared to backtrack Sunday on plans to send the flight recorders abroad for analysis, a day after saying they would be sent to Kyiv.
Hassan Rezaeifar was quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency as saying “the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out.”
He said Iran is working to recover the data and cabin recordings, and that it may send the flight recorders — commonly known as black boxes — to Ukraine or France. “But as of yet, we have made no decision.”
The same official was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday as saying the recorders would be sent to Ukraine, where French, American and Canadian experts would help analyze them. Iranian officials previously said the black boxes were damaged but are usable.
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the conflicting accounts. Iran may be hesitant to turn over the recorders for fear that more details from the crash — including the harrowing 20 seconds between when the first and second surface-to-air missiles hit the plane — will come to light.
The Guard’s air defenses shot the plane down shortly after it took off from Tehran on Jan. 8, killing all 176 people on board. Hours earlier, the Guard had launched ballistic missiles at US troops in Iraq in response to the US airstrike that killed Iran’s top general in Baghdad. Officials say lower-level officers mistook the plane for a US cruise missile.
Iranian officials initially said the crash was caused by a technical problem and invited countries that lost citizens to help investigate. Three days later, Iran admitted responsibility after Western leaders said there was strong evidence the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile.
The victims included 57 Canadian citizens as well as 11 Ukrainians, 17 people from Sweden, four Afghans and four British citizens. Most of those killed were Iranians. The other five nations have demanded Iran accept full responsibility and pay compensation to the victims’ families.
The plane was a Boeing 737-800 that was designed and built in the US The plane’s engine was designed by CFM International, a joint company between French group Safran and US group GE Aviation. Investigators from both countries have been invited to take part in the probe.