EU and Arab League seek common ground at first summit

European Union and Arab League members pose for a group photo during a meeting of leaders at an EU-Arab summit at the Sharm El Sheikh convention center in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on Feb. 24, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2019

EU and Arab League seek common ground at first summit

  • King Salman joins other leaders at beginning of historic meeting in Egypt
  • The meeting is intended to strengthen ties and address a wide range common challenges

SHARM EL-SHEIKH: Saudi Arabia's King Salman joined leaders from Europe and the Middle East in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on Sunday night for the first EU-Arab League Summit.

“Relations between the Arab world and the EU have a long history at all political, security, economic and cultural levels, as well as geographical interdependence,” he said in his opening remarks. This “necessitates the parties to strengthen their relations in all fields, and achieve the common interests and aspirations of their peoples to ensure a dignified life free from conflict,” he added.

The king said the Palestinian cause is a priority for Arab countries, reminding delegates of the Saudi position and his country’s “firmness” toward restoring all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

The Kingdom stresses the importance of a political solution to the Yemeni crisis on the basis of the Gulf initiative and the results of Yemeni national dialogue and UN Security Council Resolution 2216,” he added.

The king blamed Iran for the current situation in Yemen, saying Tehran’s support for Houthi militias “and others in the region, its aggressive practices and blatant interference in the affairs of other countries,” require “a unified international position to abide by the rules of good neighborliness and international law.”

He entered the summit center with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who is co-chair of the two-day meeting with EU President Donald Tusk. 

“I’m aware that there are differences between us. We’re not here to pretend that we agree on everything, but we face common challenges and have shared interests,” Tusk said in his opening remarks. “We’re here to strengthen our cooperation for the benefit of our peoples. We need to do this together and not leave it to global powers far from our region. I look forward to our open and honest discussions over the next two days.”  

The event, attended by delegates from 47 countries, aims to bolster Arab-European ties and address a wide range of common challenges. 

Among the issues on the leaders’ agenda are multilateralism, trade, investment, migration and security.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the gathering in Egypt of around 40 heads of state and government is about much more than migration. EU sources said the first EU-Arab Summit is all the more important as the US “disengages” from the region while Russia and China make inroads. 

“We don’t want to see this vacuum soaked up by Russia and China,” one of the sources told AFP.

There was one plenary session on Sunday night, on enhancing Arab-European partnership and addressing global challenges, before a “family photo” and dinner. 

The summit continues on Monday with a “restricted session” on regional challenges and a second plenary session in the afternoon.

On the sidelines of the summit, Arab News caught up with Saudi Trade and Investment Minister Majid Al-Qasabi. “Having summits like these bridge, bond, improve and enhance communication between the two continents and sides, European and Arab,” he said. 

“There’s no doubt that this is a very positive step and enhances the communication highway. At the end of the day, our political and economic issues are always addressed through such forums.”


US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

Updated 12 August 2020

US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

  • Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast
  • The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years

WASHINGTON: About four years before the Beirut port explosion that killed dozens of people and injured thousands, a US government contractor expressed concern to a Lebanese port official about unsafe storage there of the volatile chemicals that fueled last week’s devastating blast, American officials said Tuesday.
There is no indication the contractor communicated his concerns to anyone in the US government.
His assessment was noted briefly in a four-page State Department cable first reported by The New York Times.
The cable, labeled sensitive but unclassified, dealt largely with the Lebanese responses to the blast and the origins and disposition of the ammonium nitrate, which ignited to create an enormous explosion. But it also noted that after the Aug. 4 explosion, a person who had advised the Lebanese navy under a US Army contract from 2013 to 2016 told the State Department that he had “conducted a port facility inspection on security measures during which he reported to port officials on the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate.”
Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast, officials said.
The contractor, who was not identified by name and is now a State Department employee based in Ukraine, was in Lebanon to provide instruction to members of the Lebanese navy. While there, he made a brief, impromptu inspection of physical security at the facility in 2015 or 2016 at the request of a port official, US officials said. The contractor was not identified.
The contractor, who has a background in port and maritime security, noted weaknesses in security camera coverage and other aspects of port management but was not assessing safety issues, according to the US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a planned public statement.
While inside the warehouse where ammonium nitrate was stored, the contractor saw problems such as poor ventilation and inadequate physical security, which he noted to the port official accompanying him, the officials said. It is unclear whether the port official reported this concern to his superiors.
The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years, apparently with the knowledge of top political and security officials. The catastrophic explosion one week ago Tuesday killed at least 171 peoples and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis.
The contractor was working for the US Army’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He provided instruction to members of the Lebanese armed forces in naval vessel traffic systems and small boat operations. His class was visiting the Beirut port as part of that instruction program when the port official asked him for the inspection, which US officials said lasted about 45 minutes.
The United States has a close security relationship with Lebanon. According to the State Department, the US government has provided Lebanon with more than $1.7 billion in security assistance since 2006. The assistance is designed to support the Lebanese armed forces’ ability to secure the country’s borders, counter internal threats, and defend national territory.
Last September a US Navy ship, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, visited Beirut. It was the first time in 36 years an American warship had made a port visit there, according to the US military at the time.