‘High expectations’ from Baghdad summit to reduce regional tensions, analysts say

Iraq's President Salih and France's President Macron attend a news conference in Baghdad. (Reuters)
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Iraq's President Salih and France's President Macron attend a news conference in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, right, meets with French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of the Baghdad summit on Aug. 28, 2021. (Reuters)
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, right, meets with French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of the Baghdad summit on Aug. 28, 2021. (Reuters)
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan being received by his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein in Baghdad on Saturday. (SPA)
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Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan being received by his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein in Baghdad on Saturday. (SPA)
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Updated 29 August 2021

‘High expectations’ from Baghdad summit to reduce regional tensions, analysts say

‘High expectations’ from Baghdad summit to reduce regional tensions, analysts say
  • Iraq takes center stage for talks to boost regional security
  • Prince Faisal leads Saudi delegation at landmark summit in Baghdad

AMMAN: Arab leaders and senior officials held rare talks on Saturday at a conference hosted by Iraq aimed at easing Middle East security tensions.
The Saudi delegation was led by Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, who said the Kingdom would continue to work to enhance Iraq’s security and stability, and preserve its institutions.
Prince Faisal said Saudi Arabia continued to cooperate with Iraq and partner countries in the region to confront the threat of terrorism, and supported Baghdad’s efforts to cooperate with the international coalition to confront the remnants of Daesh.
The minister took part in talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the emir of Qatar. 
The UAE and Kuwait were represented by their prime ministers, and Iran and Turkey by their foreign ministers.
The high-level meeting sent a message of Arab solidarity with Iraq. Macron, whose country is co-organizing the meeting, described Saturday’s meeting as “historic,” showcasing Iraq’s return to stability following the ruinous war against the Daesh group, which was defeated in 2017.




Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan being received by his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein in Baghdad on Saturday. (SPA)

“Iraq, which for years has been a headline for war and conflicts, is hosting leaders and representatives of the region today to affirm their support for Iraqi sovereignty and prosperity,” said President Barham Salih.
French President Emmanuel Macron also attended the Baghdad meeting, and said France would continue to deploy troops in Iraq to battle terrorism even if the US withdrew.
“We all know that we must not lower our guard, because Daesh remains a threat, and I know that the fight against these terrorist groups is a priority of your government,” Macron told Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

Participants in the summit also discussed the regional water crisis, the war in Yemen and the economic and political crisis that has brought Lebanon to the point of collapse. However, analysts said the meeting’s major significance was that it took place at all. 
“This summit marks the return of Iraq as a pivotal player in the region,” said Ihsan Al-Shammari, head of the Iraqi Political Thinking Center in Baghdad. “Having rival parties seated at the same table is a significant step in that direction.”
Mamdouh Al-Abadi, Jordan’s former deputy prime minister, told Arab News that “even the least important meetings” between leaders were “better than no meetings.” 
“One should not minimize the personal chemistry and relations that are developed in such meetings, and their effect on lowering tensions,” he said.
However, Al-Abadi warned against too much optimism. “If the Syrians are invited and attend the summit, then it would be a game changer,” he added.

Boost for Iraqi PM
He further said that the summit will be a boost to Iraqi PM Al-Kadhimi, who is facing a tough domestic political battle after a campaign announcement by firebrand populist Shiite leader Muqtada Sadr.
On Friday, Sadr reversed his decision to boycott the October elections and said that his movement would take part in order to “end corruption.”

This summit marks the return of Iraq as a pivotal player in the region.”

Ihsan Al-Shammari, head of the Iraqi Political Thinking Center in Baghdad


Adnan Abu Odeh, former adviser to Jordan’s King Hussein and King Abdullah, told Arab News that the regional meeting is largely about Iran. 
“When regional and world leaders meet, the main issue is usually a regional one, and in this case, Iran and its relations with other countries will most likely be the focus.”
Abu Odeh said that the foreign policy of US President Joe Biden “has made Arab leaders worried — if you can’t depend on the Americans, you start looking for regional solutions.”
Reem Badran, a former parliamentarian in Jordan, told Arab News that “any meeting of regional leaders gives us hope.
“We are always optimistic when leaders meet,” she said, adding: “The new situation is no different. On the economic level, we are hopeful that these summit meetings can be translated into economic stability, especially if major energy and transport projects can be carried out.”
Badran, who now runs a business, Al-Hurra Project Management, and is active in women’s microbusiness financing, said that an improvement of the economic situation would also have a direct effect on women “who are paying the highest price among all segments of our society.”
Tagreed Odeh, Middle Eastern Studies program coordinator at the Council on International Educational Exchange, said that the Baghdad summit is “a golden opportunity to widen space for dialogue with the aim of putting out the regional fires that have consumed the Middle East.”
Odeh said that the key to the success of the summit is “the fact that the host country, Iraq, has declared its willingness to prepare all that is required to have a welcoming atmosphere for all participants.”
Economic reporter Salameh Derrawi said that while the attendees are diverse, the key players are the Jordanians, Egyptians and Iraqis. “The leaders of those three countries have been working hard on finalizing regional projects in the areas of energy, oil pipelines and tax-free industrial zones.”

 


Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 25 January 2022

Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lawyer and activist Elham Saudi condemned “weak” vetting that resulted in candidates implicated in corruption and crimes against humanity being cleared to stand
  • US envoy highlighted concerns about deteriorating human rights situation in the country and continuing reports of violence and abuse targeting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees

NEW YORK: Mediators need to take into account the lessons learned in Libya in the past two years and focus on “creating milestones” for the country’s political transition, rather than fixating on the time frame involved, according to Elham Saudi, co-founder and director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya.

These milestones include an electoral law, a code for conducting elections, and a solid constitutional basis “that appropriately sequences presidential and legislative elections in line with the broader road map to complete (the) transition effectively,” he said.

Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday during its regular meeting about developments in Libya, Saudi said that when these steps are implemented, elections will naturally follow and will be “far easier to manage, protect and successfully deliver.”

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” She said this month that “it is possible, and needed, to have elections before the end of June.”

However, Saudi said that “focusing on the dates for the elections instead of a clear process to facilitate them risks once again compromising due process for the sake of perceived political expediency.”

Growing polarization among political powers in the country and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process — including shortcomings in the legal framework for the elections, contradictory court rulings on candidacies, and political and security concerns as cited by the High National commission for Elections — resulted in the postponement of the elections, which had been scheduled to take place on Dec. 24 last year.

Saudi reminded members of the Security Council that “accountability is a prerequisite to political progress. Poorly defined and fundamentally weak vetting criteria applied to candidates applying for elections resulted in individuals implicated in corruption or crimes against humanity and human rights violations, including persons who have been indicted by the ICC (International Criminal Court), being accepted as candidates.”

Following the postponement of polling in December, Libya’s House of Representatives established a “road map committee” to develop a new path toward national elections. The committee will present its first report for debate on Tuesday in Tripoli.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, welcomed what she described as renewed efforts by Libya’s Presidency Council to advance national reconciliation but lamented the political uncertainty in the run-up to the elections. which she said has “negatively impacted the overall security situation, including in Tripoli, resulting in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates.”

She expressed concern about the human rights situation in Libya, citing “incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation, as well as threats and violence against members of the judiciary involved in proceedings on eligibility of electoral candidates, and against journalists, activists and individuals expressing political views.”

DiCarlo added: “Such incidents are an obstacle to creating a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.”

Taher El-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council that while some people had been surprised by the postponement of elections, it had been widely expected.

“In light of the crisis of trust and the absence of a constitution for the country, or a consensual constitutional rule as advocated by most political forces now, it will be very difficult to conduct these elections successfully because the elections are supposed to be a means of political participation and not a means of predominance and exclusion, and a means to support stability and not an end in itself that may open the way for a new conflict,” he said.

El-Sonni called on the UN to offer more “serious and effective” support to the electoral process and send teams to assess the requirements on the ground.

“This would be a clear message to all about the seriousness of the international community in achieving elections that everyone aspires to, without questioning it or its results,” he said.

The Libyan envoy invited the council to “actively contribute” to the processes of national reconciliation and transitional justice, “two concomitant and essential tracks that have unfortunately been lost during the past years, although they are the main basis for the success of any political solution that leads to the stability of the country.”

He also once again called on the African Union to support his country’s efforts in this area.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, senior advisor for special political affairs to the US mission at the UN, said it is time for the wishes of the millions of Libyans who have registered to vote to be respected.

“It is time to move beyond backroom deals between a small circle of powerful individuals backed by armed groups, carving up spoils and protecting their positions,” he said “The Libyan people are ready to decide their own future.

“Those vying to lead Libya must see that the Libyan people will only accept leadership empowered by elections and that they will only tolerate so much delay.”

Like many other ambassadors at the meeting, DeLaurentis also addressed the migrant crisis and reports of violence and abuses directed at migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Libya.

“Libyan authorities must close illicit detention centers, end arbitrary detention practices and permit unhindered humanitarian access to affected populations,” he said.


Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
Updated 25 January 2022

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
  • More than 50 Houthis killed in operations targeting Marib and Al-Bayda

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Monday that it had began “military operations” against “legitimate targets” in the capital, Sanaa, Saudi state TV reported.
The coalition said the operation is in response to threats and out of military necessity to protect civilians from hostile attacks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched missiles toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier on Monday, sparking widespread condemnation from the international community.
Meanwhile, the coalition said it carried out 14 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib and Al-Bayda during the past 24 hours, killing more than 50 fighters and destroying nine military vehicles.


US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
Updated 25 January 2022

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
  • The comments came after Iran said it will consider direct talks with the US during ongoing negotiations in Vienna

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Monday repeated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues after Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran would consider this but had made no decisions.
Speaking at a briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price also said the US had not made Iran’s releasing four Americans a condition of reaching an agreement for both nations to resume compliance with the nuclear deal, saying that achieving such an agreement was an uncertain proposition.
Earlier on Monday, the State Department said the US was prepared to hold direct talks with Iran after Tehran said it would consider such an option.
“We are prepared to meet directly,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The spokesperson said that meeting directly would allow “more efficient communication” needed to reach an understanding on what is needed to resuscitate the 2015 deal.
“Given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official said.
The comments came after Iran said Monday it will consider direct talks with the United States during ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the deal.
“Iran is not currently talking with the US directly,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in televised remarks.
“But, if during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” he added.
(With AFP and Reuters)


‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
Updated 24 January 2022

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
  • ‘No one should have to live in these conditions,’ Mark Cutts tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • Nearly 3m people internally displaced in northern Syria, most of them women and children

LONDON: Brutal winter conditions in northern Syria have ushered in mass-scale suffering for 2.8 million internally displaced persons, a top UN humanitarian official warned on Monday.

“We’re extremely concerned about the situation there,” Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The IDPs, he added, are “some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” the majority of them living in temporary camps and tents.

“During this extremely cold weather, we’ve seen some real horror scenes in the last few days — about 1,000 tents have either collapsed completely or been very badly damaged as a result of heavy snow,” said Cutts, adding that temperatures have dropped to as low as -7 degrees centigrade.

About 100,000 people have been affected by the heavy snow, while 150,000 more have been affected by freezing conditions and heavy rain.

“These are people who’ve been through a lot in the past few years. They’ve fled from one place to another. The bombs have followed them. Many of the hospitals and schools in northwest Syria have been destroyed in the 10 years of war,” said Cutts, adding that what he and his team are seeing in camps now is a “real disaster zone.”

He said: “Our humanitarian workers have been pulling people out from under their collapsed tents … They’ve been clearing snow from tents with their bare hands.”

Children, the elderly and the disabled are suffering the most from the conditions, added Cutts, who appealed to the international community to “do more, to recognize the scale of the crisis, to help us get these people out of tents and into safer, more dignified temporary shelter.”

In a final plea, he said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable that you’ve got 1.7 million people living in camps in these appalling conditions — most of them are women and children and elderly people.

“These civilians are stranded in a warzone, and now, on top of that, they’re dealing with temperatures below zero. No one should have to live in these conditions.”


Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal
Updated 24 January 2022

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran on Monday said it is “possible” to reach an agreement on the two issues of Iran-US prisoners’ release and the Vienna talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

“They are two different paths, but if the other party (the US) has the determination, there is the possibility that we reach a reliable and lasting agreement in both of them in the shortest time,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said during his weekly press conference.

Khatibzadeh’s comments came in reaction to remarks made by the US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who on Sunday said it is unlikely that Washington would strike an agreement unless Tehran releases four US citizens.

BACKGROUND

The four US citizens held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, and businessman Emad Sharqi, 57.

“Iran has not accepted any precondition from day one of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh said.

He added that “the negotiations are complicated enough, and should not get more complex with complicated remarks.”