03/31/2008, 00.00
SYRIA – LEBANON

Arab League summit in Damascus delivers “lukewarm” results

by Paul Dakiki
Out of the meeting comes advice on electing Lebanon’s new president and demands for an end to armed militias in Iraq. Syria calls the summit a success, but the Arab world is has divided as it has ever been. Meanwhile Tehran’s shadow looms greater than ever.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – The 20th Arab League summit, the first in Syria, ended yesterday with lukewarm advice and modest results, this according to most observers. The final declaration read out by League Secretary Amr Moussa called for greater commitment to solving the Lebanese crisis, greater Arab diplomatic presence in Baghdad and maintaining the peace offer to Israel.

Lebanon boycotted the meeting altogether, accusing Syria of delaying attempts to elected a new Lebanese president. About half of the 22-member organisation, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, sent diplomats instead of heads of state in a not so veiled way to accuse Syria.

For Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem the summit was instead a success despite the attempted boycott. Syrian President Bashar Assad went so far as to claim that he was not involved in Lebanese politics.

Arab leaders stressed their commitment to solving the Lebanese crisis calling on Lebanon’s political leaders to elect the long-standing candidate, General Michel Suleiman.

Since last November the country has been without a president and its parliament has not been able to meet to elect a candidate acceptable to both majority and opposition because of internal divisions and security concerns. A new session of the Lebanese parliament, the 18th, is scheduled for 22 April.

The Arab League has urged Iraq to “to disband all militias without exception . . . and speed up the building and training of the Iraqi armed and security forces . . . in preparation for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.”

The leaders called on Arab states to bolster their diplomatic representation in Iraq by opening their embassies.

The summit re-launched the Arab peace initiative with Israel. The Saudi-inspired peace initiative calls for Arab states to establish diplomatic relations with the State of Israel in exchange for a peace treaty with the Palestinians and a return of refugees.

The summit showed an Arab world more than ever divided and Syria increasingly isolated because of its role in the Lebanese crisis.

By inviting Iran to send a representative to the summit, Syria has accentuated this division, further raising fears among Arab countries of Tehran’s hegemonic intentions vis-à-vis the Middle East.

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