Iraq, Mideast conflict top Arab summit agenda

KHARTOUM (AFP) — Arab leaders meet in Khartoum for their annual summit Tuesday under pressure to take a more active role in Iraq and find a common stance on dealing with a Hamas-led Palestinian government. They are also expected to discuss the three-year-old conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region, which has killed some 300,000 people — a potentially awkward situation for host Sudanese President Omar Beshir.

Iraq is looking for the two days of meetings to deliver an unreserved condemnation of anti-regime violence, as well as more political backing from Arab countries.

“We want clear support for the political process in Iraq,” a high-ranking foreign ministry official said.

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq three years ago, Arab countries have been leery about successive Iraqi governments, suggesting that they are products of an invasion that has been very unpopular in the region.

Iraq will call on its fellow Arab countries, most of whom have kept silent, to strongly condemn “terrorism in all its forms perpetrated by takfiris [Sunni Muslim extremists] and the assassination of foreigners,” the official said.

It will also call for increased Arab diplomatic representation in Iraq and for the league itself to finally re-open its mission in Baghdad.

Those are particularly sensitive points, given that Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mussab Zarqawi and other armed groups in Iraq have targeted Arab diplomats there, having kidnapping at least three since the invasion.

Moroccan diplomat Mokhtar Lamani, appointed in early March to head the Arab League mission in Baghdad, has still not taken up his post.

The Iraqi official added that the pan-Arab organisation also has to renew its efforts to hold an Iraqi national accord conference, which it promised in November 2005.

Originally scheduled for March, the conference has been postponed to an unspecified date in June, pending the formation of a new Iraqi government.

The summit will also focus on the future of the Arab-Israeli conflict in light of the January election victory of radical Islamist Palestinian group Hamas.

Ironically, no one from Hamas will be attending the summit, though Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will.

Abbas is now considering a Cabinet line-up submitted to him by Hamas, in which his own Fateh faction has declined to participate because Hamas has refused to modify its stance on destroying Israel and to acknowledge the Palestine Liberation Organisation as supreme in questions of peace-making.

“There will be more talk about financial aid to the Palestinians than about Arab-Israeli peace negotiations because there is nothing credible on that front,” one Arab official said.

The summit is widely expected to reiterate the Arab League’s longstanding position that “peace is a strategic choice” for the Arab world.

It is also expected to renew an Arab peace plan adopted at the 2002 summit in Beirut, which offers normalisation of relations with the Jewish state in exchange for a return of all Arab lands seized in the 1967 war.

Arab-African relations and ways of handling the Darfur conflict will also be examined, amid stepped up pressure from the United Nations to cooperate on Darfur.

Earlier this month, the African Union agreed in principle to hand over its cash-strapped peacekeeping mission in Darfur to the United Nations but Sudan is resisting the move.

Khartoum argues that the handover risks worsening the conflict between rebels and militias backed by government troops that has killed some 300,000 people and displaced two million others since 2003.

Bashir this week renewed his rejection of foreign intervention in the war-torn western region and said he was determined to clinch lasting peace.

Khartoum’s hosting of the African Union summit last month sparked an outcry from rights groups, which argue that it is not fit to host such an event because it stands accused of genocide in Darfur.

Arab foreign ministers will meet in Khartoum Saturday to fine-tune the agenda and draft a final document that will be submitted to the heads of state.

An Arab official said some leaders have suggested a time-limit be imposed on speeches at the opening session “in order to move quickly into action within a closed session.”

The summit will also discuss ways to streamline summits and consider veteran Egyptian diplomat Amr Musa’s bid for another four-year term as the 22-member Arab League’s secretary general.

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