Arab summit to stop short of call for Assad ouster
IRAQ: The Arab summit in Baghdad will steer clear of calls for
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to quit or for his foes to be armed,
both divisive issues, Iraq's foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Hoshyar Zebari's confirmation that the 22-member Arab League will
steer clear of the strong moves advocated by Qatar and Saudi Arabia came
on the eve of the landmark summit in the Iraqi capital.
The Syria crisis, in which monitors say almost 10,000 people have
died in a bloody crackdown on a year-long revolt, has loomed large over
the three days of meetings in Iraq, the first such talks hosted by
Baghdad in over 20 years.
“The Arab League initiative is clear and did not demand that Bashar
step down,” Zebari said after a ministerial meeting. “We (foreign
ministers) also did not ask for that and the upcoming decision will not
go in this direction.” It “is up to the people of Syria to decide, to
choose, to elect their leaders. It's not up to the League or to anybody
else,” he said.
Asked whether the arming of Syrian rebels was raised, Zebari said:
“We did not discuss this subject at all.” The two issues have pitted
countries which have called for Assad to leave and advocated sending
arms to rebel groups against those pushing for political reconciliation,
such as Iraq.
“The subject of Syria is urgent and it is no longer a regional,
local, national, or Arab subject,” Zebari said. “It is now an issue
discussed on an international level.” “We cannot be neutral about this
subject or on the subject of violence and daily killings.” After opening
remarks, the session, which was held in the Jerusalem Room of the former
Republican Palace in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone, was closed
to the media.
Syria, which was not invited to the summit and has been suspended
from the pan-Arab body, said on Wednesday that it would reject any
initiative from the Arab League.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi earlier said he expected
the summit to support a six-point plan put forward by UN-Arab League
peace envoy Kofi Annan and reportedly accepted by Damascus on Tuesday.
Annan, an ex-UN secretary general, held talks over the past week in
Beijing and Moscow. Both powers have been criticised for blocking UN
Security Council resolutions condemning Assad's crackdown, but they have
backed Annan's efforts.
In Kuwait on his way to attend the summit, UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged
Assad to “immediately” implement Annan's plan. “I urge President al-Assad
to put commitments into immediate effect. There is no time to waste,” he
A draft resolution to be debated in Baghdad urges the “Syrian
government and all opposition factions to deal positively with the envoy
(Annan) by starting serious national dialogue,” according to a copy of
the text obtained by AFP.