Middle East News
ANALYSIS: Key Arab leaders snub Syria summit, and Lebanon boycotts it
Mar 26, 2008, 15:34 GMT
Cairo - A deep inter-Arab rift over Lebanon's political standoff has hit the upcoming summit of Arab heads of state hosted by Syria, with leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt staying away and lebanon boycotting it.
Yet the Syrians are pretending the non-attendance is not uncommon, and saying the Lebanese absentees are missing a 'golden chance.'
But the absence of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak, two regional heavyweights, masks irreconcilable differences with Syria over Lebanon.
Both leaders are not only snubbing the Damascus summit but have also downgraded their representation, instead of sending their foreign ministers who would normally attend the annual summits.
The Beirut government backed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt blames Syria and its Lebanese allies for a political stalemate that has left the country without a president since November.
But Syria, which wielded military and political leverage over its Lebanese neighbour for decades, reverses the accusations, saying Riyadh and Cairo should press their allies in Lebanon to make compromises.
The inter-Arab accusations are certainly not conducive to a solution to the Lebanese standoff and to a successful outcome of the summit, which is to be held on March 29 and 30.
Adding to the climate of tension overshadowing the Arab meeting, Saudi Arabia's envoy to the Arab League Ahmed Katan, who will represent it there, predicted the summit was doomed to failure.
'How can a summit be successful while some parties are trying to undermine it and circumvent its decisions,' Katan told the Saudi daily Okaz.
'Resolutions are made but some countries are obstructing them,' Katan said.
The Saudi official was hinting at Syria, which is blamed for blocking the implementation of a plan adopted by members of the Arab League to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon.
It is not uncommon for Arab leaders not to turn up at summits, but they usually send representatives. Lebanon's total boycott, however, is the first of its kind by the country, which is of one of the founding members of the Arab League.
A Lebanese cabinet minister announcing the decision described it as a 'regretful precedent and the first if its kind in the history of Arab summit.'
The Lebanese snub sparked a new round of bitter inter-Arab exchanges.
'Lebanon has missed a golden chance by staying away from the summit,' Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told reporters at a press conference in Damascus.
'Lebanese parties bear full responsibility for ending the crisis,' he said.
In response, Lebanese Sports Minister Ahmed Fitfit said his country's boycott was a golden chance.
The acrimonious Arab exchanges preceding the meeting might have been behind the decision of the Arab League and Syria to keep all its sessions closed to the media.
The failure of a pre-summit meeting of permanent representatives at the Arab League to reach draft resolutions on the Lebanese crisis and inter-Arab ties does not augur well for the summit.