Everyone is wondering what the outcome of the Arab summit in Riyadh [scheduled for March 28-29] will be. The question worth raising is: What are the issues surrounding the upcoming summit? The entangled issues are Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, and the key players are Washington, Tehran and Riyadh.
On the Palestinian level, one can say that the volatile balloon has been deflated and the Palestinians have reached the middle of the road; they managed to ease the international boycott imposed on the Palestinian government following the Mecca Declaration and have succeeded in forming a unity government. Norway has broken the European boycott, and Washington has recognized half of the government, separating itself from the Israeli position.
On the Iraqi level, Washington has gained the upper hand against those it deems the instigators of conflict – Iran and Syria. Bush has not been broken as some believed; he obtained more funding than he wanted from Congress and his opposition failed to pass a resolution to set a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq.
Following his flight, Muqtada al Sadr’s popularity has diminished, whilst it was he who used to say that the Mahdi Army could only be disbanded by the absent Imam himself. But even if the Mahdi Army has been accommodating to the tempestuous circumstances, what good is an army that yields rather than fights?
Furthermore, some Sunni sheikhs have risen to announce their intentions to fight the ‘Al Qaeda’ network although there is a conviction among insider Iraqi politicians that the acts of violence in Iraq are to be blamed on the Baathists who seek refuge under the Sunni or ‘Al Qaeda’ umbrella.
With regards to the military, the collective body of American troops is the largest the Gulf has witnessed in years. The fleet commander in Bahrain has been replaced – I do not believe that this is either a routine procedure or a leisure cruise – especially since Tehran was informed that the Americans were in fact acting rather than just bluffing.
Another point is that Washington is making rapid and significant progress in weakening Tehran, with Iranian bank accounts closing throughout the weeks in Europe and some Gulf states, away from the media’s eyes. Several Iranian officers have been arrested in Baghdad, while other circles within their ranks have been infiltrated; suffice to mention the disappearance of Colonel Asghari in Istanbul. The news reports the trials and executions taking place in Tehran against ‘traitors’. The more important indicator is the rise in popularity of Rafsanjani vis-à-vis Ahmadinejad.
With regards to Syria, other than the fact that Damascus spent more time engaging in dialogue with the Americans than the Iranians on the sidelines of the Baghdad summit that included neighboring states, suffice it to recall the Syrian attempts to return to the negotiation table with Israel. We find Syrian Vice-President Farouq al Sharaa failing to confront the Saudi-Syrian differences, denying their existence by simply blaming them on the media in an attempt to break the Syrian isolation through Cairo – from which President Mubarak announced the presence of ongoing coordination and consultation between him and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia!
Just across the Syrian borders, the Lebanese crisis is on its way to resolution – but what solution will it be? It can either be one that would lead to a détente or an explosion that may bring about a real solution. Meetings are being held between Saad al Hariri and Nabih Berri, while the Saudi message is: if you seek a real solution, then you are most welcome, but if taking pictures is what you’re after, then thank you but stay where you are.
The other solution, however, is that the international tribunal for al Hariri’s assassination is advancing through a UN resolution under Chapter VII, which will diminish Syria’s opportunities for maneuvering.
This is the scene and this is the climate that surrounds the summit, thus the question remains: Are the participants willing to discuss and confront the present issues seriously and honestly, or will they be overlooked?