DAVOS, Switzerland (AFP) -Middle East politics dominated Davos as an Iraqi vice president branded the US-led occupation of Iraq an “idiot decision” amid high-level talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His comments and the presence of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas overshadowed talks Thursday about business and economics, traditionally the heart of the agenda at the World Economic Forum.
Taking part in a discussion on Iraq, Shiite Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi backed more troops to win a “war” in Baghdad but fiercely criticised the US decision to occupy the country in 2003.
“Iraqis and Iraq had been put under occupation, which was an idiot decision,” he said, while cataloguing mistakes made by both sides — US and Iraqi — over the past four years.
Abbas held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel early Thursday before taking part in a public debate later in the day with Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
The meeting with Merkel came amid renewed international efforts to jumpstart the dormant peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Germany took over the presidency of the EU on January 1 and is also a member of the so-called Middle East quartet, which includes the US, Russia and the United Nations, which try to mediate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Germany is the head of the EU, so we expect a lot from Germany, especially unilaterally and as chairman of the EU,” Abbas said as he arrived for his hour-long meeting with Merkel.
He is scheduled to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Davos, where embattled Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora is also expected later this week.
The Forum had begun on Wednesday with Merkel lecturing participants on the perils of protectionism as well as the global challenges presented by energy security and global warming.
She also threw her weight behind stalled global trade talks, which are another key issue here ahead of a mini-summit on Saturday involving trade ministers from about 30 countries.
The Doha round of World Trade Organisation talks was suspended by WTO director-general Pascal Lamy last July following five years of acrimonious meetings pitting the EU, the United States and the emerging countries against each other.
There are hopes that negotiations might be restarted if the main negotiators from the US, Europe and emerging countries Brazil and India show willingness to find common ground.
Merkel’s audience on Wednesday contained a healthy quota of the impressive Davos guest list that includes the likes of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
This year’s theme — “The Shifting Power Equation” — seeks to take in everything from the growing geopolitical clout of Asia to the increasing influence of the Internet in business and information gathering.
An unusual lack of snow in the run-up to this year’s Forum has also helped to highlight the issue of climate change, which has leapt up the agenda this year.
While green issues are in fashion, the star of celebrities at Davos seems to have fallen.
With the exception of pop icon Bono, a Davos regular, famous names from the world of entertainment have been scarce on the ground compared to previous years when the likes of Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Sharon Stone stole the media spotlight from the corporate bigwigs and political leaders.
Blair, making probably his last appearance at the Forum, was to line up on Friday alongside Bono, South African President Thabo Mbeki, Gates and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to press home a message about delivering on the promises of aid to Africa.