Doha, Asharq Al-Awsat- Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi has stressed in an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat that the mini-Arab summits can contribute effectively to the unification of Arab stances in dealing with the totality of Arab issues. He considers the Arab-Iranian dialog as an inevitable step, but not at the current time. Al-Qirbi stresses that this step should come after an Arab-Arab dialog that determines the bases of the relationship with the Iranian neighbor.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the bases on which we can reach an unbreakable Arab accord?
[Al-Qirbi] Always one of the problems of the joint Arab action is that when we put together some ideas, there are no mechanisms to implement them, and they remain merely on paper without implementation and follow-up mechanisms. Also, who is responsible for following up? For instance, will the responsibility be the duty of the presidency of the summit, the presidency of the ministerial council, or the Arab League Secretariat? I consider that it is necessary that every issue should have a different mechanism. We need to agree that every Arab initiative of vision – be it for the achievement of accord, the resolution of one of the issues, or the clarification of the atmosphere – should have a means to implement it, and should not be left for a resolution by a ministerial meeting or by a summit, as these resolutions usually end with the end of the summit. This is the problem in which we have been living throughout the past years. It has been manifested in the Arab peace initiative, and the pledge and accord agreement, which was signed in Tunis; had we set up a mechanism at that time, we would have found the different means to clarify the atmosphere, resolve the disputes, and achieve accord.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean forming an Arab committee for reconciliation and clarification of the atmosphere?
[Al-Qirbi] Let this be at the level of a ministerial troika, summit, or a committee from a group of countries that have interest in the issue they follow up because they are closer to it. We should not restrict ourselves to the mechanism only, but we have to agree a timetable after which a report should be submitted, and hence the Arab ministers will know what has been achieved. This is particularly valid as the Arab problems and disputes are a primary factor, and if they disappear, the Arab joint action will progress. We can see such progress and system in the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC], and we would like to see it in the Arab system as a whole.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are the mini-summits a suitable mechanism for the progress of the joint Arab action and for containing the disputes?
[Al-Qirbi] Yes, the mini-summits are considered one of the mechanisms that lead to the progress of joint Arab action.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The closed second session of the Arab foreign ministers was about peace in the Middle East. In your opinion, what forces Israel to accept the Arab strategic option (peace)?
[Al-Qirbi] The Yemeni stance, and I believe that it is also the same stance of the Arab group, is that the Arab peace initiative defines the Arab conditions for the achievement of peace. Now, this initiative has been placed before Israel since 2002, but Israel has not responded to it. Therefore, Israel is the one that has to respond to this initiative, and not us. Israel has either to say that it is prepared to discuss the peace process on the basis of this initiative, or to ignore it as it has done in the past year. Therefore, we are looking for another way; for this purpose, the Arab group ought to adopt realistic stances toward the Israeli policies, especially those of the settlements, Judaization, the eviction of the Palestinians, the separation wall, the siege on Gaza, and the tragic situation. If and when the Arabs have the ability to protect the Palestinian Arab rights, at that time Israel might think of accepting peace.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, what are the tools that enable the Arabs to protect the Palestinian rights?
[Al-Qirbi] The tools of the ability are the way we deal with the Palestinian Authority [PA], support it in its dealing with Israel, and give it the power to say no to Israel rather than to be forced to accept the pressure from the United States and others. Also these tools include how to provide the Palestinians with resources, to reduce to the minimum the process of the siege on Gaza, and to impose the issue of the reconstruction of Gaza. These are the issues that will show the ability of the Arabs.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regard to the committee of the Arab peace initiative, do you think that its mission is restricted only to convening meetings, and contacting the foreign sides, and the parties concerned, or what?
[Al-Qirbi] This is one of the issues over which there is a semi-agreement that the committee in the light of the Israeli rejection of the peace initiative should look into the way in which we deal with Israel during the next stage, and to look for new methods. The closed meeting of the Arab foreign ministers has discussed this issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the US-Israeli aggression on Sudan been discussed?
[Al-Qirbi] The Israeli arrogance is nothing new. Iraq was exposed to the Israeli arrogance when Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Syria was exposed to it when they bombed what they claimed to be a nuclear reactor. Now we have what is taking place in Sudan. There still are questions about whether it was a US or an Israeli strike. Therefore, I think that this is one of the issues toward which the Arab countries are supposed to adopt a stance, because it comes within the framework of pan-Arab security, and is considered a violation of the sanctity and sovereignty of Arab territories.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will President Ali Abdullah Saleh present to the summit as his vision of the joint Arab action?
[Al-Qirbi] The president will present the Yemeni initiative, which he put forth five years ago. Today, we in Yemen feel that there is an urgent need for joint Arab action, and for developing this action within the framework of a qualitative transformation through Arab unity.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the new development that made Yemen resubmit this initiative today?
[Al-Qirbi] The resubmission is due to the fact that the Arab Parliamentary Union in Damascus on 23 March considered that this initiative represents effective joint Arab action, and asked the secretary general to submit it to the summit.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Arab dealings with the neighboring countries in the region, such as Iran and Turkey, and what is the stance of Yemen toward this? What is your reply to the proposals of Amr Musa to the summit?
[Al-Qirbi] Yemen’s reply has been given in detail. We consider that these proposals are serious and important, because they deal with many issues, and not only the relations with Iran, but also the Arab-Arab relations, and the aspects that concern the Arab nation in its political, social, and development dimensions. We have presented our viewpoint of all these issues. As for our stance toward Iran, as we always have said, Iran is a Muslim neighboring country, and there are common history and interests between Iran and us; the Arabs ought to agree among themselves on a strategy to deal with Iran, the same as we deal with Turkey and the United States. Iran is more important to us than Turkey and the United States, because it is a close neighbor to the countries of the region.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there is an Arab division over the dialog with Iran, and there is a rejection of bestowing such legitimacy on it?
[Al-Qirbi] The final Arab stance toward the issue of the dialog with Iran is that now is not the time for it. This does not mean a rejection of the dialog with Iran. In fact I believe that the dialog with Iran ought to start after the Arabs agree on a specific view from which the dialog should be launched, and on the type of relations and the pending issues between the Arab countries and Iran, which ought to be resolved.