Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa has renewed calls for an Arab-Iranian dialogue to discuss among other things, regional security and the approach toward the Palestine question. He stressed the international desire to end the conflict between Fatah and HAMAS, and said that it is time they have a dialogue with Arab support. Interviewed by Asharq Al-Awsat in Cairo after attending the Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] summit before leaving for Moscow, Amr Musa said that Saudi Arabia has closed the financial gap that the international food program was suffering. He stressed the need for Arab cooperation in the field of agriculture and for addressing the issue of the use of energy resources. He also talked about the problem of energy, which was discussed at the recent FAO summit, and particularly the impact of the use of energy on food production and self-sufficiency in the Arab world.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view the statements made by Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, which seem to go in the direction of a Palestinian dialogue and lifting the siege on Gaza?
[Musa] I have listened to the statements made by President Mahmud Abbas, and I find them entirely positive. I have also listened to Hamas’s reaction, and it too was positive. I believe it is time for intra-Palestinian dialogue relying on Arab support and international desire to heal the rift between Fatah and Hamas, and for the parties to unite their authority and approaches. The Arab League is very interested in this issue. I am in contact with many leaders from both sides as well as with Arab countries that exerted efforts in this regard, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But Israel has always warned the Palestinian Authority against a dialogue or concordance with Hamas, and threatened to stop contacts with the PA.
[Musa] It is proven that it make no difference whether the Israelis are close or remote from the PA. Their closeness to the PA has been futile. The building of settlements is continuing in earnest and negotiation has been to no avail. So what difference would it make if Israel distances itself from the PA? The Palestinians are paying a price either way. So it is better for the Palestinian factions to reconcile with each other, and if Israel does not want the Palestinians to be united, let it be. It will make no difference because Israel has not offered anything.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is Moscow going to do? Is it going to demand the convening of a peace conference as agreed after Annapolis?
[Musa] I am going to meet with officials in Moscow, but in my view it is essential to convene that conference at a international level. As Arabs, we have to remind every body of what was agreed on at Annapolis, and that they said we will do this and that, yet they have done nothing. We have to put this on the agenda of the Moscow conference. There is talk of some progress on the Palestinian-Israeli track, but there is counter talk that says no progress has been made. No doubt there is no written agreement about anything. In addition, the building of settlements is continuing. How would there be peace when Israel continues to build settlements and boasts about it. How would we build peace and a Palestinian state? The Israeli position is in retreat as far as peace is concerned, and the question is: what to do about it. This is the responsibility of the Arab states, not the responsibility of any particular individual or state. And as this issue touches on world peace, it is also a universal responsibility. Therefore, I say that an international meeting to follow up the matter is a must.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is talk about new Arab ideas regarding the peace process.
[Musa] I am not going to talk about this until the Arab League Council meets at the level of foreign ministers.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The agreement between the US and Iraq regarding the long-term stay of US forces in Iraq has caused wide differences in Iraq. Do you not think it is important to have it discussed by the Arab League first?
[Musa] We do not demand that any Arab country presents to us the decisions it makes, but we are following this issue because of the sensitivity and the danger it poses to Iraq’s future and sovereignty. We are following it, but we are not in a position to inquire about its content; as a result, I can see there is strong Iraqi resistance to any conditions that impose restrictions on Iraq’s sovereignty for years to come, or restrict it at present. We are watching closely what happens and what is said about this issue, and will talk about it at the appropriate time.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the issue of the United Arab Emirates’ islands and the dialogue with Iran, and what is the proper formula for solving this issue?
[Musa] It is the same formula adopted at the Damascus summit, which demands a just solution for this problem. I am still of the view that there should be a continuing political action that should start soon to deal with this matter.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about an Arab-Iranian dialogue?
[Musa] It has been my position that such a dialogue is essential and I have on many occasions previously called for an Arab-Iranian dialogue. The issue is not only the Emirates’ islands. There is the issue of regional security and the attitude toward the question of Palestine and many other issues. It does not have to be about differences; there can be points of agreement, and therefore it is necessary to start a wide dialogue with Iran.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about some Arab countries using Iran’s nuclear file, especially as an IAEA delegate will be visiting Syria this month?
[Musa] It is the right of every state to use nuclear energy for peaceful and scientific purposes. I demanded that two years ago. Moreover, there is an Arab summit resolution on this issue, and we encourage and support the Arabs in this matter. The Arabs should start exploiting nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. This is their right according to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty [NPT] and they do not need permission or questioning from anybody. All that is needed is finance and operational reactors producing energy; knowledge is there for all, so why it should be the monopoly of a few states. Non-proliferation is concerned with nuclear weapons, everything thing else is acceptable.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The US envoy to Sudan thinks that the issue of the (?) Abyieh region indicates the return of the war between north and south in Sudan. What do you think?
[Musa] I have read that the parties are nearing agreement to solve the issue by arbitration and I don’t know if there is an understanding on this step. If there is, that would be a step toward the mode of resolving the problem.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have participated in the latest FAO summit. What were the practical results of the summit regarding food and energy?
[Musa] First of all, this subject has become a major item on the agenda, and probably it has more priority than other item because it is related to health, population and agriculture, and there are states that need immediate aid. Moreover, there is climate change that might lead to change in the type of agriculture, land, and landscape. In addition there are differences on prioritizing with regard to the environment and its impact, the issue of energy and agriculture, and then financial aid. It was regarding financial support that the Arab League has played a major role. Almost a year ago, the president of the food program came to the Arab League and asked for financial support to resolve the worsening budget deficit of the program. Saudi Arabia donated 500 million dollars, which was the financial deficit from which the international food program was suffering. Closing this gap was thanks to the Arabs and Saudi Arabia in particular. This was frequently mentioned at the conference. The FAO confirmed that it came to the Arab League seeking assistance, and the Saudi payment has done what was needed. There was also the issue of energy production. It was a Brazilian proposal that energy be produced from grains and other agricultural produce. The Brazilian minister explained that his country is producing energy from remnants of sugar cane, not from grains. He said the area planted with sugar cane was only 2%; half of it used for producing sugar, the other half for producing energy. There was also discussion on how to assist developing countries so as not be economically at a disadvantage and at the same time preserve their level of production. African countries have vast areas that remain fallow. And so the question is, why not draw a plan for doubling production in the service of collectivity, while preserving scientific development. Consequently it was necessary to discuss an international plan that maintains balance between the use of agricultural produce for food and its use for energy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view of this international plan?
[Musa] The president of the World Bank talked about an international 10-point plan. There were other speakers too, but all that needs to be studied. What concerns me here is that the Arab world does have vast areas of land but most of it is desert. But there are some that have vast fertile land, such as Sudan, or the Toshki program in Egypt. We also have arable land in the north of Egypt on the Mediterranean that was in Roman days a vast field of wheat. All this should be looked into in order to remove any obstacles and encourage agricultural production. We should be self-sufficient in food in the Arab world, within a framework of [economic] complementarities and the exploitation of fertile land according to planning that benefits the landowner and the state. And as the food crisis has become so grave, it will have priority and will be discussed by the economic summit to be held in Kuwait.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the Arab plan for overcoming the food crisis?
[Musa] The Council of Ministers of Agriculture of the Arab League issued a declaration in Riyadh last April for consolidating Arab cooperation in confronting the international food crisis. This declaration includes an initiative for setting up an Arab program for food security in the Arab region. Its aim is to encourage investment in joint Arab agricultural projects through a national and inter-state Arab program to realize Arab food security, at predetermined cost for the private and public sectors and Arab entrepreneurs. This requires states to grant concessions or privileges for agricultural investment, adopt an Arab food program to support the Arab states most affected by shortage of food and high prices, determine a mechanism to carry it out, expedite legislation that supports Arab agricultural complementarity, launch programs for mobilizing capabilities and resources, prepare projects that contribute to the realization of the aims of Arab agricultural development and increase the capability to provide food security. In addition a work plan and a definite timetable should be laid down in order to coordinate agrarian policies in the Arab world. Arab governments are also required to lay down controls and legislation regulating the use of agricultural produce and fodder in the production of fuel in Arab countries, and encourage the production of such fuel from food and agricultural waste.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Practically speaking, would the Arab League take any measures in association with Arab states regarding the food crisis prior to the economic summit in Kuwait.
[Musa] The crisis is international, not Arab. The talk about the Arab world should be taken in conjunction with the talk about a universal plan, not apart from it. The Arab world with all its natural resources is capable of achieving self-sufficiency and to export as well. The Arab world should also be part of the universal plan, but with a clear Arab role to enable Arab states to carry out their plan, which in turn constitutes part of the universal interest. When we talk in particular about self-sufficiency or self-complementarity, we should have in view, hopes and wider horizons for balancing the need for food and the need for energy, and produce energy from food waste, not at the expense of food.