SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Asharq Al-Awsat- In statements to Asharq Al-Awsat, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem explained the importance of the positive atmosphere in the Arab arena, especially with regard to Arab and Palestinian reconciliation, and stressed that nothing disturbs [Arab] relations. Meanwhile the Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin-Ahmad Al Khalifa, said that the issue of the crisis with Iran has been put on the agenda of the Arab League Council of Ministers, because it is an issue that concerns all Arabs; but he insisted that Bahrain has been assured [by Iran] that the incident will not be repeated.
The Qatari Minister of State, Ahmad Bin-Abdullah Al Mahmud, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Qatar will issue invitations to the Arab states to convene the 21st session of the Arab summit within days. He confirmed that the meeting that Qatar has called for on the reconstruction of Gaza was convened at the GCC HQ in Riyadh; that agreement has been reached on programs and mechanisms; and that all have come to Egypt within the framework of complementarity of Arab efforts.
The Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Muallem, said he is pleased with the results of the meetings of Palestinian organizations in Cairo, and that those organizations have been convinced of the importance of forming a government of national unity, as well as with the agreement of ‘resistance’ movements to join the PLO. He also said that Syria is comfortable with the agreement of the Palestinian organizations on establishing national Palestinian security forces. “We are also pleased that the positive atmosphere has paved the road to this dialogue through the meetings held in Cairo between Fatah and Hamas,” he said.
With respect to the results of his visits to Saudi Arabia, which he described as “very positive,” he said: “I can assure you that Saudi Arabia and Syria have agreed to look forward to the future,” pointing out that the Syrian and Egyptian reconciliation is proceeding on the right path. He confirmed that he met with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmad Abu-al-Ghayt, “to say hello,” and explained by saying: “We are busy with the conference.”
With respect to Syrian efforts to achieve reconciliation between the Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Hamas Politburo Chief Khalid Mishal, the Syrian foreign minister said: “We are at present in the stage of consolidating the dialogue taking place in the five agreed committees. We hope that after they reach agreement on all issues, they crown this success with a meeting between the various Palestinian organizations and brother Abu-Mazin [Mahmud Abbas], and it does not matter whether such meetings take place in Egypt or Syria. What matters most is comprehensive reconciliation.”
Asked about his appraisal of the Sharm-el- Sheikh conference, the Syrian foreign minister said that the conference was important as it confirms Arab and international solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza. “We hope that these material contributions will be translated into political commitments that would prevent Israel from resorting to the policies of aggression and threats to do it again.”
The Syrian foreign minister denied the existence of any external influence on the Syrian decisions concerning Arab causes and interests, and refused to answer a question concerning inviting Iran to participate in the conference on reconstruction in Gaza, saying that “I am here in Egypt for the reconstruction of Gaza and to participate in this important conference.”
In reply to a question regarding the assurances that Bahrain has received against the repetition of Iranian acts threatening the sovereignty of states, the Bahraini Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid Bin-Ahmed Al Khalifa, said: “The crisis that occurred recently, as a result of [Iranian] statements that were offensive to us and in fact disturbed us, we got over, because we have received clear assurances from the Iranian government regarding their position, which said that: the statement [which caused the crisis] did not reflect the official position of the government; that the statement does not relate to them; and they will make sure that the situation does not recur.” The Bahraini foreign minister said that he had informed the GCC foreign ministers, at their meeting in Riyadh that the issue is closed, and therefore we did not issue a condemnation, because “we respond to a good step with a good step towards Iran.”
With regard to putting the same issue on the agenda of the 131st session of the Council of Arab Foreign Ministers, the Bahraini minister said that the issue is on the agenda because the threat to an Arab state is not only a Bahraini concern, but also an Arab concern.
As to whether there was a GCC effort to support the reconstruction of Gaza, the Bahraini foreign minister revealed that a coordination meeting was held in Riyadh the day before yesterday [1st February 2009] in support of the reconstruction in Gaza. “We estimated the total cost at 1,700 million [dollars?], and we stressed the importance of guarantees so that what has happened in Gaza will not be repeated; and all international and Arab delegations present at the conference confirmed this.”
The foreign minister of Bahrain regarded the Palestinian reconciliation as the cornerstone of Arab success in solving the Palestinian cause. Without Palestinian reconciliation “there will be no solution” he said. “How would we go to the Moscow peace conference in spring without reaching Palestinian accord and reconciliation?” he inquired. “In my view, Palestinian accord is the basis for progress in the peace process.” He said.
With regard to the reasons behind the visit of King Hamad Bin-Khalifa to Egypt and his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Bahraini foreign minister explained that it was to thank Egypt for its stance during the [crisis caused by] Iranian statements -a stance which Bahrain will not forget.”
The Bahraini foreign minister confirmed that the Arab summit will be held as scheduled and will play a major role, building on the steps taken in the Kuwait Summit.
The Qatari Minister of State, Ahmad Bin-Abdullah Al Mahmud, revealed that invitations will be issued to the Arab leaders to convene the 21st Arab summit in Doha within days. He confirmed that preparations are being made and that the Arab foreign ministers will meet today to discuss the summit agenda. He went on to say that “things are going fine and in an orderly fashion and we hope it will be a successful summit and a summit of Arab solidarity, to discuss everything that concerns the main Arab causes and public interest, as well as everything that unites the Arab nation.”
In reply to a question whether the differences that clouded the Arab atmosphere during the Israeli aggression were still outstanding, the Qatari minister of state said: “As you know, after the speech of the custodian of the two holy mosques, there was the seven-state meeting in Kuwait, which was a good meeting and contributed to reconciliation and solving differences. We always say that differences of opinion should not spoil good relations and that we share the same destiny and have the same objectives as an Arab nation, despite differences of vision, but there are no differences on the need to secure the nation’s interests.”
Concerning Qatar’s previous call for convening a conference for reconstruction in Gaza, the Qatari minister revealed that such a meeting was held at the headquarters of the GCC General Secretariat, in Riyadh, the day before yesterday [1st February]; that agreement has been reached on programs and mechanisms, and that all have come to [Sharm el-Sheikh conference] to complement and coordinate all Arab efforts. He revealed that an agreement has been reached to set up a fund for the reconstruction of Gaza; that the fund is open to contributions from all Arab states; and that Qatar has pledged 250 million dollars to the fund.