Arab leaders tackle Syria crisis at Baghdad summit

Last Updated: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 20:41

Baghdad: Arab leaders on Thursday urged a peaceful
solution to the crisis in Syria at a landmark summit in
Baghdad, marred by stayaways and a mortar attack near the
Iranian embassy as the meeting opened.

Only nine visiting leaders of the 22-member Arab League
turned up for the summit, the first to be held in the Iraqi
capital in more than 20 years, which was opened with a call
for peace by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

Reflecting the rift between Arab countries on steps they
believe should be taken to end the bloodletting in Syria,
officials said a final summit statement would not call on
President Bashar al-Assad to quit nor consider arming the
rebels against him as some states have demanded.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two states seeking the most
aggressive measures on Damascus, only sent envoys to Baghdad.

Qatar explained its decision as being designed to send a
"message" to hosts Iraq, which has taken a softer position
than most other League members on its neighbour and trading
partner.

Even as the summit got underway, Syrian security forces
assailed rebel strongholds across the country, a day after
Assad`s regime made clear it would not abide by any Arab
League initiatives.

While regional officials have pushed to focus on a wide
variety of issues, ranging from the Arab-Israel conflict to
jumpstarting the bloc`s economies, the summit was focused on
Syria, where monitors say nearly 10,000 people have died in a
year-long revolt against Assad`s rule.

In his speech opening the summit, Ban called for Syrian
authorities to implement UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan`s
peace plan and for an end to violence ravaging the country.

"It is essential that President Assad put those
commitments into immediate effect. The world is waiting for
commitments to be translated into action. The key here is
implementation. There is no time to waste," he said.

"We reiterate our call for a peaceful solution to meet the
expectations of the Syrian people without any foreign
interference," Iraqi President Jalal Talabani meanwhile told
the summit.

Arab leaders have said they will at the summit call for
talks between the Syrian government and opposition based on a
six-point peace plan proposed by Annan, according to a draft
copy of the Baghdad Declaration obtained.

The region`s leaders "denounce the violence, murder and
bloodshed, and are in favour of a political solution via
national dialogue," said the document, to be issued after the
summit.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said yesterday that
the summit would steer clear of strong moves advocated by
Qatar and Saudi Arabia to resolve the Syria crisis.

"The Arab League initiative is clear and did not demand
that Bashar step down, Zebari said after a ministerial
meeting.

"We (foreign ministers) also did not ask for that and the
upcoming decision will not go in this direction."

Asked whether the arming of Syrian rebels was raised,
Zebari said: "We did not discuss this subject at all."

The two issues have pitted countries such as Qatar and
Saudi Arabia that have called for Assad to leave and advocated
sending arms to rebel groups against those pushing for
political reconciliation, such as Iraq.

Qatar`s Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said in an
interview with Al-Jazeera that he would have wanted the level
of representation to be higher "but we will sit with them in
the future and talk." He did not elaborate.

In all, nine visiting regional leaders attended the summit
from the 22-member Arab League. Syria, which has been
suspended from the pan-Arab body, was not invited.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 20:41

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