April 16, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 2913

Arab Opposition to 'Amr Moussa's Initiatives for Strengthening Ties with Iran

April 16, 2010
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 2913

At the recent Arab League summit held March 27-28 in Sirte, Libya, the League's secretary-general, 'Amr Moussa, made two proposals aimed at strengthening ties between the Arab states and Iran and allowing the latter to play an active role in the Arab world. The first proposal was to create a forum within the Arab League to represent countries neighboring Arab states, in order to increase mutual coordination and cooperation, while advancing interests common to the Arab and the non-Arab states. Though many Asian, African, and even European countries were named as candidates for membership in the proposed forum, it was more than clear that Iran would be the most significant member. The Arab League countries received the proposal with reservations and even hostility, Qatar being the only state to express explicit support. It was ultimately decided to postpone discussions of the proposal for half a year, at which time a special summit conference would be held to address the matter. Moussa's second proposal was to initiate a dialogue between the Arab states and Iran. In his address at the summit's opening session, he claimed this dialogue was essential, saying, "Even though I realize the level of concern over Iran's positions, this does not negate the need for holding talks. Despite our clash with [Iran], we have a common history and geography."[1] This proposal was not mentioned at all in the summit's closing statement.[2]

Syria: Iran Is a Friend, Not a Rival

Syria took a different position on each of Moussa's proposals at the Arab League summit. The idea of creating a forum of neighboring countries met with cautious approval on its part. In a meeting with 'Amr Moussa, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad called to examine the idea in depth and to set up the apparatus necessary for launching the initiative.[3] However, the proposal for dialogue with Iran was rejected by the Syrians out of hand. Assad stated that this proposal was grounded in bad intentions towards Iran and would place it in the position of an accused party forced to defend itself, when Iran is, in fact, in the same camp as the Arabs by virtue of its support of the resistance movement and its aid to the Palestinians. Assad added that any Arab state which took issue with Iran could address its government directly about the points of disagreement.[4]

In an editorial in the Syrian government daily Al-Thawra, the paper's editor, As'ad 'Aboud, asserted that the dialogue with Iran must not become a matter of contention for the Arabs (like issues such as Palestine and Iraq). He wrote: "We and Iran, as countries of the region, are working together and maintaining a dialogue with others from a position of power." He said that in reality Iran was not a rival of the Arabs, but rather a friend and ally that stood alongside them. He went on to say that "no one has the right to deny Iran's historical, geographical, and political presence in the region, or its role in fundamental issues, first and foremost the Palestinian cause..."[5]

Samira Al-Musalma, editor of the daily Teshreen, summarized this position, writing, "What do they want from Iran? What does a neighboring, Islamic country [like] Iran have to do so that they will believe it to be a friend and not something else, and [realize] that, even if we disagree with it over certain issues, we must settle these issues as friends, at the negotiating table [rather than through confrontation]?"[6]

Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad Bin Jassem Aal Thani said that all the Arab states should support the establishment of a league of neighboring countries, and called on the Arabs to understand the viewpoint of "the other," referring to Iran.[7] Despite Qatar's support for 'Amr Moussa' initiative, the Qatari press long refrained from responding to it in editorials. However, about two and a half weeks after the initiative was raised, the Qatari daily Al-Sharq published an article by its editor Jaber Al-Harmi, in which he advocated including Iran and Turkey in a regional forum. He pointed out that the European Union has incorporated into its ranks countries that are very different in their character from the founding states, and that, unlike the European Union, which had to support countries like Greece when they slid into crisis, the Arab countries would only gain strength by incorporating Iran and Turkey into their league: "Turkey and Iran will support the Arab world, and join their efforts [to those of] the Arabs. Obviously, they will not be a burden on the Arab world, and if [the Arabs] properly harness the energies of these great countries, it will be the dawn of a new era in the history of the [Islamic] nation. Whenever the Arabs and Muslims pool their resources and energies, the [Islamic] nation flourishes, gaining strength and control – and history is witness to that fact.[8]

The Qatari daily Al-Raya likewise refrained from commenting on the subject for a long time. However, on March 30, it published an article by Iranian ambassador to Qatar Abdollah Sohrabi, in which he said: "'Amr Moussa's proposal... has presented the Arab League with a new course for advancing the goals and interests of the [member] countries in the correct manner... The position [of Iran and Turkey in regard to the Palestinian cause] constitutes essential and strategic support of the Arab states, and creates a broad Islamic front vis-à-vis the Zionist enemy, which unquestionably strengthens the Arab front."[9] In mid-April, one day after the publication of the Al-Sharq editorial, it came out with an editorial on the subject, in which it called on the Arab leaders to adopt 'Amr Moussa's proposal. The editorial reiterated the argument that an alliance of the Arab states, Turkey and Iran would serve as a counterweight to Israel's plans to take over the region, and to the American plans to integrate Israel in the Middle East, as well as the Muslims countries obedient to [America].[10]

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who recently joined the pro-Iranian camp and met with Syrian President Assad, expressed support for Moussa's initiatives for rapprochement with Iran. In an interview with the Saudi daily Al-Watan, he wrote: "The Arab and Islamic world is in disagreement over [the issue of] contact with Iran. Perhaps it would be beneficial some day soon to establish new relations with this country, as 'Amr Moussa suggested at the Arab [League] summit. There are powerful elements helping the Arab cause, among them the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey, so it is necessary that there be [good] relations with these two great countries... Although there are disputes between Iran and the Arabs, it is essential that these disagreements be minimized. It is essential for the Arabs and the Iranians to negotiate and clarify their [respective] interests, in order to avoid clashes [of interests]... There is no alternative to positive and constructive dialogue with [Iran] about the security of the Gulf, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon."[11]

Egyptian Daily: Yes to Neighborly Relations with Iran, No to Its Conspiracies against the Arab States

The Saudi-Egyptian camp expressed opposition to initiatives for rapprochement with Iran. About the proposal to establish a forum of neighboring countries, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit said that the issue required further study. As for the proposal for dialogue with Iran, Abu Al-Gheit said that "most Arab states do not currently support it."[12]

Jordanian TV Director-General Saleh Al-Qallab summed up the stance of those opposed to the proposals in an article in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "The sad thing is that, following the success of the [Islamic] Revolution, the Khomeini regime turned to interfering in the internal affairs of all the Gulf states, as well as Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, and most of the North African countries. This obligates most of the Arab states to reject 'Amr Moussa's call to form a 'league of neighboring countries,' and not to accept Iran as a member of this league until it stops interfering with their internal affairs."[13]

Osama Saraya, editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, claimed that Iran was exploiting the issues on the Arab agenda to advance its own interests. He said that if the Iranians want neighborly relations with the Arabs, they would first have to put an end to their conspiracies against them: "At the summit, an attempt was made to cooperate with the neighboring countries while preventing their negative influence on Arab problems. Turkey, for example, proved that it [is acting in good faith]... As for the other neighbor, Iran, it is manipulating Arab problems, and trying to turn them into a card it can play to [help solve] its own internal problems. It is behind all the dangers to which our own Arab states are exposed, and behind the crimes being committed in Iraq. It is making Lebanon a prisoner to Hizbullah and exploiting its ancient political and ethnic makeup. It is also toying with Yemen and Palestine, and is behind the schism and clashes between Gaza and the [West] Bank. Furthermore, Iran's invisible hand is behind the strife in the Levant and the Arab Gulf. The summit conveyed a message to Iran regarding the correct and healthy way of establishing good relations with Arab neighbors, without conspiring against them."[14]

Saudi Columnist: Iran Must Stop Its Threats before We Can Welcome It

In an article titled "The Secretary-General's Peculiar Proposal," Saudi columnist Hashem 'Abdu Hashem attacked the idea of including Iran in a new regional forum: "There are some who rush to promote the plan of Greater Iran, so that [this country] can become a leading power and the one authorized to negotiate with the [global] powers and international bodies on behalf of the region and its peoples...

"Secretary-General ['Amr Moussa proposed this] even though he is familiar with Iran's positions, its interference in the internal affairs of many Arab countries, its pursuit of nuclear capabilities and other weapon [technologies], and its formulation of plans that will eventually be directed not at Israel, the U.S., or anyone else but at the countries and the peoples of our region...

"Before the Arab League secretary-general volunteers to integrate Iran into our region and to incorporate us into [Iran's] strategy, this country must prove its good intentions towards the Arab Gulf states and recognize their full sovereignty over their territory, [including] their islands and coasts. [Iran] is also required to stop its ongoing threats against us and stop strengthening itself at our expense. If it does this, nobody will object to joining hands with a well-intentioned country that [truly] wishes to support our causes, rather than exploit them to improve is international standing..."[15]

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 28, 2010

[2] For a document summarizing the summit resolutions, see:

[3] SANA (Syria), April 13, 2010

[5] Al-Thawra (Syria), March 31, 2010

[6] Teshreen (Syria), March 30, 2010

[7] Al-Hayat (London), April 1, 2010; Al-Raya (Qatar), March 29, 2010

[8] Al-Sharq (Qatar), April 17, 2010.

[9] Al-Raya (Qatar), March 30, 2010

[10] Al-Raya (Qatar), April 18, 2010.

[11] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 14, 2010

[12] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 28, 2010

[13] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 1, 2010

[14] Al-Ahram (Egypt), March 29, 2010

[15] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), April 4, 2010.

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