At Arab Summit, Lebanese FM Calls for Restoring Syria Membership
Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil called on Friday for restoring Syria’s membership at the Arab League.
He made his remarks before Arab ministers meeting in Beirut ahead of the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit (AESD) that is being held in the Lebanese capital.
"Syria is the biggest absentee in our conference ... Syria should be in our arms rather than throwing it in the arms of terrorism," Bassil said in his speech. "We should not wait to get permission for its return so that we don't commit a historic shame by suspending a member because of external orders."
The AESD is being held ahead of a regional summit that has been overshadowed by divisions and controversy over Syria's participation.
Organizers of the AESD, initially said that seven Arab heads of state would attend Sunday's summit which is being held in Lebanon for the first time.
But only two heads of state are now expected, the leaders of Somalia and Mauritania, after several others pulled out despite previously having confirmed their attendance.
Their absence appeared to be a snub to Lebanon, where pro-Syrian groups led by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah have insisted that Syria should be invited.
Syria's membership in the 22-member Arab League was suspended in 2011 after the Syrian regime’s military crackdown on protesters calling for reforms. The protests later turned into an armed insurgency and full-blown war. With crucial political and military backing from Russia and Iran, Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad is largely seen as having won the war, and some Arab states are calling for readmitting Syria back into the Arab fold.
Among the Arab leaders present in Lebanon Friday were Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim, Jordanian FM Ayman Safadi and Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abul Gheit.
Shoukry and Abul Gheit both held separate meetings in Beirut with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
Hakim met with Bassil, expressing his support for restoring Syria’s membership, reported the National News Agency.
“We believe that the suspension of its membership was a mistake from the start. Talks with the Syrian side are always important and we will try to gradually return it to the Arab fold,” he said.