With the ongoing preparations for the Arab League summit in Jeddah on Friday, Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League, spoke with great optimism about what he described as a “summit of renewal and change.”
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Zaki noted that the Arab foreign ministers would convene on Wednesday to put the final touches on the agenda, saying: “Everything will be ready before the summit for approval, and we will move forward with the Arab action, under the presidency of Saudi Arabia, as of May 19.”
The assistant secretary-general of the Arab League asserted that the Saudi presidency of the Arab Summit would provide a great impetus for the Arabs.
“Saudi Arabia is witnessing good and promising diplomatic and political movement, and its presidency of the Arab summit will be active and keen on Arab interests,” he stated.
The Jeddah Summit files
The Sudanese file will top the agenda of the Jeddah summit, according to Zaki, who expressed hope that efforts to stop the armed clash would be crowned with success.
“We have all followed the Saudi-American effort that culminated in reaching a truce, but we hope for more arduous work to establish a permanent cease-fire,” he said, pointing to the creation of an Arab contact group, which includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Arab League secretary-general.
“We expect the committee to meet at the level of foreign ministers on the sidelines of the summit, to discuss the means to move forward to achieve this goal,” he added.
In addition to Sudan, Zaki said that the Palestinian file would also be among the Arab officials’ priorities.
He emphasized other important topics, including the relations that have begun to take a new shape between the Arab states on the one hand, and some regional countries, including Iran and Türkiye, on the other.
Syria’s return to the Arab League
Zaki called for considering the return of Syria to the Arab League as the beginning of a new phase in dealing with the situation in the country.
He said: “Over the course of 12 years, the Arab League dealt with the Syrian crisis based on the fact that the government in Damascus suspended its participation in all the activities of the League. Now this stage is over.”
According to the assistant secretary-general, all countries had the impression that the Arab League was completely absent from any endeavors to help Syria rise from its crisis, and to find a political solution that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.
“The Arab side discovered that the international community, perhaps due to successive events, has begun to give less priority to the Syrian file. Of course, many things have happened, including the Ukraine war and others. This has caused the repercussions of the Syrian crisis to largely affect neighboring countries, in terms of drug trade, terrorism and refugees. Those are very pressing issues in the states neighboring Syria and other Arab countries,” the ambassador remarked.
Zaki expressed hope that the newly-established mechanism and the Arab committee that was recently formed to follow up on the Syrian file would open a new chapter in the Arab dealing with Syria and help the Syrian people overcome their crises.
Relations with Iran
According to the senior diplomat, the Arab League sees the Saudi-Iranian agreement as positive and may contribute to stability in the region if Iran’s intentions are sincere.
He continued: “If intentions are sincere and commitments are implemented, we hope that this region will witness some improvement in the relationship between the Arab countries on the one hand, and Iran on the other.”
Zaki noted that relations between the Arab world and Iran in recent history were “full of negative interference.”
“But we want to open a new page, and this agreement is like a new chapter. If intentions are sincere, we can achieve a lot for the sake of the peoples of the region,” he stated.
The role of the Arab League and its reform
Zaki tried to differentiate between repeated criticisms of the Arab League performance and calls for reform, saying that the two matters were separate.
“With regard to the presence of the Arab League in Arab files and crises, we have tried and are trying as much as possible for the flag of the Arab League to be present in all forums, and for it to have an opinion and contribution to any Arab crisis or problem,” he underlined.
The senior diplomat explained: “But how can you deal with a crisis that has been thrown at the door of the Security Council, and then say that the League has not assumed its role! If the issue was brought up to the Security Council, what can the Arab League do about it? ... This is unfair.”
The assistant secretary-general said that calls for reform were “intended, to a large extent, to obstruct” the work of the Arab League.
“But tell me about the countries that do not pay their dues and contributions to the League (we do not want to name them). Does this matter fall in the interest of the Arab League or not? Does this enable it to perform the roles entrusted to it? The word reform is beautiful, sounds nice and it is used in many forums, but tell me what is the problem that we want to deal with and I will tell you whether it deserves reform or not,” Zaki stated.
He cited an example, saying that before 2005, the Arab League was constantly criticized for not voting on decisions and contenting itself with consensus.
“The Arab League adopted the voting system since 2005, that is, 18 years ago, but this system was not used once,” he remarked.