Arab agreement and regional organizations

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev) - Was the 20th summit of the Arab League in Damascus a success? This is a difficult question and every Arab nation seems to have its own answer.

Syria, its host, is happy about the summit. Its Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said at the final news conference that holding the summit at the scheduled time and place was already a success. Syria has enough Arab opponents, which had tried to change its venue to Cairo.

But this did not happen. The price was the Lebanese question and a quasi summit - out of 22 Arab League leaders, only 11 came to Damascus; others were represented by ambassadors and other lower-ranking officials. As for Lebanon, the summit was conducted in Damascus only because it was decided not to discuss its problem at all. Syria has withdrawn its troops from Lebanon, but is still being accused of exerting influence on the Lebanese, thereby preventing them from electing the president and coming to terms on other issues. Syria is also blamed for special relations with Iran, and Arabs traditionally do not like Iranians too much.

Although Arab unity seems to have almost disappeared some time ago, let's see what the Arabs agree on - even in a situation where their differences all but wrecked the summit. In actuality, there are quite a few points of agreement.

They are at one on the issue of nuclear Israel. The final declaration demands that Israel should join the Nuclear-Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and let the IAEA monitor its nuclear facilities. Like North Korea, India and Pakistan, Israel is developing its own nuclear program, and some aspects of it are believed to be of a military character. But quoting special circumstances (like the unfriendly Arab environment), Israel does not confirm or deny the possession of nuclear weapons. It is refusing to sign the NPT or allow IAEA inspectors to visit its facilities. But sooner or later, the Arabs will have this question resolved, particularly considering that Egypt, Bahrain, and likely others, will soon have nuclear energy programs.

The summit paid attention to the almost forgotten problem of defining terrorism. The Arabs urged an international conference under the aegis of the UN to discuss it. The gist of this gesture is understandable - the UN is the birthplace of international law but this law has a grey zone, such as Iraqi resistance to its occupation.

Indeed, can and should a citizen fight occupation troops, or was it regarded combat heroism only during WWII? The Damascus declaration emphasizes the need to make a difference between terrorism and the right of nations to resist the occupation. However, a fighter against occupation troops may be qualified as a terrorist if he or she kills civilians or takes them hostage.

This was not mentioned in the declaration, but in general participants in the summit are unanimously supporting Russia's initiative to hold a Middle Eastern conference in Moscow. A statement to this effect was made by Amr Moussa, the Arab League's Secretary General. In other words, the Russian proposal of a serious talk on the Syrian and Lebanese aspects of Middle East peace process may be discussed in Moscow as Russia wanted.

To summarize, those who consider the summit a success have enough grounds for optimism.

The Arabs are not the only ones that lack unity in their regional organizations. Being part of a region does not promote unity - it is rather the other way round. Neighbors always have more grievances against each other than geographically distant countries.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which unites all 10 countries of South-East Asia, is considered to be the most effective regional organization. But within the ten, there are groups, which consistently disagree with each other on major issues. One of their bones of contention is the military regime in Myanmar - should democracy be installed there in a tough or soft way? They have territorial claims to each other as well. ASEAN is not based on unanimity. The main point is that its discordant members have learned to talk with each other.

People who only know little about a similar organization - the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (CSO) - would be surprised to learn how high emotions are running at some of its expert preparatory sessions. As before, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan are quarrelling about water resources. Uzbekistan has a special position on any problem. Russia and China do not see eye to eye on the admission of India and other countries to the SCO. But despite all of this, they all eventually arrive at common solutions.

The situation in Africa and Latin America is also similar. Despite disagreements, they find a common language at sessions of their regional organizations. Disagreements in the EU or the CIS are even worse, but these organizations are developing, trying to find a common language, and new ones are emerging.

There is little agreement in the world on how it will look and be governed in 20 or 30 years' time. Russia believes that the role of regional organizations will be growing under the UN umbrella. This is logical, and the fact that the Arab League summit still took place in Damascus, despite all difficulties, confirms this logic once again.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of Trend.

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