Zelensky goes to the top of the Arab League and steals the show from Bashar al-ad

This is his first visit to the Middle East since the beginning of the Russian invasion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday to participate in the Arab summit, stealing the show from Syrian leader Bashar al-ad, an ally of Moscow, who is making a comeback on the Arab diplomatic scene.

“I will speak at the Arab League summit. I will meet with (Saudi) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and have further bilateral talks,” he said on his Telegram and Twitter accounts. Volodymyr Zelensky. He will also travel to the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on Sunday. we learned this Friday.

Beginning my first-ever visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to enhance bilateral relations and Ukraine’s ties with the Arab world. Political prisoners in Crimea and temporarily occupied territories, the return of our people, Peace Formula, energy cooperation. KSA plays a…

— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 19, 2023

The Ukrainian president was invited by Saudi Arabia and not by the Arab League, a source from the pan-Arab organization told AFP. Saudi officials did not immediately react.

Special position of Syria

The stopover of the Ukrainian president in Jeddah, a coastal city on the Red Sea, should give him the opportunity to address the leaders of a region much less united in its support for Ukraine than its European and American allies. The host country, Saudi Arabia, has taken a relatively neutral stance on the conflict.

On the other hand, Bashar al-ad’s Syria, ally of Moscow, is one of five countries to vote against UN Security Council resolutions calling on Russia to cease hostilities in Ukraine. The leader, who benefited from Russia’s intervention in his country in 2015, arrived in Jeddah Thursday evening to attend his first Arab League meeting in more than a decade.

The pan-Arab organization had expelled the Syrian regime at the end of 2011 for its repression of a popular uprising, which degenerated into a devastating war, before reinstating it on May 7. The United Arab Emirates, which had reestablished its ties with Syria in 2018, were particularly active in reintegrating Damascus into the group.

The Emirati President, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, will be represented by his brother, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, according to the Emirati agency, WAM. The Syrian regime has also benefited of a surge of solidarity after an earthquake which on February 6 devastated large swaths of Syria and Turkey.

Regional conflicts

The Syrian president met this Friday in Jeddah his Tunisian counterpart, Kais Saied, within the framework of a series of bilateral meetings planned on the sidelines of the summit, indicated the official Syrian agency SANA. The summit comes in a context of regional detente, marked by the rapprochement in recent months between the Saudi kingdom and its great regional rival, Iran. Riyadh also recently restored consular services with Damascus.

Host of the meeting, Saudi Arabia is also deploying diplomatic efforts to try to find a solution to regional conflicts, such as in Yemen. The wealthy Gulf monarchy has also played a leading role in the evacuation of thousands of civilians from Sudan, the scene of deadly fighting for a month, and welcomes representatives of the belligerents for talks aimed at reaching a cease-fire. fire.

In addition to the conflicts in the Middle East, the 32nd summit of the Arab League should address more international subjects such as the war in Ukraine and “the global economic crisis”, said Khaled Manzlawiy, a senior Arab League official, in the press.

We need the “unity of the Arab countries” at a time when “the world is going through a perilous phase in history”.

“Internal disagreements” and “indecision”

Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy and the world’s largest crude oil exporter, has recently strengthened its relations with China and coordinated its oil policy with Russia, while maintaining close ties with the United States, its partner long standing in security.

The Arab League recently stressed the need to play a “leading role” in order to reach a settlement in Syria. Although the fighting has almost ceased, the war has left around half a million dead, as well as millions of refugees and displaced persons.

Syria hopes for the normalization of its relations with the Arab countries, in particular the rich monarchies of the Gulf, to finance its costly reconstruction. Countries like Qatar, which has strongly opposed President ad since the beginning of the war in Syria, are however very reluctant to approach Damascus. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad, will be present on Friday.

Arab League summits have “often been characterized by internal disagreements and indecisiveness,” concludes Torbjorn Soltvedt of risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.

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