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Turmoil necessitates closer regional cooperation

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud speaks before a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (not pictured) at his private residence in the Red Sea city of Jeddah in this June 27, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool/Files

The spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and similarly radical groups has forced regional powers to reassess their options, and could even jump-start a new phase in Iranian-Saudi relations.Saudi King Abdullah recently spoke of the need to confront radicalism in the region, slamming those who “neglect their historical responsibilities [to stand] against terrorism for the sake of short-term interests and suspicious plans.” Observers read his statement as a call for increased cooperation among Arab states and between Arab powers and Iran.

One Arab diplomat who spoke to The Daily Star said King Abdullah’s call should be received positively and responded to as quickly as possible in order to limit the expansion of groups like ISIS, especially given the unprecedented speed with which fundamentalist groups are expanding in the Arab world. The Saudi monarch’s initiative could lead to a meeting of Arab League states in order to formulate a unified stance on radicalism.

The unprecedented threat to the foundations of Arab regimes has pushed regional powers out of their comfort zones and could lead to a breakthrough on the rift between Riyadh and Tehran, which would also affect Lebanon directly.

A recent meeting between deputy Iranian Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdolahian and Saudi officials in charge of the Lebanon file reportedly went well, with Abdolahian describing the meeting as “more than positive” and paving the way for meetings at the highest levels between the two sides in order to continue looking into all regional issues.

Regional leaders will have to move fast, as developments on the ground in Iraq continue apace. Iraqi Sunni tribes are already pushing back against ISIS, while on the political front, some lawmakers have left Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc, and the implications of this division and the prospect of finding a consensus successor by the end of August have yet to be determined.

In Lebanon, political concerns have taken a back seat to security ones as clashes rage in the Bekaa Valley between the Lebanese Army and armed rebels.

The security situation is very fragile at the moment, and the relevant agencies are continuing to monitor and crack down with precision and preparedness.

Conflicts in Palestine, Iraq and Syria continue to play out, affecting the region at large and Lebanon in particular.

In the shadow of these security crises, Lebanese officials have not given up in their quest to resolve the stalemate over the presidency and other issues.

From the Future Movement, Fouad Siniora has been making the rounds of political and religious leaders in a bid to explain and gain support for former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s road map for Lebanon. His efforts have been met favorably by Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, and sources indicate that efforts are being made to secure a meeting between high-ranking figures from the Future Movement and Hezbollah.

The political scene may heat back up later in the month, when the deadline for choosing Iraq’s next prime minister nearly coincides with that for deciding the fate of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections.

High-placed sources said that a search had begun in earnest to find a candidate from outside the elite club of Maronite political leaders. These efforts began after Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai made clear that he could not back either Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea or Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun. Even Hezbollah appears to be coming around to the impossibility of Aoun’s taking over the post, and senior party official Sheikh Naim Qassem has declared the need to find a consensus candidate.

There is reportedly a shortlist circulating that contains just two names, but sources said concerned parties were also open to adding names. The two names are described as “moderate, acceptable” candidates. This comes after concerted efforts by France, the United States, and the Vatican to hasten the election of the only Christian president in the region.

Other sources cautioned, however, that no definite U.S. decision had been made in this regard, and that the American administration was primarily concerned with shoring up Lebanon’s stability.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 04, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

The spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and similarly radical groups has forced regional powers to reassess their options, and could even jump-start a new phase in Iranian-Saudi relations.Saudi King Abdullah recently spoke of the need to confront radicalism in the region, slamming those who "neglect their historical responsibilities [to stand] against terrorism for the sake of short-term interests and suspicious plans". Observers read his statement as a call for increased cooperation among Arab states and between Arab powers and Iran.

A recent meeting between deputy Iranian Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdolahian and Saudi officials in charge of the Lebanon file reportedly went well, with Abdolahian describing the meeting as "more than positive" and paving the way for meetings at the highest levels between the two sides in order to continue looking into all regional issues.


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