Middle East

Saudi Arabia urges Security Council action to save Syria

Saudi Arabian Deputy Minister for International Financial Affairs Sulaiman al-Turki (L) and Director General of Saudi Export program Ahmed al Ghannam (R) attend the opening session for the Arab-Africa economic forum in Kuwait City November 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee)

KUWAIT CITY: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal called Wednesday on Arab and African nations to pressure the U.N. Security Council to act on Syria, urging them to help save “what remains” of the country.

“A meeting of this level must address the Syrian crisis and the tragic and painful circumstances afflicting its people,” Prince Saud told a gathering of top officials and diplomats from Africa and the Arab world.

“The international community has not responded appropriately to these circumstances in a way that helps the afflicted people achieve their hopes and aims of a free and dignified life.”

Prince Saud said the Security Council should unite under the “catastrophic” circumstances to fulfill its duty to maintain international peace and security – a description that, if adopted, usually entails economic sanctions and possible military intervention.

“[The council] should carry out its responsibilities and hurry to issue a firm and strong position that prevents the shedding of Syrian blood and protects for them what remains of their nation,” he said.

Prince Saud’s call was the latest in a Saudi diplomatic campaign pushing for action on Syria. In October, his country unexpectedly declined a U.N. Security Council seat in a move partially meant to show its disapproval of the body’s failure to act on Syria, where resolutions on the crisis have been vetoed by Russia and China.

It came during a summit on African and Arab partnership in Kuwait that focused on trade and that, for the most part, resolutely avoided contentious political issues.

States present unanimously urged reform of the U.N. and the Security Council to ensure broader representation, amid a much wider call for expanded trade and investment between the Arab world and Africa, which participants argued had been neglected for too long.

Kuwait, which observers believe is trying to carve out a stronger regional role for itself, backed the plan with a $2 billion pledge by the nation’s emir on the first day of the summit – $1 billion in soft loans to Africa and another $1 billion in investments.

The Kuwait Declaration, a joint statement on the outcomes of the summit, called for broader diplomatic and political cooperation between Arab and African countries, including at the U.N., and joint efforts to end threats to peace and security in the two regions.

African leaders also declared their support for the Palestinian cause.

The region’s backing has been crucial for past Arab-led diplomatic efforts, with support from African states at the Security Council helping push through the resolution authorizing the use of military force in 2011 against former Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.Kuwait also attempted to broker sideline meetings between African officials to discuss the Nile River dam, a cause of serious dispute between several countries in the region including Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

The declaration called for joint efforts to resolve disputes in the Sahel area in North Africa, a haven for extremist groups, and cooperation on fighting terrorism as well as on food security. Several Arab nations are investing in African farms to boost their own food supplies, which can be controversial during food shortages in host nations.

The summit instructed states to remove trade and investment barriers between the two blocs, as well to improve infrastructure, with a particular focus on sewage systems, transport, water and telecommunications.

It also ordered the creation of an African-Arab joint center on illegal immigration, and called for renewed efforts to improve the lives of migrants and refugees. The agreement comes in the wake of a widespread crackdown in Saudi Arabia on migrant workers, which has sparked serious concerns over their treatment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 21, 2013, on page 1.




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