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Tension ahead of the Arab summit in Damascus 2, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East.
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Saudi Arabia has removed its Ambassador from Damascus without nominating a successor. This is, as diplomatic rebukes go, fairly high on the list. Riyadh is angry that Damascus appears (not just to Saudi but to everyone in the region and beyond) to be blocking the election of a new Lebanese Prime Minister. The removal of Saudi’s Ambassador is a clear sign that Saudi want some movement on the Syrian side before the annual Arab summit, scheduled to take place at the end of March in Damascus. Indeed, theoretically, was Saudi sufficiently unhappy then they could not hand over chairmanship of the meeting, scheduled to go to Syria, at all. Though it must be said, such an action would have drastic consequences, and is, at the moment at least, unlikely.

It appears as if many other Gulf countries are backing Saudi in this move, though not quite as strongly. Naiela Mouade the Lebanese majority leader revealed that her party has had assurances from “several Arab capitals” that if Syria to not invite Lebanon to the meeting, then there will be a general boycott. However, Arab diplomatic sources are not quote as confident as they report countries saying that rather than a total boycott, simple low-level representation may be sufficient a signal for the Syrian regime. Yet this is not the end of the complexity, as there are decidedly different levels of enthusiasm for a boycott throughout the Gulf. Qatar, Oman and the UAE appear to wish to attend the Damascus conference as opposed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, who are less keen.

Between now and the conference at the end of the month, there will, no doubt, be a number of subtle and not so subtle articles, speeches, pronouncements, quotes, and off the record thoughts designed to goad and prod various countries in various directions. Trying to keep up with the intrigue and opaque world of Arab diplomacy is a nigh-on impossible task – it is probably best to simply see who turns up in Damascus, rather than follow the twists and turns, dead-ends and about turns that will litter the Arab press in the coming weeks.





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