Secretary General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit: Arab component should be present at Astana talks in Syria
Secretary General of the League of Arab States has given an interview with Interfax in the wake of his negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in which he speaks about the participation of Arab countries in the Astana process, Russia‘s political and military role in Syria, as well as prospects for resuming Syria‘s membership in the Arab League.Question: Mr. Aboul Gheit, could you tell about the purpose of your visit? And how has your meeting with Minister Lavrov gone?
Answer: The meeting and the visit comes in the context of an invitation by Sergei Lavrov to me, when he came to Cairo on May 28-29, and in the context of the meeting between foreign and defense ministers of Russia and Egypt in Cairo, he visited the Arab League and extended that invitation to come to Moscow. We maintain a very important forum between Arab countries and the Russian Federation in the context of the forum - the Arab-Russian forum - that met in Abu Dhabi in February. In this context comes the visit. The meeting today reflected a very wide understanding on the issues. We, as I said at the press conference, discussed the structural arrangements between Arab countries - the Arab League - and Russia. We have a program of cooperation that is renewable every two years. Currently, we have a program, a protocol, covering 2016-2018 with a range of projects, subjects, discussions, fields of actions and there we agreed that we will push forward for the implementation of many aspects of that program. We had a chance of reviewing the situation in the Gulf, the situation in Syria, the situation in Palestine, as well as the situation in Libya. We listened carefully to Sergei Lavrov‘s views, and we responded with Arab views representing the Arab League. These were subjects that we discussed.
Q.: Minister Lavrov said at the press conference that the next meeting of the Arab League will take place in Russia...
A.: The forum, not the Arab League, will take place in Russia sometime, hopefully before the end of this year.
Q.: So, there are no exact dates?
A.: No, there are no exact dates. The Russian party will suggest the date, and I urged them to give us the date as soon as possible in order to convey to the rest of other Arab countries for the ministers to prepare themselves if they wish to come.
Q.: Minister Lavrov said that he favors the participation of all Arab countries in the work of the Arab League. Some think that he alluded to the Syrian membership in the organization. Did you discuss this topic?
A.: Not this time. Sergei Lavrov raised that issue before, in Abu Dhabi. He wants Syria regaining its seat with the Arab League, and the response is always that if there would be a political breakthrough in Geneva seeking a final arrangement for the Syrian situation, whereby the implementation of an agreement is to start, than in the context of that agreement – that is my answer – the regaining of the seat will be one of the aspects of that agreement.
Q.: Is it possible that the Syrian membership will be restored with Bashar al-Assad staying in power?
A.: That is something that the agreement will decide. I cannot prejudge any course of action. The parties themselves – the government and the opposition – will decide the elements and factors of the agreement, the fields of actions in there, if they agree. If the do not agree, then we will see how to implement whatever is agreeable to all.
Q.: How does the Arab League evaluate Russia‘s role in the Syrian conflict?
A.: We think it is a very important role. We think it is a positive role. We see Astana as a good, important development, but we see the importance of linking Astana to Geneva, because Astana should not be the final destination. It should be linked to a political strategy and political objectives. We hope that Astana will lead to the defragmentation of Syria.
Q.: Did you discuss this with Minister Lavrov that the Astana process could lead to Syria‘s defragmentation?
A.: Yes, we raised that, and it is not the first time that I raise this. But his responses are always insisting that arrangements are transitional, that they take only three months for renewable, so they do not threaten to be a permanent solution of settlement.
Q.: Would you welcome if Arab countries join the Astana process?
A.: That is a decision for each and every country to apply, if they receive invitations. I understand that certain invitations have been extended to countries like Jordan, because Jordan is on the border, and I think they were observers at least Astana II. We welcome whatever Arab country to go there, at least the Arab component should be there. I would not have said no, if the Arab League was invited. On the contrary, I would have recommended going.
Q.: What about the Gulf crisis? As of today, no agreement has been reached...
A.: The meeting is taking place right now in Cairo between the four foreign ministers...
Q.: It has just ended, and the decided to continue the blockade and...
A.: And they will apply, as I understand, measures applicable to the international law. We will have to see. There is a stalemate there, and further efforts will have to be exerted in order to ease the tensions. Who will carry this? We will have to see.
Q.: U.S. media reported that President Trump proposed holding a summit in Washington inviting all countries involved, including Qatar and the countries that imposed the blockade. Would you welcome such a summit?
A.: That is subject for them. They decide for themselves. I cannot state any position on this as along as they do not show any position themselves.
Q.: And the last question. Let me return to the Syrian issue. How would you evaluate Russia‘s military operation in Syria?
A.: They come due to the request of the government of Damascus. They have a legal base.
Q.: Do you think Russia‘s operation is helping to fight terrorism?
A.: I think it is, because they are targeting certain organizations that are known to carry out terrorism activities.