x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Abdullah and Assad support Lebanon

Saudi King Abdullah's visit to Lebanon, accompanied by the Syrian president Bashar Assad, will have strong short-term and long-term effects, says Tariq al Homayed, the editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat.

Saudi King Abdullah's visit to Lebanon, accompanied by the Syrian president Bashar Assad, will have strong short-term and long-term effects, says Tariq al Homayed, the editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat. The visit reassured Lebanon that both Riyadh and Damascus are on the same page when it comes to acknowledging Lebanon's sovereignty and ensuring its safety, a fact further proven by Mr Assad's arrival on the Saudi royal plane.

The visit to Beirut calmed tensions that followed Hizbollah's attacks on the expected indictment by the international tribunal in the case of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri's assassination. Hizbollah is trying to convince itself that the Saudi-Syrian convergence will secure them a way out if they are accused. "This is what has been reported among Hizbollah officials, but the fact is the tribunal is international, and has no room for inside efforts.

"Hizbollah has to face their destiny. No matter how hard they try to influence the tribunal, they still have an important issue to face: the Lebanese people know them very well, and remember what they did in the past," says al Homayed. The meeting between the Saudi king and Syrian president also means that both countries are keen on safeguarding Lebanon's stability, supporting its prime minister, and making sure that any disagreement will be solved by legal means, which include the international special tribunal.

In a press conference at the closing of the Arab Initiative Committee meeting last Thursday, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas stated that he held talks for the first time with AIPAC, the biggest Jewish lobby organisation in the United States. He also admitted that a number of US administration officials advised him against such talks, for it would be like going into the "lion's den", commented Ibrahim al Bahrawi in the Emirati daily Al Ittihad.

Such a warning by US officials means that the administration is well aware of AIPAC's biased position on settlement expansion, as the powerful organisation didn't hesitate to use its weight in Congress to hamper President Barack Obama's efforts to sway Israel. Mr Abbas never revealed what was discussed during the meeting. However, Palestinian officials close to Mr Abbas revealed that the US administration warned that there would be severe consequences if the PA refused to engage in direct negotiations with the Israeli government as soon as next month. Washington wouldn't hesitate to stop its support for the Palestinian Authority, and more severely, Mr Obama would abandon his unprecedented commitment to building a Palestinian state. "As such, Mr Abbas finds himself in a bind. He will have no other alternative than to move to direct negotiations, despite all his confirmations that he wouldn't go further unless the US guarantees that the 1967 borders would be adopted as the official borders of the Palestinian state."

France may be embarrassed that a military intervention to contain terrorism along the borders between Mali and Mauritania failed to achieve its goals, writes Mohammed al Achab in a comment piece for the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

Because coastal Sahara has been traditionally a region of French influence, France cannot remain indifferent to what is happening there. This interest has grown even more as French citizens have been frequently kidnapped and killed. But at the same time, Paris is no longer the exclusive player. The situation in the region has also attracted the attention of the EU judiciary institutions, which strongly criticised European countries for not alerting tourists to such risky spots, and for not drafting a long-term policy to handle the growing threat.

Algeria has also been active on this issue, as Algiers believes it is most entitled to do so given its geopolitical position. Other African countries have emerged, eager to have a stake in the issue, although they have to first consult with both Algeria and France. The repercussions of such bipolar relations have triggered the latest political debates in Mauritania. Another challenge for French "stewardship policy" in the region comes from the Americans, who have been encroaching on Paris's territory with Africom, a regional African military that carries out military exercises in the region as part of the US's strategy in countering terrorism.

"The State Department spokesman Philip Crowley's statements in anticipation of King Abdullah's visit to Damascus last Friday seemed as if they came out of some banana republic, not a nation as great as the US," commented Rajeh al Khouri in an opinion piece for the Lebanese daily Annahar. Mr Crowley invited President Bashir al Assad and Syrian leaders "to listen closely to what King Abdullah will have to say". The statement may be seen as an insult to both Mr Assad and King Abdullah, as they portray the king as a US messenger.

Mr Crowley has, on more than one occasion, called for Damascus to break ties with Tehran, to which the Syrian president has responded that Syria will not succumb to US pressures and preconditions. His latest statement was aimed at giving the impression that the king's visit was to advise Syria on its relationship with Iran, although there was no mention of the issue on the summit's agenda. America would have done better to praise the king's tour, which comes at a time when an urgent summit is needed to discuss a multitude of issues.

The State Department's comments reflect badly on the US diplomatic performance rather than on King Abdullah and Mr Assad. * Digest compiled by Racha Makarem @Email:rmakarem@thenational.ae