Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 July 2019

Saudi King Salman receives warm welcome on arrival for Arab League summit in Tunisia

The monarch was accompanied by a high-ranking delegation for the meeting on Sunday in Tunis

Saudi Arabia's King Salman received a warm welcome from Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi on his arrival in Tunis for the Arab League summit on Sunday.

Mr Caid Essebsi received King Salman at the airport on Thursday before escorting him to his guest residence, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

A huge banner erected near the Tunis-Carthage airport to welcome the Saudi monarch hailed him as "Salman the Benefactor".

King Salman was accompanied by a large delegation that included the Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al Assaf, Finance Minister Mohammed Al Jadaan and Commerce and Investment Minister Majed Al Qasabi.

King Salman entrusted the kingdom's affairs to his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, during his absence, in a royal order issued before leaving Saudi Arabia, SPA said.

Tunisia has spruced its capital and tightened security in preparation for the summit which it hopes will raise its regional profile and economic prospects.

New murals, exotic flowers and flags from the 22 Arab League states decorate the capital Tunis as it prepares to host thousands of visitors, including the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres.

Police and soldiers have been deployed around the country and security was tightened on land and sea borders, as Arab government ministers held preparatory meetings for the summit.

Tunisian diplomats want their country to play a mediating role in a summit marked by thorny issues: President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the deepening rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and whether to let Syrian President Bashar Al Assad back into the Arab fold.

For Tunisia, the most burning issue is bringing stability to neighbouring Libya. Tunisia and Libya used to have $2 billion (Dh7.4bn) in bilateral trade, but that has plunged in the lawless chaos that has reigned in Libya since a 2011 Nato-led bombing campaign led to the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Tunisia, which has taken in Libyans fleeing years of unrest, has hosted repeated diplomatic meetings on Libya and was hosting another on Friday with officials from the UN, African Union, European Union and Arab League.

The summit comes at a welcome time for Tunisia, which is in need of an economic and morale boost.

Tunisian protesters unleashed the 2011 Arab uprisings and it is the only country to emerge with a new democracy, but political infighting and a string of extremist attacks in 2015 have hurt the economy.

While many members of the Arab League are in disputes with each other, Tunisia has managed to maintain good relations with countries around the region, and could play the role of inter-Arab mediator, said former Tunisian foreign minister Ahmed Ounais.

Tunisia "can be the winner, especially if it manages to advance the political process in Libya", he told The Associated Press.

Tunisia is also hoping the summit brings new investment, notably from Saudi Arabia.

Updated: March 29, 2019 02:32 PM

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