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Arab states have little to show for tense Kuwait summit

Source: Reuters - Wed, 26 Mar 2014 15:37 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Arab rifts show little sign of resolution at annual summit

* Egypt and Syria among contentious issues

* Qatar and Saudi have clashed over regional influence (Adds more quotes and context)

By Sylvia Westall and Amena Bakr

KUWAIT, March 26 (Reuters) - Arab leaders, at loggerheads over inter-Arab issues including Egypt and Syria, offered little evidence of progress after a two-day summit in Kuwait on Wednesday.

Gulf opposition to Qatar's financial backing for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamist rebels in Syria burst into the open last month when Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain followed suit.

In a declaration read out at the end of the summit, Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah said only that the 22 members of the Arab League would "pledge to work decisively to put a final end to divisions".

It was not initially clear whether the document even had the status of the communiques customarily issued after Arab League summits.

"The summit is not in agreement, even though Kuwait really tried," one Western diplomat told Reuters.

"The Saudis did not want it, they wanted to be very firm with Qatar. There are problems about the Brotherhood, the future of Egypt, Syria. Kuwait did all it could to have a consensus. But the Saudis are very firm."

The summit came three weeks after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, accusing it of failing to abide by an accord not to interfere in fellow Arab states' internal affairs.

Officials have said the spat was over Qatar's support for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which was ejected from power by the military last year after mass protests against the Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, and has now been outlawed.

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim-led Gulf monarchies are keen to prevent Islamist groups gaining political influence and undermining their hold on power.

When Mursi was deposed last year, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait stepped in with financial backing, while Egypt said it would return funding from Qatar transferred when Mursi was in power.

BACKING DIFFERENT REBELS

Wealthy energy powers Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also clashed over Syria, where they have backed different rebel groups that have also fought each other.

The final statement condemned "mass killing committed by the Syrian regime's forces against the unarmed people" and reiterated the Arab League's backing for "a political solution to the Syrian crisis in accordance with the Geneva One declaration".

That declaration calls for a transition of power in Syria, which is suspended from the Arab League. But two rounds of talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and rebels, brokered by U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, collapsed without a result.

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah said Arab states had no alternative to a political agreement.

"We must focus on the political solution," he told a joint news conference with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby at the end of the summit.

Elaraby said the meeting had agreed that the exiled opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) would be invited to attend Arab League meetings as an extraordinary measure.

But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, whose country has seen Syria's Sunni-led rebellion feed a Sunni anti-government insurgency on its own side of the border, made clear Iraq did not approve of the SNC being accorded such status.

"Where is their sovereignty? Where is their authority?" Zebari told Reuters. "They are not a state, they don't have a government even." (Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Amena Bakr in Kuwait and Rania El Gamal in Dubai, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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