Latin, Arab leaders hold summit to strengthen ties
RIYADH: Arab and South American leaders converged on Saudi Arabia yesterday for a summit aiming to strengthen ties between the geographically distant but economically powerful regions. United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon is expected to attend the opening in Riyadh of the Fourth Summit of South American-Arab Countries, set to begin at 1600 GMT. State television showed the arrival of President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, whose country belongs to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries along with Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter.
President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, OPEC’s smallest member, also arrived. It was not immediately clear whether other Latin American heads of state would be present. Arab presidents who arrived included Omar alBashir of Sudan, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt and Fuad Masum of Iraq, as well as Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, state media said.
Other leaders include Gulf rulers and King Abdullah II of Jordan. Ahead of the two-day meeting, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said windows of cooperation have long existed “but haven’t been open enough to take advantage of the capabilities” of both regions. For example, Sudan has land and water “that could enable it to become the Arab and South American food basket”. The summit between the 22 Arab League members and 12 nations from South America was first held in 2005. The gatherings were an initiative of then Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose country hosted the first summit.
Ahead of the summit, Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi told Kuwait’s KUNA news agency that “trade between both regions has amounted to $30 billion after it was no more than $6 billion in 2005.” Peru, which hosted the third meeting in 2012, last month became one of 12 Pacific rim countries to seal the world’s largest free trade area, known as the TransPacific Partnership. Chile is the only other South American nation included in that deal. Saudi columnist Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, writing in Monday’s Arab News, said that together, the Arab and South American regions can help bring prosperity and stability to the world. “The whole of the continent is moving forward with many visible and modern reforms to their political, economic, social and educational systems,” he wrote of South America.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir spoke of a “convergence of positions” between countries of the two regions on many issues and commended the Latin American nations’ “positive stance” towards the Palestinian question. Jubeir told a pre-summit meeting that the previous three summits tried to develop trade, investment and transport links. There remain “promising opportunities for collaboration”, he said, according to a written text of his Monday speech. Two South American nations, Argentina and Brazil, belong to the Group of 20 world’s largest economies, as does Saudi Arabia. The kingdom and its Gulf neighbors pump much of the world’s oil, but Brazil and Venezuela are also major producers.
There are also cultural ties, as Chile hosts about 350,000 Palestinian immigrants and their descendants who have settled there over the past century. Recent immigration has taken more than 2,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the war in their homeland to Brazil since 2011. The figure is far more than for any other Latin American state, although some pledged open doors and Venezuela’s President Maduro said 20,000 were welcome in his country. However, Maduro is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who is facing rebel forces supported by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.
RIYADH: Saudi officials stand in front of the flags of countries being hosted by Saudi Arabia to attend the 4th summit of Arab States and South American countries, during the welcoming ceremony held at King Khalid International airport in Riyadh yesterday. — AFP