Friday, May 4

At Sharm el-Sheikh, the pot calls the kettle black

May 3, Sharm el-Sheikh
“Sometimes it appears people in diplomacy use talk as a reward or punishment,” said the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in an interview after his own 30-minute meeting with Ms. Rice. “That seems to me very childish. We are frustrated when people don’t talk together.” (1)

April 28
"In a serious rebuff to U.S. diplomacy, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has refused to receive Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on the eve of a critical regional summit on the future of the war-ravaged country ..."(2)

With no woman in a red dress around to blame for snubbing Malaki, King Abdullah fell back on the time-honored excuse of a scheduling conflict. Still and all, Sharm el-Sheikh was a success because the goal to internationalize assistance to Iraq was met.

In attendance were Iraq's neighboring states; the UN Security Council's five permanent members of Russia, China, France, Britain and the United States; representatives of G8 industrialized nations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Arab League plus Egypt and Bahrain. The UN-led international compact between donors and the Iraqi government was ratified at Sharm el-Sheikh; the compact provides a framework for regional and international economic assistance to flow in time with Iraqi government reform.

At the Thursday meeting at Sharm el-Sheik negotiations
centered around trying to persuade the international community, particularly the Persian Gulf countries, to agree to a debt relief and financial aid for Iraq. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said that donor countries, including Britain, Saudi Arabia and China, pledged to waive $30 billion in Iraqi debt.

In return, Baghdad promised to enact a series of reforms, like better inclusion of the country’s Sunni minority in the political process, an oil law and better legal protections for Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds.

“The national unity government is committed to providing all necessary services for the deprived people, and because these services need huge finances, we call on all the friends and brothers participating in this conference to write off Iraq’s debt to enable it to start reconstruction and development projects and rebuilding its infrastructure,” Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq said in a speech before the group. “Your support will enable the national unity government to move forward with the political process and consolidate democracy and impose law and order.”

But there is a clear quid-pro-quo at play, and while conference attendees verbally pledged 80-percent debt relief and billions in aid, they left themselves room in case the Shiite-led Iraqi government did not make good on its promises to reform and reach out to minority groups.

Indeed, assembled diplomats, particularly the Sunni Arab envoys, said they remained unconvinced that Mr. Maliki’s government would take the necessary steps.

“We don’t see anything happening in Iraq in implementation,” Prince Saud said in the interview. “Our American friends say there is improvement: improvement in violence, improvement in the level of understanding, improvement in disarming militias. But we don’t see it.”

Prince Saud added that it seemed premature to produce an international agreement to help out Iraq. He said that during his meeting with Ms. Rice on Thursday, he expressed his reservations on the process and his concern that the Maliki government was not doing enough to stabilize the country.

“You have to have national consensus,” Prince Saud said. “If you move to improve the situation, you can’t do it from the outside.”

American officials acknowledged that much of the help for Iraq is contingent on Baghdad. “That point is valid,” admitted Ryan C. Crocker, the United States ambassador to Iraq. “If you’re not moving forward on these issues, the centrifugal forces will take hold and move you back. The international compact is a good thing, it deserves support, but it’s very important to move forward on the national compact
Yes, the Saudis have a point, but the Iraqi PM wants some assurance from Saudi King Abdullah that the Saudis will stop trying to run Iraq's internal affairs. He'd also like Tehran to keep their paws off.

1) The New York Times, May 4

2) The Washington Post, April 29

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