Arab leaders agree 29-item economic agenda
January 21 2019 12:20 AM
His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani takes part in the opening session of the Summi
His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani takes part in the opening session of the Summit

Al Jazeera News/Beirut

Arab leaders have agreed a 29-item economic agenda in addition to encouraging the safe return of Syrian refugees to their homeland at the conclusion of the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, Al Jazeera News reported Sunday.
The 20 countries taking part in the summit issued a joint statement called the Beirut Declaration, calling for the establishment of an Arab free trade zone and the international community to support countries hosting refugees and displaced people.
Reading out the statement, Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary general of the Arab League, reminded the international and Arab donor communities to "help alleviate the suffering of refugees and displaced and to secure funding for developmental projects in host countries".
In his opening speech, Lebanon President Michel Aoun had called for encouraging the "safe return of displaced Syrians", saying that the process should not be linked to a political solution in the war-torn country. 
A key point of contention ahead of the meeting related to the wording of Article 13 in the summit statement.
Lebanon, which hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, called for their return to Syria after President Bashar al-Assad regained control of most of the country. Other countries had insisted this discussion be linked to a political solution.
The summit had also been marred by divisions among Lebanese politicians and regional leaders over the reinstatement of Syria into the 22-country Arab League.
While Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil called for Syria's return to the bloc, its secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit said there was no agreement on the proposal yet, adding that it may be discussed during the Arab League summit that takes place in Tunisia in March. 
Rami Khouri, a political analyst and fellow at Harvard Kennedy School told Al Jazeera that although normalisation with Syria was inevitable, the process of refugees' return will take time.
"There's no sign of a serious breakthrough in a political transition which would allow the safe return of refugees and the reconstruction (of devastated areas). For this to happen, there needs to be a clear sign for a political reconciliation according to UN resolutions," said Khouri.
Paul Salem, president of the Middle East Institute, agreed that normalisation will take time.
Earlier in the day, President Aoun had presented an initiative to establish an Arab bank for reconstruction and development, which would help rebuild countries torn by conflict.
Discussion during the summit focused on redevelopment plans in Somalia and Yemen.
The summit was overshadowed by political rifts. Lebanese media and analysts had called the meeting a "failure" due to poor attendance by Arab heads of state, many of whom pulled out last minute.
In addition to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al- Thani, Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was also in attendance. 
"The Qataris are trying to promote a reconciliatory spirit around the region and reconfigure relationships following the siege," Khouri told Al Jazeera.
Amine Kammourieh, a Lebanese political analyst, said the "Amir’s attendance broke the siege imposed on the summit (by Arab leaders), saving it at the last minute". 
A key contribution during Sunday's meeting was the launch of a $200mn technology investment fund across the region by Kuwait's foreign minister.
Sheikh Sabah Khalid al-Sabah said Kuwait would contribute $50mn to the fund to allow "investment in the fields of technology and digital economy" which the private sector will take part in.
Following the announcement, Qatar's Finance Minister HE Ali Sharif al-Emadi pledged an equal amount in support of Kuwait's initiative.
The League's secretary general Abul Gheit announced that the next Arab economic summit would be held in Mauritania's capital Nouakchott in 2023, adding that the four-year break would provide time for the summit objectives to be achieved.



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