Cairo: Arab and European leaders sought closer cooperation, despite signs of rifts on some issues, at their first summit, which concluded in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm Al Shaikh on Monday.
Leaders from both sides pledged to deepen “existing strategic partnership” between the 28-nation European Union and the 22-member Arab League.
“[We are] confident that strengthened interaction has great potential to enhance the stability, prosperity and wellbeing of the two regions and the world at large,” the final statement said.
“Stronger regional cooperation is key to finding solutions to the current common challenges, which both the European countries and the Arab states are confronted with.”
Europe is seen seeking closer links with its Arab neighbours to stem a flow of migrants and re-establish foothold in the region as the US is withdrawing and influential Russia is aiming to fill the void. The two sides Monday said they would meet regularly at a summit level, with Brussels to host the next gathering in 2022.
“We agreed to further strengthen our cooperation towards security, conflict resolution and socio-economic development throughout the region,” the leaders said in the final statement.
They also agreed to step joint efforts against illegal migration, a major concern for Europe.
In an apparent response to Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi’s suggestion, the attendees said they would address “root causes” of terrorism and jointly move to curb terrorists’ cross-border movement.
On Monday, Al Sissi urged the West against imposing its own concepts on the Arab world.
“A single [terrorist] operation Sharm Al Shaikh turns this beautiful city into a ghost town,” he told a press conference following the closing ceremony. “Priorities in the Arab and European worlds are different. The priority in Europe is to create welfare, while for us it is to safeguard our country and prevent its collapse like other countries in the region,” he added.
Commenting on repeated Western criticism of the death penalty in Egypt, Al Sissi said: “We appreciate your stance on the capital punishment, but I hope you will not impose on us. You will not teach us about our humanity and morals. You have your humanity and morals. Respect our morals as we respect yours,” he added.
Both sides were united in their backing for a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem, opposing a controversial move by the US that recognised occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“We reiterated our commitment to reaching a two-state solution on the basis of all relevant UN resolutions as the only realistic solution to end the occupation that began in 1967, including East Jerusalem.”
At a televised closing ceremony, Saudi Foreign Minister Ebrahim Al Assaf said his country had proposed observation in the draft final statement, but were not adopted.
In response, head of the Arab League Ahmad Abu Al Geit disclosed that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Lebanon suggested changes in the phrasing of the draft. “After discussion with the European side, it was agreed to keep the final statement as it is,” Abu Al Geit said without giving details.
The proposed changes are mainly related to Iran, which the Gulf countries accuse of destabilising the region.