The Al-Monitor & Semafor inaugural Middle East Global Summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings on Wednesday brought together the region’s leaders, newsmakers, and business head to discuss the Middle East’s transformation and global impact.
Here are the highlights from the event in New York City.
In this article:
The View From Jordan's King Abdullah II
On the Israel-Saudi talks, Abdullah II said that “the best deal is when everyone walks out of the table slightly unhappy.”
He said that Jordan and Egypt were working towards a successful deal but “you can’t parachute over Palestine.”
“What do the Palestinians get out of it?” he said.
Referring to the booming drug trade along Jordan and Syria’s mutual border that observers blame on the Syrian government and Iran-backed militias, Abdullah II suggested President Bashar al-Assad did not have full control of his country.
“Jordan is fighting on the border to make sure drugs do not get into the country... Bashar does not want a conflict with Jordan…I don’t know if he is fully in control,” he said.
The View From Anwar Gargash, Senior Diplomatic Adviser to the UAE President
Gargash said it’s up to countries like the UAE to ensure diplomatic conversations continue “when the big five are not talking to each other.” He said that the UAE was focused on climate and energy transition, despite pushback on the issues because they didn’t make “business sense.” Gargash also addressed UAE’s entry into BRICS and the need to offer prosperity to the region. “You can’t promote stability to people who are struggling in their daily lives. You have to talk about prosperity,” he said.
Gargash said that the U.S. was going to emerge out of the Ukraine crisis stronger and “reenergized.” He said that while the UAE works with Japan, Korea, and China, it wasn’t “a substitute” of the region’s relationship with the U.S.
On the Iran nuclear deal, Gargash said the UAE is “not trying to solve issues that we haven’t been able to solve in 30 years,” but instead move from “geopolitics to geoeconomics.” He said that despite concerns about nuclear proliferation in the region, the UAE was more interested in regional politics and involving Iran in economic initiatives.
Gargash said the Abraham Accords were a “success” and that it continued at a “strategic level” irrespective of who was heading the Israeli government. He added that the Accords were not envisioned to solve the Palestinian issue. “We had all our leverage with the Palestinians, gave them cheque blanque, and they haven’t done anything,” Gargash said.
He said reports of the Saudi-UAE rift are “extremely exaggerated from our point of view,” adding that “certain competition is always part of Gulf politics.”
The View From Nabil Ammar, Tunisia's foreign affairs minister
Speaking about the European migrant crisis that Tunisia is now at the center of, Ammar said that his country was put “in an impossible situation.”
Tunisia has become a hub for migrants making heir way to Europe to seek refuge.
“Every crisis we are suffering from, we have no responsibility in it,” Ammar said at the summit. His remarks come a day after Tunisian police expelled thousands of African migrants from its second-largest city and bussed them to a departure point to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.
Ammar appeared visibly upset when questioned about the the backsliding of democratic norms and jailing of political opponents, according to reporters at the event.
“Nobody in Tunisia is above the law –– it’s not because you are a politician or a journalist,” he said. “Despite being the minister of foreign affairs, I had to go through a screening. Why should we be put in a corner and criticized?”
He also dismissed accusations that the Tunisian president’s remark about Storm Daniel, which devastated the Libyan city of Derna, was antisemitic or racist. President Kais Saied had said Tuesday that the name Daniel was chosen “because the Zionist movement has infiltrated minds and thinking.”
The View From Sayyid Badr Albusaidi, Oman's foreign minister
Albusaidi said he believes “rapprochement” is taking place between Iran and the U.S., adding he was hopeful that the recent prisoner exchange between the two countries would lead to more such steps in the months to come.
He said that even if the process was “slow, painstaking, and challenging,” it was important for the Iran and U.S. to “maintain a momentum of trust... and deescalation” for the good of the global economy.
Albusaidi said the Iran nuclear deal was the “best thing we have” and that experts believe “it can be done.” Addressing concerns about Iran’s behavior in the region, he said that Oman was “in favor of having a platform where Iran can talk bilaterally.”
“We should... acknowledge that all of us are part of this region, including Iran, and therefore we all have a vested interest in the region’s future.”
The View From Barbara Leaf, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
Leaf said the road to normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel will be “long and winding.”
She said the U.S. was helping in diplomatic efforts at the request of both countries, adding that a deal would have “strategic value” for all stakeholders and that “the Palestinians will figure into the mix of this.”
Leaf said she had “no news” on what the U.S. hopes to accomplish with Iran following the successful prisoner swap deal. She said the deal was part of the Biden administration’s “unrelenting quest” to bring Americans home, but that other “fundamentals” of the U.S.-Iran relationship have not changed. “There isn’t really a deal out there.”
The View From Majid Al Suwaidi, COP28 Director General
Al Suwaidi pushed back against criticism that the Middle East was not meeting climate change goals, saying “transformation in the region has been amazing.” He said the Middle East is “not just talking, but actually doing things on the ground.”
The main challenge to tackling climate change goals was finance, Al Suwaidi said. “We need to move from hundreds or billions of dollars to trillions of dollars.”
The View From Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, Iraq prime minister
Addressing U.S. concerns about Iran’s perceived influence in Iraq, al-Sudani said, “We do not follow instructions from others. What helps our national interests, we do. We’ve agreed to grow closer to countries that others are not talking to.”
He said that the strong religious and political ties between the two countries cannot be ignored.
“As if we’re the only country in the world with relations with Iran,” al-Sudani said.
The View From Dr. Majed Al-Ansari, Qatar's minister of foreign affairs
Al-Ansari said there were hiccups surrounding the U.S.-Iran prisoner swap deal which Qatar brokered. He said both sides requested things “at the last minute.”
“But there is a way to talk, regardless of how difficult things are,” he said.
Al-Ansari emphasized Qatar’s role and interest in playing international mediator, citing examples of the country’s mediation in the DRC and Rawanda, as well in Lebanon to fill the void of the presidential seat. He said Qatar was also working in Afghanistan where there was a “problem of narrative.” Completely isolating the Taliban was not the solution, al-Ansari said, adding that “the only way forward is engagement.”
Addressing how the U.S. would feel if Qatar deepened ties with China, al-Ansari said Qatar shared a strong economic partnership with China, despite disagreeing on several issues, including human right abuses.
“The fact of the matter remains is that China is one of the largest energy markets in the world and we will always need China and they will always need us,” he said.