March 30, 2009 / 8:13 AM / 11 years ago

Arab summit backs Sudan's Bashir over warrant

DOHA (Reuters) - An Arab summit voiced support for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Monday, rejecting an international arrest warrant issued against him for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walks past Somalia's new president Sheikh Sharif Ahmed (L-R), Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali before the opening of the Arab summit in Doha march 30, 2009. REUTERS/ Ahmed Jadallah

“We reiterate our solidarity with Sudan and our rejection of the measure of the ... International Criminal Court against his Excellency (Bashir),” said a final statement read at the summit in Qatar’s capital Doha.

Bashir thanked the summit, saying the warrant issued against him “targets Sudan’s national unity” and promised action to solve Sudan’s problems. “We will try to do all we can to realize peace in all Sudan,” he said.

Bashir flew to the small Gulf Arab state on Sunday after visits to Egypt, Eritrea and Libya in the weeks since the warrant, accusing him of masterminding war crimes, was issued.

After the death of Saddam Hussein, international justice for Sudan’s leader would be another cause for concern for Arab leaders accused by rights groups of repression.

Qatar, a major natural gas power, billed the summit as a chance for reconciliation among Arab states over a series of regional conflicts linked to non-Arab Shi’ite power Iran.

SAUDI-LIBYAN RECONCILIATION

There appeared to be a surprise reconciliation of another kind when Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah met on the sidelines to end a feud dating from an ugly public disagreement over U.S. ties at an Arab summit in 2003.

Gaddafi, wearing sunglasses and an orange hat and robes, had interrupted the opening session with an unscheduled speech that at first appeared to be a new attack on Abdullah.

Gaddafi called Saudi Arabia “a British creation with American protection,” but then said the dispute was over and he was prepared to exchange visits, drawing applause. The two leaders then met face-to-face for about 30 minutes.

Libya will host next year’s summit and a boycott by U.S.-allied states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be likely if the rapprochement does not last.

The Saudi monarch was at the summit despite concerns over Qatari policy on Iran. Riyadh fears Washington will end its conflict with Iran at the expense of the Saudi royal family, the United States’ traditional oil-for-security ally in the Gulf.

Enduring Egyptian rancor over Qatar’s attempt to rally Arabs and Iran behind Hamas during Israel’s war on Gaza, and to take over some of Egypt’s traditional role as mediator, kept President Hosni Mubarak away from the gathering.

“We can divvy up the reconciliations so that no one gets annoyed,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani joked later at a news conference.

IRAN CHALLENGE

Arab governments have struggled to respond to Iran’s political clout since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 brought long-oppressed Shi’ite Muslims to power there.

Qatar, with ambitions to be a major regional power broker, has maintained close links with Iran, despite U.S. and Arab pressure to keep its distance from a country they suspect of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies this.

The Egyptian and Saudi leaders see Iran’s hand behind the strength of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, Islamist groups that refuse to renounce armed action in the historic Arab conflict with Israel.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (back) welcomes Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir upon his arrival at Doha international airport March 29, 2009. REUTERS/Osama Faisal

In contrast, Arab leaders appeared largely united on Bashir, and rallied around him when the warrant was issued last month.

Some cited the absence of international measures against Israel over its three-week war on Gaza. Arabs generally see a double-standard applied that leaves Israel a free hand.

Officials in Doha said Saudi Arabia had pressed the summit of 22 Arab League countries to offer strong support for Sudan.

Editing by Andrew Dobbie

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