Perception Paradoxes and Unnoticed Tragedies. First Day of the Valdai Club Middle East Conference

20.02.2018

The game on all fields - perhaps, this is the main meaning of the Valdai Club Middle East conference, which takes place in Moscow on February 19-20. Famous politicians, diplomats, scientists and public figures from more than 30 countries take part in the expert dialogues organized in partnership with the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Syria, Libya, Yemen, Israel, Palestine, Iran - participants in the first day of the conference spoke about Russia's policy towards each of these problems of the Middle East.

The honorary guests of the first session, titled "Russia in the Middle East: the Paradox of Perception" were the Foreign Ministers of Russia and Iran, Sergey Lavrov and Javad Zarif. In their speeches, they presented a broad and multifaceted perspective of the situation in the region.

Russia's policy toward each of the problems of the Middle East was highlighted by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. A special role in his speech was given to the situation in Syria. Lavrov turned to the root cause of the Syrian catastrophe, which, according to him, is "thoughtless, short-sighted interference from the outside into the transformation processes that took place in the region". This led to the strengthening of jihadists. The Minister noted, that the turning point in the fight against terrorism was the involvement of Russia in response to the request of the legitimate government of Syria.

 According to Lavrov, Libya, one of those countries where the "Arab Spring" began, turned "into a black hole." The minister said, that during the Munich Security Conference he met with the UN Secretary General's special representative for Libya Ghassan Salamé. "We support his initiatives, road maps, the dialogue between Tobruk and Tripoli," Lavrov said. Russia provides support to all parties trying to resolve the intra-Libyan conflict, be it Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia or the League of Arab States, but for the harmonization of all these mediation efforts it is necessary to ensure the leading role of the UN, he stressed.

Another country, where the regime change under the slogans of democratic transformation turned into a catastrophic civil war is Yemen. "The UN acknowledges that this is the largest humanitarian disaster of our time: 19 million people need immediate help, medical care, just access to food, clean water," Lavrov said. According to him, it is necessary immediately put an end to the confrontation and move on to the resumption of negotiations. "As in any other conflict, in the Yemeni situation we are working with all parties without exception and we will continue to do this," the minister said.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict came to a new level of tension. This happened after the US statement on the recognition of Jerusalem as the exclusive capital of Israel. Russia, according to Lavrov, is trying to prevent the collapse of the negotiation process. "We are convinced that there is no other way like direct agreements between Palestine and Israel," the head of Russian diplomacy said. "We confirm our readiness to provide the Russian platform for the Palestinian and Israeli leaders without preconditions."

Speaking about Iran, Lavrov especially noted the attempts of external forces to use "the most explosive material" - the contradictions between Sunnis and Shiites - to achieve their goals. Meanwhile, it is necessary to look for ways to start a dialogue on confidence building measures, and then on security in the Persian Gulf region with the participation of the GCC and Iran, he stressed.

Foreign Minister of Iran Javad Zarif spoke about a collective security system creation in the region. According to him, it is necessary to leave old ideas about regional security, because they do not work. We need a strong region, but not a "strong man in the region, "and attempts by any state to play the role of a regional hegemon are unacceptable”, he stressed.

The second session of the Middle East conference of the Valdai Discussion Club, titled "Syria: After War, Peace" was devoted to the prospects for the reconstruction of this country. Experts agreed that now it is most important to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria. This is in the interests of all parties of the conflict, as well as maintaining control over the situation. In the current conditions, a zero-sum outcome is impossible, because the government controls only about 60% of the territory, but the resources of the opposition are not unlimited. The problem can only be solved politically by engaging all parties.

The panelists emphasized, that the future of Syria should be determined by the citizens of the country. But they recognized that it is hardly possible without the support of the international community. A special role should be played by major world powers, such as Russia, the United States, Turkey, and regional actors.

Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, noted that the Syrian conflict has three dimensions: strategic, political and socio-economic. Each of them needs its own settlement.At to the strategic level, geopolitical technologies were used in Syria, which led to armed protests and the weakening of statehood. Also, according to the diplomat, it has to be repeated in some other countries of the region. According to him, the Russian-Iranian cooperation is directed to solve the problem at this level, but the US and its allies in the region oppose it.

Participants of the third session talked about the "undetected tragedy" of Yemen. Of all the armed conflicts in the Middle East, Yemen war has led to the most disastrous humanitarian consequences. As Sergey Lavrov noted during the first session, "this is the largest humanitarian disaster of our time: 19 million people need immediate  help, medical care, just access to food, clean water."

The panelist of the Yemeni session, Ali Nasser Muhammad, President of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (1980-1986), noted that the war was the cause of all the misfortunes that have caused millions to suffer. It did not solve the Yemen crisis, but caused only new difficulties. Unfortunately, today Yemenis can not cope with the situation on their own. This can be done by the major players of the region and the international community. To end the war is beneficial for everyone, including neighboring states, for the return of security to the region and Yemen.

The fourth session of the Valdai Club Middle East conference  was devoted to the prospects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict settlement. Irina Zvyagelskaya, moderator of the session, noted that until recently it seemed that this confrontation went to the background, but the decision of the US administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel again brought it to the forefront.

The analysis of the changed position of the US on Jerusalem was presented by Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia. He recalled that at the end of December 2016, then Secretary of State John Kerry, who seriously believed in the possibility to reach a negotiated solution on the basis of universally recognized parameters of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, summed up his shuttle diplomacy in a statement to the press. As the Russian diplomat noted, the outlined approaches radically differ from the current position of the White House.According to Bogdanov, Donald Trump put into question the very basic principle of the "two states". The Americans mention it with the reference to the fact, that it is possible only with the consent of the Israelis themselves and the Palestinians, in practice this means linking the solution of this issue with the position of Israel as a stronger party in the conflict.

Daniel Levy, President of the US/Middle East Project, suggested to look at Trump's decision from a different perspective. According to him, the US has never had the political will to resolve the conflict on the principle of two states. Therefore, perhaps it makes sense to take advantage of the current situation to review the principles of a peaceful settlement. According to him, the Oslo principles, worked out a quarter of a century ago, are becoming obsolete, and instead of returning to an ineffective peace process, it is necessary to work out the structure of a new settlement. The “Middle East Quartet" did not satisfy expectations, Levy said.

Earlier, during the first session of the conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, that the leader of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas called for the reform of the "quartet" during talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "President Abbas [...] advocated the return of the role of the" quartet "and not to create a situation where one tries to usurp intermediary functions. But he also said that the "quartet" should be strengthened and expanded, first of all, with the engagement of the Arab states," the head of Russian diplomacy said.

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