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SA sees some positive change in otherwise turbulent Middle East

SA sees some positive change in otherwise turbulent Middle East
Iranian national flags fly near a major highway through Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday, Sept. 17. 2019. Photographer: Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg

The normally turbulent Middle East is experiencing “quiet but incremental geo-political change” for the better, South Africa believes.

“Firstly, the region is entering a new phase of friendly relations with the resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” deputy minister of international relations and cooperation Candith Mashego Dlamini said in Cape Town on Wednesday.

She was addressing a meeting of BRICS deputy foreign ministers and special envoys concerned with the Middle East and North Africa. (MENA). The BRICS bloc brings together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The meeting was part of the run-up to the annual BRICS summit which South Africa will host in August. 

Mashego Dlamini noted that BRICS member China, supported by Oman and Iraq, had brokered the rapprochement between the hitherto bitter foes Iran and Saudi Arabia, which would lead to both countries reopening their embassies over the next two months. 

This rapprochement “will greatly contribute towards peace, stability and development in the region.”

She said another positive development in the region was the meeting this month between Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “The visit was designed to find a political solution to Syria’s civil war and the normalisation of Saudi Syrian relations,” she noted. 

In their joint statement, the representatives of all five BRICS countries at the meeting welcomed the wider rapprochement between Arab countries and Syria as well as the steps towards the Syrian-Turkish normalisation. They said they supported all efforts conducive to the political resolution of the Syrian issue. 

They stressed that the key to solving the Syrian issue was to follow a “Syrian-led, Syrian-owned, UN-facilitated political process” of reconciliation and inclusiveness and respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The joint statement also welcomed the most recent Saudi initiative to hold direct talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis to achieve peace and security in Yemen and the Gulf region. Officials had earlier said this initiative was one of the by-products of the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran has been providing military and other support to its fellow Shi’a Houthis while Saudi Arabia has been backing the fellow- Sunni government of Yemen. 

The BRICS officials also welcomed the efforts of other regional countries such as Oman to seek a permanent ceasefire in Yemen. 

Mashego Dlamini’s address to the meeting was more positive about MENA than the joint statement which emphasised that “rising global instability and uncertainties have negatively impacted global peace, security and development including in the (MENA) region.” 

Among the MENA crises which South Africa and the other BRICS officials highlighted were the continuing Israel-Palestine conflict, the recent and continuing eruption of a shooting war between rival military generals in Sudan, the ongoing turbulence in Libya and the lack of a political solution to the status of Western Sahara. Morocco claims it as part of its territory but South Africa and the African Union recognise Western Sahara as an independent state, represented by the Polisario political movement. 

The joint BRICS statement and Mashego Dlamini both emphasised the need to resolve the Western Saharan dispute “in accordance with relevant UNSC resolutions” including a referendum among Western Saharans over their future. This referendum has been on the cards for over 30 years but has never materialised due to differences over its terms and mandate.

The BRICS ministers also called for a greater global effort to fight violent extremism and terrorism  and in particular for the “expeditious finalisation and adoption of a comprehensive convention on international terrorism under the UN umbrella.” Negotiations for such a global convention have dragged on for decades because of differences among countries about what constitutes terrorism. DM


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