Top Middle Eastern and European leaders discussed prospects for economic, political and security cooperation between Iraq and its neighbors Saturday, as they gathered in Baghdad for a summit.
The leaders of Egypt, Jordan and France met alongside the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey and the prime minister of Kuwait.
The leaders applauded as Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Khadhimi described his hopes for strengthening regional cooperation to improve the lot of his people following years of turmoil. It was the first large gathering of top Arab leaders in Baghdad since a 2012 Arab summit.
The presence at the summit of Iran's new foreign minister, Hussein Amir Abdollahian, provided a glimmer of optimism for a thaw in relations between Tehran and its top regional adversaries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Speaking in Arabic, Abdollahian held out an olive branch to Arab states.
He said Iran would like to improve relations with countries in the region, through economic and cultural cooperation, without what he called the usual interference from international powers. Foreign interference, he argued, has created tensions and regional insecurity.
Praise from Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron, the only major world leader to attend the summit, praised the Iraqi government for defeating Islamic State. He urged Baghdad to help resettle Iraqis who were displaced by the conflict and pledged French aid to do so.
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan spoke of Riyadh's ongoing cooperation with Iraq, while vaguely referring to stopping Iranian interference in Iraq and elsewhere.
He said Saudi Arabia had earmarked money for various projects in Iraq and reaffirmed its support for securing Iraq's stability and ending terrorism and extremism alongside the U.S.-led international coalition. He said that was in keeping with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's initiative to promote regional peace and stability and end meddling by certain regional states.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi alluded to a recent economic and political alliance among Iraq, Egypt and Jordan and efforts to extend cooperation to other countries in the future. He spoke of the past achievements of Iraq's long civilization and better times that await it.
El-Sissi spoke of cooperation with Iraq and wider cooperation built on regional interests and stronger ties to fight major threats, like terrorism and COVID-19. He said Egypt would continue to support the Iraqi government to achieve stability, adding that the long civilization and history of Iraq give hope for a brighter future, if Iraqis defend their country, rebuild their cities and choose their leaders wisely.
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, told VOA that Iraq's Khadhimi scored points with his ability to bring so many regional players to Baghdad with at least a modicum of success in lessening tensions among adversaries.
He said this was something of a symbolic summit but represented a step toward less conflict and more dialogue in a region that already is overly and conflictual. He argued that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan had left regional players tired and nervous, and that after the U.S. has stopped playing umpire, many of the players are seeking a truce.
Paul Sullivan, a Washington-based Middle East analyst, told VOA he didn't "expect much to come out of this meeting [in Baghdad]." He said he thought that "human development and human security need lots of work and lots of cooperation," despite what he called the "stark differences of views among the countries" at the summit.