ISLAMABAD/WASH¬INGTON: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will travel to Riyadh on Sunday to attend the first-ever Arab-Islamic-American Summit being held to develop a security partnership against a growing threat of violent extremism.
Mr Sharif is among the 54 leaders who would join US President Donald Trump for the summit being held on Sunday.
On Friday, President Trump left Washington for Riyadh for a visit that he and his allies hope could lay the foundations for an “Arab Nato force” to push back Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East as well as combat terrorism.
The decision to choose the Muslim holy lands for Mr Trump’s first foreign visit has been noted with interest in Washington but his decision to speak about Islam in his address to the summit in Riyadh has generated even more interest, and some derisions too.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz invited Mr Sharif for the summit. The invitation was delivered by Saudi Information Minister Awwad bin Saleh al Awwad, who visited Islamabad last week.
The official website set up by the Saudi government in connection with President Trump’s trip, while explaining the objective of the summit, states: “US President Donald Trump and leaders of the world’s Islamic nations will meet to address ways of building more robust and effective security partnerships to counter and prevent the growing threat of terrorism and violent extremism around the globe through promoting tolerance and moderation.”
The Arab-Islamic-American summit is one of the three Riyadh has planned for President Trump’s visit. The other two summits being held on this occasion are the Saudi-US Summit, and Gulf Cooperation Council-US Summit. The purpose of the entire exercise, apparently, is to reassert the Kingdom’s position as the main political and security force in the region. The eager Saudis have been running a countdown clock on the website for the trip, which started late on Friday night.
‘Fantasy of Arab Nato’
Pakistan is one of the closest allies of the Kingdom. The two maintain a strong defence partnership. The Pakistani government granted special permission to the former army chief retired Gen Raheel Sharif to lead the multinational military force being created by the Saudis. British journalist Robert Fisk, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, in his article in the Independent wrote that Mr Trump’s visit was for realising “the fantasy of an Arab Nato”.
Mr Sharif, while accepting the invitation for the summit, has reaffirmed Pakistan’s alliance with the Kingdom by recalling the commonality of views of two countries on most regional and international issues and their collaboration for achieving common interests and objectives.
It is unlikely that Prime Minister Sharif would get a one-on-one bilateral meeting with President Trump on the sidelines of the summit. At least, Mr Trump’s schedule does not show any possibility for such an interaction. The Foreign Office was silent on chances of a speculated meeting between the two.
The Washington-based Pakistani media, however, have learned that the Saudis are backing Pakistan’s request for a brief Sharif-Trump meeting before the US president flies out to Israel and then to Europe for more talks with America’s Nato allies.
Diplomatic sources in Washington say that since scores of world leaders are attending the summit, it would be difficult to arrange exclusive meetings between the US president and other leaders but “Americans are trying to find space for a very brief one-on-one between Mr Sharif and Mr Trump”.
“Unfortunately I don’t have anything for you,” a State Department official told Dawn when asked if the two leaders were going to have an exclusive meeting. Officials at the Pakistan Embassy said that since this matter was handled in Islamabad, they had no information about this.
The summit is being discussed at every forum in the US, from Congress to think tanks and the media. The US media and think tanks pointed out that days before the summit, the Trump administration announced two major arms deals: $1 billion worth of missiles for the UAE and a much larger, $100bn deal with Saudi Arabia.
Media reports pointed out that these weapons would be used to equip “a Muslim Nato army,” headed by Saudi Arabia. The reports also noted that Gen Raheel would lead this force.
An anti-Iran alliance?
Reports also pointed out that while 54 leaders from across the Arab and Muslim worlds had been invited to the summit, Iran has been kept out. Commentators in Washington noted that Iran’s absence made it look like an anti-Iranian alliance, despite its declared aim of fighting terrorism.
And President Trump’s meetings and conversations with Arab and Muslim leaders opposed to Iran’s growing influence in the region, particularly in Syria, consolidated this impression.
A readout of President Trump’s meeting with Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates at the White House said that the two leaders did talk about “the threat to regional stability posed by Iran.”
The US media reported that the UAE Crown Prince, who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of his nation’s armed forces, is helping prepare Mr Trump for the summit. This was his second visit to the White House since Mr Trump took office.
They also discussed “steps to deepen our strategic partnership and promote stability and prosperity throughout the Middle East,” said the White House. “Bilateral defence cooperation, counterterrorism and resolving the conflicts in Yemen and Syria” were some of the other key issues that the two leaders discussed.