Reporter’s Notebook: Dignitaries parse out wording in every issue

King Abdullah

THE conference palace, popularly known by its Arabic name Qasr Al-Motamarat, overlooks the landmark fountain in Jeddah.

During important conferences, it is always a center of intense diplomatic activity. On Monday, the scene was no different when throughout the day foreign dignitaries streamed in and out after holding important discussions. This was the place where the foreign ministers of more than 50 Muslim countries met to OK the agenda of the Islamic Solidarity Summit convened by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
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The homework for the foreign ministers was done a day before by the ambassadors and foreign secretaries of the OIC member states. The process sounds complicated cumbersome but it is simple. The foreign secretaries, ambassadors and permanent representatives jot down all the issues that are important to their countries. The real preparatory work is done by this group of quiet and hardworking diplomats. Each statement and resolution takes umpteen minutes to finalize. Words are very carefully chosen and every effort is made to leave no room for confusion.

The draft prepared by them is then passed onto the foreign ministers. They then discuss it threadbare and iron out contentious words of even sentences. The document prepared by the foreign ministers is presented to the heads of state and is then approved for action. And then the final communiqué is released. For some, all this may sound like a bureaucratic rigmarole, but in the world of diplomacy, this exercise is seen as mandatory to execute policy decisions.
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At the Conference Palace yesterday, there was a great degree of optimism among the delegates and ministers that King Abdullah’s call has led to the coming together of all Muslim nations. Such is the respect for King Abdullah that no nation refused his request. All of them are here. They share his concerns. In him, they see a symbol of Muslim unity.
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“Ever since he took reins of this great Kingdom, he strove to take the middle path, the path of moderation and tolerance, and that has endeared him to both the Muslim world and the wider non-Muslim world,” said a top delegate from Morocco. “When one looks back, one can only remember with awe and immense respect King Abdullah’s suave and honest leadership during the most turbulent years since 9/11. He captained the ship that was bobbing on the rough or seas and anchored it to safety.”
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Now the Muslim world faces a different set of challenges. The threat is from within. “It is the threat of sectarianism … Its fires are being fanned by countries that are inimical to Muslim interests … countries that believe in that time-tested concept of dividing the Muslim people and lording over them,” said a Pakistani diplomat.
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It goes to the credit of King Abdullah that he immediately sensed the danger and took this step of bringing everyone together in the most holy place. The focus at the conference is on finding and focusing on common minimum denominators among Muslims of the world. The message that is going from here is that Muslims have to work on the points of convergence rather than divergence.
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For a Turkish diplomat accompanying President Abdullah Gul last night, the worst thing in these extraordinary circumstances is to have done nothing. “It is in such times that leaders are tested and their character stands out … King Abdullah is that shining star … All eyes are riveted on him … People in the Muslim world have always synchronized their hopes with his vision of a balanced and world … He has seldom disappointed them,” he pointed out. “We are all looking forward to his address from Makkah.”
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Back to Syria which has dominated the discussions here, some diplomats felt that “expulsion” was not the right word to describe the action against the Syrian regime. “Expulsion’ is a very harsh a word; the right word should be ‘suspension,’ ” said a diplomat who seemed sympathetic to Assad. The word that the draft resolution uses is indeed “suspension.”
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During a short break, when this correspondent spoke to the OIC chief, he said Syria will remain suspended till such time as there is people’s government in Damascus. “Syria’s membership will then be automatically restored,” he said.
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We all heard about Iran’s objection to Syria’s suspension. But the key question that journalists at the media center kept asking repeatedly was: Were there other countries that supported Iran on Syria? The answer for the top diplomats was in the negative. Iran was the lone voice in support of Syria. Some countries did back Iran on some points initially but then went along with the majority view. “It was almost done through consensus,” said Saudi Foreign Ministry Director Muhammad Ahmed Tayeb.
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As reported in yesterday’s edition of Arab News, the OIC chief felt relieved at the decision. No wonder, there was loud applause when the resolution was approved indicating the total isolation of Assad.