Attending the Summit of the League of Arab States in Tunis, Tunisia, on Sunday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, recognized the critical importance of the region on the international stage and called for even stronger cooperation between the UN and the Arab States.
“North Africa and the Middle East are home to remarkable dynamism and potential. It is a region long-striving to build peace and prosperity. I believe it is vital for this region to assume that destiny,” he told the room filled with dozens of political leaders from the 22 League Member States. “The United Nations has no other agenda than to support those aspirations in a spirit of solidarity and unity.”
Citing the many contributions that the Arab world made to global civilization throughout history, he also expressed admiration for the way many Arab countries are “extending remarkable hospitality to wave upon wave of refugees in a context where, unfortunately, many other borders [are] closing.”
The Secretary-General went on to highlight the “turbulent winds” that have affected the region, from “the wars in Yemen and Syria”, to “the rise and fall of Daesh” and “the persistent denial of the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people”.
“I strongly appeal for the unity of the Arab world as a fundamental condition for peace and prosperity in the region, and to avoid leaving the region vulnerable to interference by foreign parties with destabilizing effects,” he said, calling for a regional vision rooted in cooperation, respect and mutual interest.
Mr. Guterres mentioned the need to “untangle the Gordian knot of insecurity, allow no space for sectarianism, and deliver the peace, stability and effective, responsive governance that the people of the region deserve.” He also emphasized the need “to create jobs and economic opportunities, to uphold human rights for all, advance gender equality and women’s empowerment and promote the rule of law, diversity, fundamental freedoms and democratic values”.
Four imperatives to fight the ‘turbulent winds’
The UN chief then spoke of four specific issues in the region that could benefit from a comprehensive regional approach, starting with the imperative for a two-State solution, for Israel and Palestine, “living side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders, and with Jerusalem (Al-Quds) as capital of both States”.
“There is no Plan B: without two states, there is no solution,” he stressed, noting that the ongoing violence in Gaza is a tragic reminder of the fragility of the situation.
The second specific issue the UN chief mentioned is the conflict in Yemen: “Following last December’s breakthrough in Stockholm, we continue to work closely with the parties to achieve progress towards the redeployment of forces in Hudaydah and the opening of humanitarian corridors on the way to a political solution for Yemen.”
Third, regarding the eight-year long conflict in Libya, he hailed the recent progress towards building political consensus for convening the National Conference. “I am hopeful that further progress can be achieved with a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process with the support of the international community within the framework of the UN Action Plan,” noting it is “high time that Libya achieves unified institutions and concludes the transitional stages with general elections.”
Finally, he mentioned that, as “millions of Syrians remain displaced and in need, and tens of thousands are arbitrarily detained…we must keep working to forge a political path to a sustainable peace in which all Syrians are heard, grievances are addressed, and needs are met.”
“Any resolution of the Syrian conflict must guarantee the unity, the territorial integrity of Syria, including the occupied Golan,” he stressed.
For an even stronger UN-Arab States cooperation
“The Arab Region and its people have made enormous sacrifices to fight terrorism – and have paid the highest price for this,” said the UN Secretary-General, assuring that “the United Nations is stepping up support for the efforts of the Arab States in this struggle.”
He announced that the UN will soon open a new Liaison Office to the League of Arab States in Cairo to work together on important matters such as improving the living conditions for Iraqis, and support stability in Lebanon.
“Let us work ever closer together to unleash the full potential of this vital region, respond to the aspirations of youth and build a better future for all,” the UN chief concluded.