CAIRO — Cairo hosted a tripartite summit March 24, bringing together Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
The summit’s final communique underlined the importance of enhancing coordination between the three countries, and taking advantage of the potential offered by their geographical positions and common strategic and economic interests in order to combat terrorism and confront all those who support terrorist groups by funding, arming or providing safe havens and platforms, particularly in light of the victory Iraq has achieved against the Islamic State (IS).
The three leaders discussed ways to promote economic integration between their countries, including developing joint industrial zones as well as cooperating in energy, infrastructure, reconstruction and other sectors of development cooperation.
Analysts and politicians told Al-Monitor that this summit is a further restoration of harmony between Arab positions, which may have some differences, and it seems tactical to reach a strategic stage to build a cohesive Arab regional system.
“This summit is the beginning of an Egyptian-Jordanian-Iraqi coordination,” said Tarek Fahmi, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. “There are urgent priorities that include the three parties, which require joint coordination, first and foremost, to confront terrorism and strengthen the economy in all three countries.”
He told Al-Monitor, “From the Jordanian point of view, King Abdullah II visited the United States on March 9 and discussed developments related to the Palestinian cause or what is known as the 'deal of the century.' He came to Egypt to coordinate positions, especially with Egypt's close association to the Palestinian cause.”
Fahmi explained that Baghdad seeks to break out of the circle of engagement with the Iranian side and return to the Egyptian and Gulf Arab umbrella. The importance of this summit lies in the fact that it is the first foreign visit by Abdul Mahdi, who is seeking Egypt's support to counter terrorism in the region and back the Iraqi economy as well as reconstruction efforts, Fahmi added.
Iraq is looking forward to implementing a series of projects with Egypt in several areas, including housing, culture, education and transportation, Abdul Mahdi said at a press conference March 23.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly announced during the Cabinet meeting March 27 that the Egyptian-Iraqi Higher Committee will convene at the end of April to approve a number of joint projects between the two sides.
“Egypt's interest in this summit is to open up to the various Arab parties and diversify the sources of regional and international alliances, and thus have the ability to maneuver and move in different regional directions, and not to rely on a single alliance,” he said.
Fahmi noted, “The tripartite summit was significant in terms of coordinating a unified Arab position on the Golan Heights crisis before the Arab summit in Tunisia."
US President Donald Trump's March 25 recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights angered several Arab and international countries.
The final statement of the 30th Arab Summit that concluded in Tunisia March 31 stressed that the Golan is occupied Syrian territory. Arab leaders also instructed Arab foreign ministers to “submit a draft resolution to the [United Nations] Security Council for an opinion from the International Court of Justice to prove the illegitimacy and the invalidity of the US decision to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan.”
Ahmed Youssef Ahmed, a professor of political science at Cairo University and former dean of the Institute of Arab Research and Studies, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt and Jordan on the one hand, and Egypt and Iraq on the other, have two different positions in Arab politics. Iraq is close to Iran in a way that Egypt and Jordan are not. This summit thus came to serve as a bridge between the three countries, which means a kind of breaking the deadlock of alliances and reducing the level of tension in Arab relations.”
Ahmed believes the tripartite summit comes as part of Iraq’s efforts to rehabilitate the network of Arab relations, especially after being trapped under either US or Iranian influence for years.
Raed al-Azzawi, Iraqi political analyst and professor of international relations at the American University in Cairo, told Al-Monitor that Abdul Mahdi’s visit to Cairo has great significance, particularly as it is his first foreign visit that he hopes will garner Arab support to meet the challenges in the post-IS phase.
The economic aspect was clear from the visit, Azzawi noted, as Iraq is seeking other outlets to expand economic relations and increase the trade volume with Egypt.
Abdul Mahdi expressed his dissatisfaction with the level of trade exchange with Egypt at the Economic and Trade Forum between Egypt and Iraq on March 24, saying, “The economic relations between Egypt and Iraq cannot remain the same. Balance of trade as well as balance of payments are still modest.”
The volume of trade exchange between Cairo and Baghdad stood at $1.4 billion in 2018, and Iraq seeks to increase it to $6 billion a year, Iraq's trade attache to Egypt Haider Nouri told Erem News in April 2018.
Azzawi pointed out that Baghdad is seeking to implement new oil projects between Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
On March 23, the Jordanian daily Al Ghad pointed to this plan, quoting an informed source on condition of anonymity as saying that Iraq has been in contact with Egypt to develop the oil pipeline project with Jordan. The pipeline will be linked to Egypt instead of ending in Aqaba in southern Jordan, so as to achieve the largest possible economic development.
On April 10, 2013, Jordan and Iraq signed an initial agreement to build a pipeline to transport Iraqi crude oil from Basra to the port of Aqaba at a cost of about $18 billion and a capacity of 1 million barrels per day, but the project is yet to be implemented.
Azzawi concluded, “Egypt believes that the unity, integrity and stability of Iraq is a priority in order to expand its geopolitical depth eastward.”
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