Arab states pushed for the Syrian government to end violence and hold talks with the opposition, while urging regime foes to unite, in a draft resolution obtained on Tuesday at the start of landmark regional talks in Iraq.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is carrying out a bloody crackdown on an uprising against his rule in which monitors say over 9,100 people have been killed.
The Syria crisis has loomed large as Arab officials gathered in Baghdad this week for a series of meetings that began on Tuesday and will culminate in a summit of Arab leaders on Thursday, the first such meeting to be held in the Iraqi capital in 20 years.
The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, urges the “Syrian government and all opposition factions to deal positively with the (UN-Arab League) envoy (Kofi Annan) by starting serious national dialogue.”
It also calls on the Syrian opposition “to unify its ranks and prepare … to enter into serious dialogue (with the regime) to achieve the democratic life which is demanded by the Syrian people.”
And “the Syrian government should immediately stop all actions of violence and killing, protect Syrian civilians and guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations for achieving demands of the Syrian people,” reads the text.
Arab economy ministers were to have opened talks with the focus on ramping up tourism to revitalise the region’s protest-hit economies, tackling water security and organising regional responses to natural disasters.
But the agenda was overshadowed by the crisis in neighbouring Syria.
Libyan Economy Minister Ahmed al-Koshli opened the meeting by saying: “We have to say that there is still a bleeding wound in a brother country, Syria, and I have to pray to God that he can ease the suffering and the pain in Syria, and grant them their wishes.”
Arab foreign ministers are to meet on Wednesday, the eve of the summit, with Syria at the heart of the agenda.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said he expects a resolution to address Syria but admitted he did not think Arab leaders would call on Assad to step down.
Former UN chief Annan’s spokesman said on Tuesday that the Syrian government had accepted his six-point plan on ending the bloodshed.
Annan’s plan calls for a UN-supervised halt to fighting, with the government pulling troops and heavy weapons out of protest cities, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire and access to all areas affected by the fighting.
Annan was meeting on Tuesday with Chinese leaders in Beijing, which called on all parties in Syria to cooperate with Anna, after visiting Russia over the weekend and obtaining Moscow’s full backing for his plan.
China and Russia drew international criticism earlier this year for blocking a UN Security Council resolution condemning the crackdown in Syria.
The fallout from other Arab uprisings — which toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and put pressure for reform on other autocratic regimes in the region — are also to be discussed in the three days of talks in Iraq.
Regional nations which revolted against their autocratic regimes suffered economically in 2011, the International Monetary Fund said in October, pointing to a “sizeable” decline in tourism, though energy-rich Gulf states were largely spared the protests.
The World Bank, meanwhile, has warned the Middle East and North Africa face “increasingly frequent droughts and a looming water supply shortage,” an issue also set to be discussed in Baghdad, along with proposals for a regional alert system for natural disasters.
More than 100,000 members of Iraq’s forces are providing security in the capital, and Iraq has spent upwards of $500 million to refurbish major hotels, summit venues and infrastructure.
Despite the dramatically tighter measures, Al-Qaeda’s front group in Iraq managed to carry out a wave of nationwide attacks on March 20 that cost 50 lives, including three people killed in a car bombing which exploded opposite the foreign ministry.
The summit was originally due to be held in Baghdad a year ago but delayed by regional turmoil resulting from the Arab Spring uprisings, as well as concerns over violence in Iraq.