Jordan to host MidEast summit in bid to defuse regional tensions

The Jordanian army has announced it will deploy forces on the road from Amman airport to the Dead Sea conference centre

Jordan hosts a Middle East summit Tuesday bringing together regional and international players hoping to help resolve regional crises, particularly in neighbouring Iraq.

The “Baghdad II” meeting, which will also include officials from France and the European Union, follows an August 2021 summit in Iraq’s capital organised at the initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Iraq only recently arrived at a fragile compromise government after a year of political stalemate.

The summit, held on the shores of the Dead Sea, aims to “provide support for the stability, security and prosperity of Iraq,” the French presidency said in a statement, adding it hopes this will benefit “the entire region”.

The meeting takes place as several countries in the region are mired in unrest.

For over three months, Iran has bloodily suppressed a wave of popular demonstrations sparked by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin.

The meeting will also be attended by the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, who has been mediating talks aimed at reviving Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Syria continues to be a battleground for competing geopolitical interests and Lebanon remains in an economic and political quagmire.

Baghdad II will see Jordan host Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, Iran’s foreign minister and delegations from Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Jordan, which has seen strikes and protests against rising fuel prices in recent days, has said the army will deploy on the road from Amman airport to the Dead Sea conference centre, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) west of the capital.

– ‘No one expects miracles’ –

“This summit has great ambitions but no one expects miracles,” says Riad Kahwaji, director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is expected to be busy on the sidelines of the conference.

France’s role as a mediator is crucial, Kahwaji said, with Paris “keeping the thread of dialogue on behalf of Westerners with Iran, especially as the Vienna nuclear negotiations are currently in stalemate”.

The Dubai-based analyst said it is necessary to gauge the “disposition of Tehran — which plays a central role in the crises of the region from Iraq to Syria through to Lebanon and Yemen — to compromise”.

Iran’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict through the supply of drones to Russia further complicates the discussions, Kahwaji said.

Tehran has accused regional rival Saudi Arabia — with which it has had no diplomatic relations since 2016 — of fomenting unrest in Iran as protests rage on.

On Monday, Iran’s Amir-Abdollahian said Tehran was “ready to return to normal relations” with Riyadh “whenever the Saudi side is ready”.

– Test for Iraq –

The conference will also be a test for Iraq’s Sudani, appointed prime minister in late October after more than a year of political deadlock.

Considered closer to Iran than his predecessor, Mustafa al-Kadhemi, this will be Sudani’s first major international meeting.

In its statement, the French presidency said it hoped for “continuity” from the new Iraqi leader.

Hamzeh Hadad, a visiting scholar at the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes the first summit in 2021 had been intended to allow Kadhemi to show he could “gather neighbouring leaders, in particular the Gulf states, in Baghdad”.

During this meeting, Sudani will have to demonstrate “he can maintain these relations and show that they do not depend on personal ties”, Hadad said.

“I think this time around, both Iraqis and non-Iraqis would like to see a more serious agenda coming from this conference,” he added.

The meeting is also expected to address issues such as global warming, food security, water resources and energy cooperation.

Macron will also meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, an “ally in the fight against terrorism”, according to Paris.