Arab League postpones decision on closing office in Turkey

Arab League postpones decision on closing office in Turkey

Emine Kart - ANKARA
Arab League postpones decision on closing office in Turkey

Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi (C) and his deputy Ahmed bin Helli (R) speak at the main hall of the Arab League headquarters before a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to elect a new secretary general of the Arab League in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on March 10, 2016. AFP Photo

In a bid to avert contested outcomes amid regional disputes, the Arab League has eventually decided to postpone its review of a sub-committee decision to close its office in the Turkish capital Ankara, along with seven other representative offices around the world.

The foreign ministers of Arab League states were originally set to review a committee-level decision made in Cairo on March 8 to close the offices for “financial and administrative purposes” and make a final decision on March 10.

The committee that made the decision on March 8 is composed of the permanent ambassadors of the 22-member Arab League at the headquarters in Cairo. The committee was designed by the Council of Foreign Ministers in September 2015 in order to review the performance of its missions abroad with a view to restructuring the Arab League.

However, the ministers delayed the review of the decision to March 11, citing the committee’s “hectic agenda.” During the March 10 session, the foreign ministers elected Ahmed Abul Gheit, who served as Egypt’s last foreign minister under Hosni Mubarak until the longtime autocrat’s overthrow in 2011, as the body’s incoming secretary-general.

Eventually on March 11 the Council of Foreign Ministers decided to postpone the decision until their biannual meeting in September 2016, Ambassador Mohamed El Fatah Naciri, the head of the mission of the League of Arab States (AL) in Ankara, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Naciri also said a new committee had been formed by the Council “in order to study this question” until September 2016.

Speaking before the Council’s decision, Naciri said he did not expect the foreign ministers to approve the committee-level decision given the “huge political consequences” of such a decision.

“The committee decision on March 8 was made as they were trying to look at just financial and administrative purposes, so it is not decided yet. Now if such a decision is approved, I think it will be a political decision because of its consequences. Such a decision would have a really huge impact,” Naciri said.

“It is not only Turkey. We are also talking about other missions. If it was only about closing the Ankara office, it would be assumed that there is something wrong with Turkey. But it should not be explained politically. This was financial and administrative,” he added, while admitting that a possible approval would have a “political meaning and consequences.”

In addition to the office in Turkey, the committee also proposed closing down representative offices in Berlin, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Pretoria, Madrid, New Delhi and Malta.

The AL mission in Ankara was inaugurated in January 2010. In return, the Turkish Embassy in Cairo has been accredited to the AL since April 2010. But since November 2013, when Egypt expelled Turkey’s ambassador to Cairo amid tension between the two countries, Turkey has not appointed a new ambassador to Cairo.

Relations between Ankara and the AL have been particularly tense since the foreign ministers of the AL condemned Turkey’s military presence in Iraq and called on Turkey to withdraw its troops from the country in late December 2015.

In an interview with Al Jazeera late in February, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu touched upon the controversy over Bashiqa, a camp in northern Iraq that recently became a source of tension between Ankara and Baghdad when the Iraqi government asked Turkey to withdraw 150 troops it had deployed in the region late last year in order to train an Iraqi militia to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“We sent military trainers and some troops to defend them in order to liberate Mosul. We sent them to Bashiqa and the Arab League has condemned Turkey,” Davutoğlu said, referring to the Arab League decision to condemn Turkey’s deployment of troops as an “assault” on Iraqi sovereignty on Dec. 24, 2015.