RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Heads of state from the Middle East and Latin America arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for a summit aimed at boosting trade and policy coordination between the two regions.
Saudi King Salman, who greeted several dignitaries at the airport in the capital Riyadh, opened the summit by commending Latin American countries for their foreign policy stances, particularly with regard to Palestine. Latin American countries recognize a state of Palestine and several have strongly condemned Israel's actions in Palestinian territories, including last year's bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
This is the fourth Arab-South American summit to bring together top officials from the Arab League's 22 member states and 12 countries from South America. The meetings, held every three years, began in Brazil in 2005, followed by summits in Qatar and Peru.
In his remarks at the summit, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that Latin America has the biggest Arab diaspora in the world and that several Latin American presidents have been of Arab descent.
"This history — largely one of harmony, integration and achievement — sends a powerful message at a time when the world is wrestling with the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War," he said.
Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said in his remarks that trade between two regions has reached $33 billion, compared to just $6 billion a decade ago.
He also touched on the turmoil in the Middle East, saying it threatens to "unravel" countries, families and societal values that allow people to coexist.
"The Arab region is witnessing political developments not seen before," he said. "Its leaders and the region's institutions are exposed to real threats."
"Groups have tried to adopt extremist ideologies and impose their opinions and ideas to change the identity of some Arab nations, among them Egypt," el-Sissi said, before praising Egyptians for "rejecting these attempts" and saying the country is now on a new path and open to investments from Latin America to rebuild its economy after several years of political upheaval.
Some of the heads of state attending the summit include Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir, Jordan's King Abdullah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and from Latin America Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa.
Other Latin American countries taking part in the summit are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guiana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and the continent's smallest country Suriname.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.