Aside from Trump limelight, Davos discreetly pushes peace talks

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 16, 2018 2:49 PM

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump will hog the limelight at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos next week, but behind the scenes some of the world's leading diplomats will be working on some of humanity's knottiest conflicts.

Trump is expected to arrive on Jan. 25 and make a speech on Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. (1300 GMT). Eight U.S. Secretaries and cabinet members will also be at Davos.

"The U.S. footprint this year will be quite considerable," WEF president Borge Brende told Reuters.

"What we have heard so far is that he wants to meet with business people from Europe and also from the rest of the world, and he wants to then share with all of the participants his outlook for 2018."

Trump's visit has created extra interest because Davos is emblematic of the globalisation that he criticized heavily during his election campaign, and its collaborative ethos is at odds with his "America first" isolationism.

WEF founder Klaus Schwab told a news conference that a theme this year would be the future of global co-operation relating to trade, environment, the fight against terrorism, tax systems and competitiveness.

"In this context, it’s absolutely essential that we have President Trump with us," he said.

Trump will be just one of a record line-up of political leaders, from Angolan President João Lourenço to Zimbabwe's Emmerson Mnangagwa.

One invitee who has yet to confirm is Germany's Angela Merkel.

"She is very much welcome if that is her decision," said Brende, who stepped down as Norway's foreign minister late last year to take up his WEF role.

He is beefing up the political ambitions of Davos, a retreat more commonly associated with power-broking by wheeler-dealer billionaires.

Among the hundreds of meetings will be closed-door special "diplomatic sessions" devoted to conflicts and reconciliation, including Syria, Somalia, Venezuela, Israel-Palestine, the Korean peninsula and the Western Balkans.

"I think it would be a lost opportunity with so many leaders at the start of the year if we didn’t also address peace and reconciliation questions in Davos," Brende said.

Davos attendees include King Abdullah of Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah and Trump's adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

"I hope that there will be at least discussions on the situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and we will have a lot of key players in that ecosystem in Davos," Brende said, adding that business leaders from both sides would call for a peace solution at Davos.

The exclusive venue gives key political actors the chance to meet out of the public eye, or to communicate indirectly, he said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles)