- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

BRASILIA, Brazil — South American and Arab leaders opened an unprecedented summit yesterday to usher in new cooperation aimed at undercutting the international influence of the United States.

With 9,000 soldiers posted around the city and helicopters overhead, 16 heads of state and top officials from 34 South American, Middle Eastern and North African nations gathered for the first Summit of South American-Arab Countries.

“Today, we are facing a historic opportunity to build the foundation for a bridge of solid cooperation between South America and the Arab world,” said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

He said the leaders must band together to ensure that free trade helps the developing world’s masses, instead of only rich countries and multinational corporations.

He singled out agricultural subsidies developed nations give their farmers, saying they must be slashed to ensure “poor countries receive the benefits of globalization.”

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who heads the Arab League, said the two regions, while far apart, have a combined population of more than half a billion people and share strong cultural links. About 10 million South Americans are of Arab descent.

“More than 600 million people are looking with hope to the summit of hope, the Brasilia summit,” he said.

The summit started with the biggest show of security in the Brazilian capital since Mr. da Silva was sworn into office two and a half years ago as the first elected leftist leader of Latin America’s largest country.

Police said four pistols were confiscated from U.S. security guards for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani ahead of the summit because paperwork had not been filled out for them to carry the weapons.

The leaders will hold two days of talks, and are expected to join forces by signing a “Declaration of Brasilia.”

In the draft declaration, the leaders pledge to support sweeping political and economic efforts to tighten links between their regions.

The stronger ties to counter U.S. dominance in the global political arena reflect a key policy goal of Mr. da Silva, who proposed the summit during a 2003 trip to the Middle East. The gathering comes at a time when Washington is pressuring Arab nations to relax their mostly authoritarian systems of government.

The draft summit declaration also condemns Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and denounces terrorism but asserts the right of people to resist foreign occupation, according to the document approved by foreign ministers Monday.

In the statement, the two regions demand that Israel, whose biggest ally is the United States, disband settlements in Palestinian areas, including “those in East Jerusalem,” and retreat to its borders before the 1967 Middle East war.

They also lash out at U.S. economic sanctions against Syria and denounce terrorism. But they assert the right of people “to resist foreign occupation in accordance with the principles of international legality and in compliance with international humanitarian law.”

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