Aljazeera.net: How did the South American-Arab summit come about?

Amr Moussa: It is an initiative promoted by President Lula of Brazil.

Early last year, when he made one of his important tours in the Middle East (I believe it was his first), he came up with this idea by talking to heads of states in several Arab countries and to the Arab League, with the suggestion that a summit between South American countries and the members of the league would take place within six months or so.

The initiative was welcomed by every Arab head of state and representatives to the Arab League.

We started working, through our experts, with meetings of ambassadors, with meetings of ministers; the last one was in Marrakech, Morocco, last March.

Immediately after the Arab summit there, the final communique was agreed on, and the general framework and the issues and the agenda.

AJ: What is the present volume of trade between the Arab world and Latin America, two big oil-producing regions? How significant is this in relation to other regions you trade with?
 
AM: Trade and investment between South America and the Arab world was not that significant.

But since the initiative by President Lula, trade and investment between Brazil and the Arab world has increased by a fifth. We expect the summit and the activities that will take place around it, to push forward the economic relationship between the two.

Brazilian President Lula (R) with
Chilean counterpart Ricardo Lagos

We are developing economies. There must be a lot of investment, a lot of trade between the two. There's a lot the Arab world can give to South America and vice versa.

The increase in trade and investment that took place in 2004 and this year will be considered and developed at a parallel meeting while the summit is taking place.

There will be a meeting of the business communities in both regions, both in Brasilia and Sao Paulo, that is why the delegations going to the summit will be two - the governmental and the business.

We stress this point, that economic relations should be the focus.

AJ: Latin America has seen a leftward lurch in terms of politics, certainly in Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru. Do closer ties to South America now represent a political statement?

AM: The statement we are making here aims at consultations and contacts between the two major regions. We have our problems, not only political but economic, the relationship with the new world of globalisation. We are going to establish relations with Latin American countries, through democratic means.

AJ: Will Palestine and Iraq be on the agenda?

AM: Yes, but I will talk about that after the summit.

AJ: This summit has raised eyebrows in Washington, which recently expressed concerns over the draft language. Some critics suggested it was a new South-South political axis, which could easily morph into vocal political positions in the Israel-Palestine and US-Iraq  context?

Cuban and other central American
countries will not join the summit

AM: Although Cuba and some other countries are expressly Latin American countries and the summit is about South American countries and the Arab world, there are a lot of problems between many countries in both regions and certain aspects of American foreign policy, of course there is, but for different reasons. And if we, the Arab side, are seeking South American and Latin American support, it is not support against Israel but support for a fair peace in the Middle East. A just peace in the Middle East is what we need.

AJ: People power movements have a history of removing dictatorial and corrupt governments in South America, as most recently highlighted in Ecuador. With what is being termed as the new Arab spring taking hold in the region, namely in Lebanon, do you see a possible parallel?

AM: There is a drive for reform in the Middle East and this reform emanates from the needs of the people. It has nothing to do with a foreign influence. If there is a foreign influence, a foreign desire or foreign role, it is minimal.

It is emanating from the people; that hope for their countries to move up the ladder, economically and socially, and link up to the 21st century. This is a common desire, a common hope and policy.

I would refer you to the basic document that the Arab summit in Tunis produced concerning the reform and modernisation of the Arab world. This came before even thinking of a conference between South America and the Arab world. Also it came independent and despite the pressures and foreign policies of countries. Reform and modernisation is a need that we in the Arab world feel is a priority item that we have to implement.

The two regions can influence each other, especially because we both belong to the Third World, the developing world.

So I would say, yes, indeed there will be a mutual influence positively affecting moves in both regions to a higher degree of development and reform.
 
AJ: There have been historic ties between Latin America and the Arab world that go back centuries. Many Arabs emigrated to the South decades ago, with sizable populations in Argentina and Brazil. What will the summit represent in its cultural aspects?

AM: On the cultural side we have a plan. I visited Brazil four weeks ago and met with the leaders of Brazilians of Arab origins and they are enthusiastic about the conference.

They are also enthusiastic about the drive to bring to South America, delegations and business delegations, and at the same time because they feel they belong culturally - their forefathers came from us, a region that is very rich and culturally very strong.

We will intensify this aspect of cultural exchange, cultural cooperation and the first thing we are going to do is re-establish the Arab League offices in South America with a lot of cultural issues, and not just looking into the political and the economic agendas.

I expect the traffic of peoples, tourists and investors between the Arab world and South America to increase tremendously in the near future.