The Middle East has a “historic opportunity” to establish a co-operation forum during its current period of relative harmony, a think tank paper has argued.
To avoid political difficulties, the group could initially address the three mutually beneficial issues of climate change, energy security and disaster relief, the Chatham House authors suggested.
They argued that politicians in the Middle East and North Africa should “capitalise on the current wave of regional de-escalation” to launch an official co-operation group potentially called the Mena Forum, or MEF.
De-escalation of some political issues had set the stage for a “new era of regional co-operation”, said the report, Seizing Mena’s Moment.
It cited the restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as the normalisation of relations with Israel as examples on how the region was able to find its “own mechanisms to reduce conflict”.
The London think tank argued that “this moment of detente” was a key time to build support and that policymakers should “capitalise on this moment before it passes”.
Working on the initial three proposed areas could “prompt wider co-operation in others in the future”.
The paper suggested the MEF’s launch summit should be held in a neutral capital attended by foreign ministers who would outline a founding declaration of co-operation.
The initial countries could include the six Gulf Co-operation Council members, plus Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, then bringing in the entire Mena region over time.
The vision for a more co-operative future would be “in the interest of every nation in the Mena region” as well as the international community, said the Chatham House authors Dalia Dassa Kaye and Sanam Vakil.
“We hope to demonstrate why the political will necessary to implement these ideas is so critical and why the time for regional leaders to meet this moment is now,” they said.
While the forum would have to be Mena-led, though high-level international backing would be critical, preferably from the EU and Asia.
“This is to avoid the possibility of the platform becoming, or being perceived to be, a venue for competition between the United States and China,” the report said.
But both those powers, as well the UN, should play supporting roles and be “mutually accepting of the other’s role in the initiative”, rather than the MEF becoming “a platform for global competition”.
The MEF’s charter would commit the parties to regular meetings in areas of common concern but would need high-level political support for a successful launch.
On the difficult subject of including Iran and Israel, the authors said it would be impossible to extend participation to both countries simultaneously.
“A more feasible pathway forward would be to build co-operation around a group of countries that participate in other co-operative forums with Iran, Israel or both … to set the stage for the participation of these adversarial states in the future,” they concluded.