Jordan hosted the second session of the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership at the King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre on the shores of the Dead Sea Tuesday, December 20, 2022, with the participation of 12 countries—Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, Iran, France, Bahrain, and Oman (the latter two did not participate in the first session of the conference held in Baghdad on August 8, 2021)—in addition to the secretary-generals of both the League of Arab States and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States, and representatives of the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The conference comes three months after the visit of His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of Jordan to France on September 14, 2022, and less than a month after the visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani to Jordan on November 22, 2022.
Similar to the first session of the Baghdad Conference, the second session will discuss Jordanian issues as well as developments in the Middle East. This session comes in light of tense circumstances in the international arena at all political, economic, and security levels, especially those related to energy security and food security. It also comes in the midst of a regional environment that seeks stability via strengthening cooperative and participatory frameworks among its countries, which gives this conference session its great importance.
Amman’s Call for Stability and Just Peace
Although it comes as an extension of the conference’s first session, this session will reflect new regional and international changes, starting with the assumption of Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani as head of the Iraqi government to the results of the recent Israeli elections that resulted in an extreme right-wing government. Changes also include the intensification of energy and food security crises as well as the ongoing Ukrainian crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.
King Abdullah II noted that this conference is being held in a time when “the region is facing security and political crisis in addition to challenges of food, water, and health security, and the need to secure energy supplies, supply chains, and addressing the repercussions of climate change,” In his opening remarks, the king stressed that confronting common challenges “requires collective action whose positive effects are felt by our peoples.”
The Middle East faced complex and multifaceted crises during the past decade that cast a shadow on the countries of the region, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukrainian crisis, exacerbating regional economic and security hardships. A series of emerging and non-traditional threats also had negative effects on economic and development indicators at the national levels, threats that are challenging for any one country to respond to: climate change, interrupted supply chains, and the growth of armed non-state groups. These crises require joint action that will enable countries of the region to avoid or reduce their repercussions at the political, security, economic, and social levels.
Thus, Jordan’s hosting of the conference at its second session comes as a continuation of its role in calling for support for regional partnership frameworks. It comes also to emphasize the outcomes of the first session of the conference to achieve peace and stability, as well as its need to neutralize polarization in relations between the regions’ countries. Joint cooperation projects come as a means to achieve all the aforesaid goals. The Baghdad Conference is an effective implementation of this vision by translating its results into “strong and influential partnerships,” as His Majesty noted in his opening speech.
Different Circumstances at the Two Sessions of the Conference
The first session of the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership was characterized by the return of Iraq as a regional and active Arab country that played the role of mediator in the Saudi-Iran talks and its involvement in regional economic partnerships, including the tripartite development partnership with Egypt and Jordan. Baghdad and the Arab countries realized that supporting stability in Iraq is in the best interest for neighboring countries and an important step towards reducing tension between the countries of the region, primarily by reducing the areas of regional interventions in the Iraqi internal arena.
The second session also reflects the policy established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and now known as the Al-Kadhimi Doctrine, that is based on Iraq’s balanced and effective foreign policy towards neighboring countries and the region. The matter that had an active role in Baghdad’s hosting of the first session of the conference. It seems that the new Iraqi Prime Minister is determined to carry on the same track, with the advantage of assuming office through constitutional channels after a yearlong political vacuum that the country faced.
In his speech at the conference, Al-Sudani stressed this by saying that his government adopts an “open approach” to building regional and international partnerships based on common interests, including the establishment of complementary strategic projects that links Iraq with its regional environment.
In general, Iraq’s adoption of a balanced policy at the regional level was reflected in the issues and outcomes of the conference, especially in terms of finding ways to support Iraq in facing its security, political, and economic challenges; breaking Iraq’s isolation and returning to its active regional role; and addressing regional issues involving Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and others.
The first conference was remarkable for the presence of the Arab dimension, focusing on trilateral cooperation between Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt and their agreement to establish a permanent secretariat to coordinate work between the three countries. This was later confirmed by King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in addition to a statement issued by Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi that relations between the three countries are based on the same political vision and that they will continue to work together to transform political will into a shared framework of fruitful work.
The first session of the Baghdad Conference was paved by the tripartite Jordanian-Egyptian-Iraqi summit in Baghdad on June 27, 2021, which focused on formulating a common vision on regional issues and focusing on food security issues and joint economic cooperation, especially in the fields of electrical interconnection, transportation, agriculture, pharmaceutical industries, and the establishment of industrial centers in key cities.
The Importance of the Conference on Several Levels
The real importance of the conference appears in the post-official phase and in the bilateral or partial meetings held between its parties.
The Jordanian Level
Holding of the conference in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan constitutes a great success for Jordanian foreign policy and diplomacy, and a strong impetus to enhance Jordan’s regional role in political, security, and economic spheres. Jordan’s ability to ease tension and resolve regional crises is enhanced by its strategic partnership with France that strengthens the kingdom politically, economically, and in a stronger position of security that, in turn, enhances the state of Jordan’s internal stability and its ability to confront emerging and cross-border threats.
In this context, the Jordanian role may contribute to easing the tension on the Syrian-Turkish border after Turkey threatened to launch large-scale ground attacks and establish a 30-kilometer security belt in northern Syria. By virtue of the Turkish participation in the conference, none of this will now take place without benefits provided by all its parties. It is not unlikely that Jordan will address the Iranian presence on its northern and eastern borders through Iran’s armed groups that support it and are active in cross-border drug smuggling operations.
The Arab Tripartite Level
The conference holds many opportunities to develop what has been achieved at the level of joint Jordanian-Egyptian-Iraqi relations, especially in terms of moving forward with the implementation of projects agreed upon between the three countries, such as the tripartite Development Partnership project aimed at reconstructing Iraq and linking it to the electricity network, the Iraqi-Jordanian-Egyptian oil pipeline, the joint Jordanian-Iraqi economic city, the goods transport project, and other projects that establish economic integration between the three countries and contribute to supporting their internal stability and resolving their economic crises.
On the sidelines of the conference, Jordanian King Abdullah II, Egyptian President al-Sisi, and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Sudani held a tripartite meeting to discuss their partnership, emphasize the need to complete projects and accelerate the pace of implementation.
The Iraqi Level
The conference is a step forward for Iraq to face many of the challenges it faces politically, security-wise, and economically, in addition to the border problems with Turkey and Iran, especially with al-Sudani’s assumption of leadership. The new prime minister may be more fortunate than his predecessor in resolving the border crisis with Iran, which launched rocket attacks on Kurdish bases in northern Iraq in addition to the continuous Turkish strikes on Kurdish groups that Ankara accuses of cooperating with the PKK in the same region.
At the same time, the conference enhances Iraq’s regional role, especially in mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as through the gate of reconstruction efforts and related economic projects (which many of the region’s capitals will not be removed from) in addition to strengthening security support and regional intelligence cooperation for Iraq in its ongoing war against terrorism.
The French Level
From its first moment, Franc has played a central role in the conference project. Its role reflects the growing French interest in strengthening its relationship with Arab countries. It also constitutes an opportunity for a more balanced European intervention than its American counterpart in the region. In addition to the French interest in the Iraqi file, especially in the context of security in combating terrorism, France can help the region economically in the context of promising development projects, such as the nuclear power generation project. The French role also appears particularly active in the Lebanese file, which faces a political vacuum as evidenced by the failure of its polarized parliament to elect a president.
In addition, the French presence and European representation may put the Iranian nuclear file on the conference table and may enhance such possibilities since the delegation accompanying European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borrell includes Enrique Mora, who is the direct coordinator of the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian hinted ahead of the conference that it was an opportunity to jumpstart the months-long nuclear negotiations.
In conclusion, the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership in its second session may be a step towards paying attention to the issues of Iraq and the countries of the region in a more realistic and detailed effort that will assist the completion of projects; contribute to achieving tripartite Arab integration between Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt; strengthen regional and international cooperation in development and counterterrorism issues; easing border tensions between the countries of the region; and resolving other major issues of common interest. Although this conference is just one step in a long road that requires tremendous effort in the long term, it is a step taken in the right direction.