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Conflicted Arab League urges ‘diplomatic solution’ to Russian invasion of Ukraine

Bloc stresses ‘the importance of respecting the principles of international law,’ as its members seek to avoid taking a side between Russia, US

Illustrative: An extraordinary session of the Arab League foreign ministers meets to discuss the situation in the Palestinian territories at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, on April 21, 2019. (Amr Nabil/AP)
Illustrative: An extraordinary session of the Arab League foreign ministers meets to discuss the situation in the Palestinian territories at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, on April 21, 2019. (Amr Nabil/AP)

CAIRO — The Arab League on Monday expressed its worry over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and called for a “diplomatic solution,” as the regional bloc’s members grapple with conflicting loyalties.

Most Arab countries so far have not come down on one side or the other in the war. Middle East and North African governments are cautious in their response to Russia, a major supplier of the region’s wheat and weapons.

At the same time, they don’t want to alienate the United States, which supports Ukraine and is a historic ally of major powers in the Middle East.

After an extraordinary meeting held on the fifth day of Russia’s invasion, the 22-member Cairo-based League issued a statement reflecting its wish not to offend anyone.

It recalled “the importance of respecting the principles of international law,” while pleading for “restraint” and a “diplomatic solution.”

The bloc said its members pledged to cooperate to ensure the safety of its citizens, mainly students, thousands of whom are stranded in Ukraine.

Russia is the world’s top wheat exporter and Ukraine the fourth, leaving the Middle East and North Africa vulnerable to potential shortages of the staple food in a region where millions already struggle to get by.

The Gulf, long aligned with Washington, has stayed largely silent. On Friday the United Arab Emirates joined India and China in abstaining in voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution, which Russia vetoed, demanding the immediate withdrawal of Moscow’s troops from Ukraine.

Syria, which the Arab League suspended in 2011 and whose regime Russia has aided in its years-long civil war, leans clearly towards Moscow.

Algeria and Sudan tilt the same way, a reflection of their military links with Russia and the Soviet Union before it.

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