Matters from WEF 2014

The 44th World Economic Forum (WEF) being held at Davos, Switzerland came to a close on Friday.

The world’s top CEOs and some of the planet’s most powerful leaders converging at Davos for this annual gathering is now a much sought after event by many countries. Other than economy, its forums focus on various international issues generating headlines.

There were far-ranging issues from Japan and China claiming territory, to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) Chief Christine Lagarde telling everyone that Euro zone inflation is “way below target”.

But I wish to dwell in today’s column on Syria, Iran and Bahrain separately.

Firstly, to the Syrian issue. Unrelated to WEF, at another venue on January 22, there were bitter exchanges. The Syria Peace Conference being held at Montreux, Switzerland, and termed Syria-Geneva II, is a crucial meeting which will go on for perhaps a week more. And Iran, Interestingly, was not invited to this meeting.

In this conference were speeches from all delegates, including Syria’s chief delegate Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Opposition chief delegate and head of the Syrian National Coalition Ahmed Jarba,.

When US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “You cannot save Syria with Bashar al-Assad in power,” Mr Muallem responded “No-one in the world has the right to confer or withdraw the legitimacy of a president, a constitution or a law, except for the Syrians themselves.”

Mr Muallem actually ran far over the allotted 10-minute slot for each speaker, and ignored UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s attempts to intervene.

“You live in New York. I live in Syria,” Mr Muallem told the UN Secretary General. “I have the right to give the Syrian version here. After three years of suffering, this is my right.”

Opposition delegate Mr Jarba, however, said the Syrian government must sign up to a deal to transfer powers from Mr Assad. This, he said, would be “the preamble to Bashar al-Assad’s resignation and his trial alongside all the criminals of his regime”.

Stressing on the growing deaths, he said “For the Syrians, time is now blood.”

The discussions are continuing there. Even throughout yesterday, the UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi was trying to get the two sides to still negotiate. And these talks are likely to go on for another week or so.

Secondly, coming to Iran, the speech of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani at WEF on January 23 is being termed as Iran’s ‘charm offensive’ by some papers. He said Tehran was negotiating with the United States as part of a “constructive engagement” with the world and wanted Washington to back up its words with actions.

He stressed he was unbending in his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Ending “terrorism” backed by some of Syria’s neighbours was a precondition for any settlement of the country’s civil war, according to him.

While he is aiming to end sanctions that are crippling Iran’s economy, in return for temporary constraints on its uranium enrichment and nuclear development, it looks like the world leaders are unable to pressurise Iran to withdraw support to Bashar Al Assad’s government.

Thirdly, let me come to Bahrain. And what Bahrain said to the Indian Press there.

With the delegation from Bahrain to WEF 2014 was Kamal Ahmed , Bahrain’s Minister for Transportation who is the acting Chief Executive of the country’s Economic Development Board (EDB).

Showcasing Bahrain as an attractive business destination, Mr Ahmed said to the Indian Press Agency PTI this: “Soon after I return from Davos on Saturday, I would be travelling to India to attend an industry body meeting in Bangalore on Monday. Thereafter again I’ll be in India in February as part of a major delegation headed by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

“The visit is almost finalised and would be announced soon. The large high profile delegation comprising political and private sector leaders would visit Delhi and Mumbai. This would be a big delegation comprising of political leaders as well as trade and economic representatives,” he said.

EDB’s Acting Chief Executive also said that signing a double taxation avoidance agreement will be on the agenda during the forthcoming visit to India in February.

Bahrain’s presence, its active work on the economic front, and its announcements at the WEF show this country is a serious player in global economic affairs.