12 December 2012

Morocco: Nation Hosts International 'Friends of Syria' Conference in Marrakech

Urges political will to build peace, curb violence, extremism in region

Today, Morocco hosts the fourth ministerial meeting of the international "Friends of Syria" group in Marrakech, which more than 100 delegations are expected to attend, including members of Syria's new opposition coalition, to reach agreement on a common strategy to ensure a political transition in Syria and mobilize vital aid for refugees caught in the humanitarian crisis, as winter sets in.

The conflict in Syria has taken more than 42,000 lives in the last two years and sent tens of thousands fleeing across the border as refugees. Morocco set up a medical field hospital at the Zaatari camp in Jordan, which HM King Mohammed VI visited in October, that has aided more than 40,000 Syrian refugees.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was scheduled to attend the "Friends of Syria" conference, but was forced to cancel because of an illness. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will represent the US in Marrakech.

Last week in Washington, DC, Morocco's Deputy Foreign Minister Youssef Amrani met with US officials about the upcoming discussions in Morocco. He said that Morocco, which assumes the rotating Presidency of the UN Security Council in December, has worked closely with the US and allies to advance a common and progressive position among Arab nations on the Syria crisis, to address the deteriorating situation in Mali, and also to advance the Middle East peace process.

"We know what has to be done to build peace in the region," said Amrani, speaking at an Atlantic Council forum. "We need to show the political will to do it."

On Mali, he said "the interconnection between drug-trafficking and al-Qaeda-linked extremists" in the Sahel and Central Africa "poses a great threat to the international community. If we don't fight it, it will create instability and failed states across the region. What happened in Mali can happen in other countries." Amrani said "African nations must take the lead," pointing to the current two-track approach of dialogue and military pressure.

Amrani said economic development and job creation are crucial parts of a multi-prong strategy to "build peace and prosperity and curb the rise of violent extremism in the region." He noted several initiatives Morocco and the US are working on within the Morocco-US Strategic Dialogue agreed to in September, including a US-Moroccan Business Development Conference that met in Washington last week and agreements to boost trade between the two nations and broader MENA region, through the 2006 Morocco-US Free Trade Agreement.

Amrani said advancing political freedoms and democratic reforms are fundamental. But he added, "democracy is a culture and expression of political will. Countries without a history of civil society need transition time to build it, which can be complicated, long, and difficult."

He said that Morocco, which began its reforms more than a decade ago under the leadership of King Mohammed VI, can play an important role as a regional leader with its strong civil society, tradition of tolerance and consensus-building, and respect for individual rights.

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