Saturday, January 18, 2014

Davos to focus on global economy, conflicts

GENEVA  — Conflicts like the war in Syria and getting the world economy back on track will be the focus of next week’s annual gathering of world leaders and power brokers in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

Organizers of the World Economic Forum said Wednesday that hundreds of public figures are expected to attend the event, including the leaders of Iran, Israel, Japan and Britain.
This year’s event will coincide with the start of the first face-to-face negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition, which will also take place in Switzerland, in the cities of Montreux and Geneva.

George Sabra, president of the Western-backed opposition group known as the Syrian National Coalition, has confirmed his attendance at Davos — but not at the peace talks. The coalition is one of the only opposition groups willing to deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government. But it is in exile and has lost widespread credibility within its ranks and among rival opposition factions in Syria.

The forum’s organizers said they do not yet know how many of the officials who will be at the Syrian peace talks might then join the event in Davos, which will draw Turkey’s foreign minister, two Saudi Arabian princes and other high-level officials from countries with a stake in the Syrian crisis.

The Geneva peace talks are being convened by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will also be in Davos, as will the heads of U.N. and other humanitarian agencies working to ease the effects of a war that has killed an estimated 130,000 people since early 2011 and forced more than 2 million people to flee the country.

The Swiss Army will be called out to protect the Syrian talks and Davos forum, and will arrange to fly officials between them if needed.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his finance minister, Javad Zarif, will try to cash in on a recent deal agreed on with world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. They will be surrounded by corporate titans they could try to attract for investment in an economy that has been crimped by U.S. and European Union sanctions.

Israel, one of the main critics of Iran’s nuclear deal, will also be well represented, by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

The Davos forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, told reporters Wednesday at the organization’s lavish headquarters overlooking Lake Geneva that the event seeks to “push the reset button” on the world’s crisis mode.

He expects there to be “cautious optimism” among the attendees, but also realistic expectations about what could be achieved. It will be hard, for example, to expect the global economy to return to the high growth rates it enjoyed before the 2008-09 financial crisis.

“Confidence seems to come slowly back,” Schwab said of the world economy. “It’s like running with a heavy backpack on your shoulders.”

Among the other world leaders attending will be Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein and British Prime Minister David Cameron.