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 due to attend the event, including the leaders of 40 countries, the CEOs of major companies like Google and celebrities like Matt Damon.
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 Davos forum, 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.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Switzerland from Jan. 21-25, first in Montreux and then in Davos for several days where he will deliver remarks about U.S. “commitment to and engagement in the Middle East region,” spokesperson Jen Psaki said Wednesday.
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 and forced over 2 million to flee the country.
The two events are co-ordinating among themselves. The Swiss Army will be called out to provide security and will arrange to fly officials between them if needed.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign 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 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.
Also on the Mideast, the forum will showcase Tunisia as a possible way ahead for Arab nations and have its Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa on hand for discussion.
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 2,500 attendees from over 100 countries, but also realistic expectations about what can 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.”
Climate change and health are other key subjects this year as the U.N. continues to press for a global agreement to keep the planet from overheating.
Among the other world leaders attending will be South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and many of the world’s most important financial institutions, including central banks, will be at the forum, which runs from Jan. 22-25.
Celebrities such as U2 frontman Bono and actors Matt Damon and Goldie Hawn plan to attend. Among the technology VIPs coming are Facebook’s Cheryl Sandberg, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, and Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
Some big-name figures even come to Davos uninvited by the forum, attracted by the opportunity to attend side events, rub shoulders — and even party — with the world’s elite.