Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, December 16th, 2009
Not only is there talk of Hizbullah chief Nasrallah visiting Saudi Arabia after Hariri visits Damascus, but everyone is wooing Turkey. Mubarak is headed to Ankara for the second time this year. Amr Mousa, the Arab League head, was just there. Middle Eastern reconciliation is breaking out all over the place, as regional states seem to be tearing pages from Turkey’s “Zero Crescents, Zero Axises, and Zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy handbook. Turkey has designed the perfect anti-Bush foreign policy. Shiites are embracing Sunnis; moderates are making doe eyes at extremists, and the Lebanese are just getting along!! What is wrong with the Middle East? Will Iraqis soon be having pajama parties in parliament?
Syria’s future can draw on its past
BY SAMI KHIYAMI (Syrian Ambassador in London)
Le Monde Diplomatique, 24 NOVEMBER,
… The paralysis among Arab states during the Bush era, and the continuing dissension among Arab ranks, have prompted Syria to widen its regional outreach, strengthening its ties with the major regional players, Turkey and Iran. Syria has started to contemplate the possibility of creating a new regional understanding which would have a major economic and political impact on all the parties involved, and which would ultimately transform the Middle East into a recognised player in world politics….
The visitors of former president Emile Lahoud, who visited Damascus lately, said that a closed meeting gathered Lahoud to Syrian President Bashar Assad, for 45 minutes, in which they discussed Lebanese and regional situations.
The Central News Agency quoted Lahoud’s visitors as saying that the media circulated reports, about Hizbullah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah visiting Saudi Arabia, were correct and confirmed, and that his visit will occur after that of Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Damascus.
Lahoud’s visitors stressed that the atmospheres between Saudi Arabia and Syria are going fine, especially that “they are based on good intentions between the two countries.”
Feltman: U.S. has Normal Relations with Syria, Disagrees with Damascus on Hizbullah, Iran
Dec 15, 2009 – 5:48:58 AM
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said Washington has “normal” relations with Syria.
“The long time spent to form the new Lebanese Cabinet may have left a positive impact on the Lebanese because it may mean that the Lebanese are beginning to understand each other,” Feltman said in remarks published Tuesday by pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.
“This is what I observed through my reading of the policy statement, which means that time has come for the Lebanese to rally behind an internal, national agenda,” he added. His remarks were translated into English by Naharnet.
Feltman said he hoped the Lebanese would start a new phase by attending to domestic affairs and “stop thinking about what Americans or the Saudis or the Syrians or any external element believe, but think of what Lebanese need.”
He described America’s relationship with Syria as “more normal than before and on more than one level.”
“Several dialogue channels are now open, meaning that today dialogue is multi-sided,” Feltman said, adding that the two countries continue to exchange formal visits.
“This is a positive and useful aspect. The important thing today is that that we are talking with each other, and not at each other. And that’s better for us and for Syria, as well as for the Lebanese,” he believed.
He pointed to the “deep differences” with the Syrians in views regarding Hizbullah and Iran.
MI chief: Syria is not natural member of ‘radical axis’
By Anshel Pfeffer, 16/12/2009, Turkishpress.com
Syria is a potential peace partner for Israel because it is a secular country that is not completely entrenched in the “radical axis” of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, despite increased cooperation among all four entities, Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin said Tuesday.
“Syria is a secular country and, unlike Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, it does not rule out the chance of reaching a peace agreement with Israel,” he said in an address to the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies.
Syrian President Bashar Assad, he said, “is not naturally entrenched in the radical axis.”
Therefore, “a peace agreement, if achieved, has the potential [to effect] a positive change in Israel’s strategic environment.”
“Removing Syria from the circle of hostility, severing the link that, both geographically and in other ways, connects the radical axis, and ending Syrian support for terror would reduce the potential threat against the State of Israel,” Yadlin said.
His speech surveyed the strategic challenges facing Israel in the coming decade, with particular emphasis on Syria’s place in the radical axis comprising Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah…….
But on the positive side, he said, southern Israel has been calm since Operation Cast Lead and the north has been quiet since the Second Lebanon War, thus refuting fears that the country has lost its deterrence capability.
Why non-state actors thrive
Editorial By The Daily Star
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
President Michel Sleiman’s trip to Washington is provoking unease in certain circles, which usually get jumpy when there are signs that the Lebanese state might actually become stronger. At the White House, Sleiman’s actual requests for military aid and assistance were quite modest, but any step in this direction sends alarm bells ringing.
Israeli officials and supporters of Israel in the US have never missed an opportunity to weaken the Lebanese state. It’s a long story, dating back decades. The Israelis have dealt with right-wing elements in Lebanon, in a policy of divide and rule. They’ve even dealt with Hizbullah, through German mediators, as the Lebanese state stands by and watches.
In 2000, the Israelis withdrew from the majority of Lebanese territory occupied since 1978. While an overt peace deal between the Israeli and Lebanese states wasn’t in the cards, our state wasn’t the beneficiary of this move. Instead, it was saddled with reclaiming the formerly occupied territories – strewn with land mines, naturally – and receiving no reparations for the decades of destruction.
Whether before or after 2000, Israeli air strikes, shelling and other aggression have forced the Lebanese state to pay the price in the form of shattered lives, and infrastructure. These Israeli actions are the opposite of “state-building,” since they generate the reasons why non-state actors thrive.
Sleiman’s host, President Barack Obama, must evaluate this history of Israeli-American dealings and decide what should be done to truly build strong states here. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Obama talked about this region’s importance, as a source of instability. He should ask why non-state actors exist in the first place: Hamas and Hizbullah represent the reaction to unresolved issues, such as a fair and durable regional peace.
It’s not a time for treading water, since maintaining the current course of affairs – putting Israel’s security first and everyone else’s grievances last – will lead to further deterioration of the state system in the Middle East. Perhaps the Israelis want such a scenario, but at what cost? We’ve seen the danger to everyone, including the US, from the chaos in Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The White House must free itself of its sordid dealings with its ally Israel and realize that the usual platitudes and expressions of mild support for a country like Lebanon won’t get the job done.
Only then will we have a chance to prosper, and more importantly become an example of democratic growth and the inclusion of non-state actors, rather than seeing them run the show.
Warmer Relations With Turkey Kindle Hopes in Syria
2009-12-15 (New York Times) By ROBERT F. WORTH
ALEPPO, Syria — Ever since Syria and Turkey lifted their visa restrictions in September, Turkish visitors have poured into this picturesque northern city. Hawkers in Aleppo’s ancient souk now call out to shoppers in Turkish, and cross-border commerce has soared. The two countries have embarked on a very public honeymoon, with their leaders talking about each other like long-lost friends…..
Arab-Turkish Forum approved future work plan in all fields
DAMASCUS – Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu and the Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa underlined during a joint press conference Tuesday that the 2nd Ministerial Meeting of the Arab-Turkish Forum came out with a future work plan to boost bilateral cooperation among the Arab countries and Turkey.
They added that this forum clearly expresses the two sides desire to enhance relations and push them forwards to a strategic level.
Turk Leader To Pay Key Visit to Syria
BY BURAK EGE BEKDIL and UMIT ENGINSOY, 15 Dec 2009
ANKARA – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will pay an official visit to Syria on Dec. 22-23 at the invitation of President Bashar al-Assad at a time when Turkey’s ties with Israel have hit rock bottom.
A statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Erdogan would participate in the first meeting of prime ministers of the Turkey-Syria High Level Strategic Cooperation in Damascus.
Officials said Turkish and Syrian authorities will sign a series of agreements, protocols and memorandums of understanding during Erdogan’s visit. These agreements are expected to include military and defense industry cooperation accords. Erdogan’s visit comes shortly after Turkey and neighboring Syria agreed to hold their first major joint military exercises.
Egypt Forces Copts to Hide as Muslims Hit Swiss Minaret Ban
2009-12-14 22:03:59.799 GMT
Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) — On a side street in the far northeast Cairo suburb of Ain Shams, the door of a five-story former underwear factory is padlocked.
This is, or was supposed to be, the St. Mary and Anba Abraam Coptic Christian Church. Police closed it Nov. 24, 2008, when Muslims rioted against its consecration. Since then local Copts have had to commute to distant churches or worship in hiding at each other’s homes.
While Muslim leaders criticized the Nov. 29 vote in Switzerland that banned construction of minarets, they don’t support Christians who want to build churches in some Islamic countries. Restrictions in Egypt have exacerbated sectarian violence and discrimination, say Copts, a 2,000-year-old denomination that comprises about 10 percent of the population.
The day after the Swiss vote, Ali Gomaa, one of Egypt’s top Muslim clerics, called the decision “an attempt to insult the feelings of the Muslim community in and outside of Switzerland.”
Copts quickly said that neither Gomaa nor any other Islamic leader mentioned the Christian situation in Egypt.
“Without the merest attempt to put our house in order, are we in any position to taunt others to put theirs?” Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Cairo-based Egyptian Coptic weekly newspaper El-Watani, said in a telephone interview. “They should be ashamed.”
The contrast between criticism of the Swiss and silence about local parallels isn’t limited to Egypt. Censure of Switzerland, where about 5 percent of the population is Muslim, was widespread in Islamic countries where Christians face restrictions on practicing their faith.
“The decision of the Swiss people stood to be interpreted as xenophobic, prejudiced, discriminative and against the universal human-rights values,” said the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which represents 57 Muslim-majority nations.
Members include Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslims are arrested for worshipping privately; Maldives, the Indian Ocean atoll where citizenship is reserved for Muslims; Libya, which limits churches to one per denomination in cities; and Iran, where conversion from Islam is punished by death, according to a 2009 U.S. State Department report on religious freedom.
“The Copts are a minority. Why do they need more churches?” Ain Shams café owner Harbi Muhammed Ali said in an interview. “There are other churches around. If you have one car, do you need two?”….
Aseel Ali*, aged 16, and her mother – both refugees from Iraq – earn just enough (US$174 per month between them) in a Damascus handicraft workshop to pay their rent and buy food.
“Syrian women the smartest” SANA … The reason is a diet rich in olive oil and walnuts. Food for thought.
To the Arab world, Obama’s Nobel leaves something to be desired
The president appears to be following a well-worn and feckless American diplomatic path that discounts the Palestinian point of view.
By Scott MacLeod