Assad and Ahmadinejad – “There is No Separating Iran and Syria”

President Bashar al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was in Damascus today, threw down the gauntlet. Only the day before Hilary Clinton warned Syria “to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran,” and stop supporting Hizbullah, Hamas, and ex-Baathists in Iraq. For several years, Syria has been told to “flip” and break from Iran if it expects to be allowed out of diplomatic and economic isolation.  Israel has made Syria’s break with Iran a condition for peace with Damascus.

Today, Assad came out forcefully and defiantly to end any talk of separation .

“We must have understood Clinton wrong because of a bad translation or our limited understanding, so we signed the agreement to cancel the visas,” Assad said. “I find it strange that they (Americans) talk about Middle East stability and peace and the other beautiful principles and call for two countries to move away from each other,” he added.

Ahmadinejad, for his part, held up his hand with his thumb and index finger only a centimeter apart to indicate how little separated the positions of both countries.

Ahmadinejad threatened Israel, which has threatened to bomb Iran’s nuclear refining facilities and which is urging the international community to cut off sale of refined fuel products to Iran. Here are his threats: (thanks Alex)

1) President Ahmadinejad, who is widely quoted for his conditional prediction: IF ISRAEL DECIDES TO COMMIT ANOTHER “MISTAKE” (start another war) it will be its end, also said today in Damascus:

وأقول لهم إن الشرق الأوسط الجديد هو في طور التحول.. داعياً الصهاينة إلى العودة لرشدهم وأن يعترفوا بحقوق شعوب المنطقة ويحترموا شعوبها وأن يعلموا إذا ساروا في المسار الخاطئ للماضي فلا مكان لهم في منطقتنا.

“I say to them that the new Middle East is in the process of formation … I call on the Zionists to return to their senses and to recognize the legitimate rights of the people of the region and to respect them and to understand that if they continue to go down the wrong path, which they have traveled in the past, there will be no place for them in our region.”

2) If Israel is not willing to change its ways:

إن الأخبار والأنباء تقول إنهم يكررون أخطاء الماضي ونعلم أنا والرئيس الأسد والشعبان السوري والإيراني يعلمان وشعوب المنطقة تعلم إذا أراد الكيان الصهيوني أن يكرر أخطاء الماضي مرة أخرى فهذا يعني موته المحتوم فهذه المرة كل شعوب المنطقة وفي مقدمتهم سورية وإيران ولبنان والعراق وجميع الشعوب سيقفون في وجه هذا الكيان

“The news indicates that they (the Israelis) are about to repeat their past mistakes. President Assad and I know it, the Syrian and Iranian people as well as the other people of our region know it, … if The Zionist entity wants to repeat its mistakes once again [go to war] such a move will lead to its inevitable demise. This time all the people of the region, particularly the people of Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Iraq, and all others will stand against this entity”

Interestingly, Lebanon and Iraq are singled out as members of the resistance front. Ahmadinejad is promising that Iraq will be among the nations that will respond to Israeli aggression.

Some might ask why Syria is making this calculated provocation now, when Washington has made a series of positive gestures to Syria. It has announced the return of an ambassador to Damascus. Last week William Burns, America’s most senior foreign service officer, was in Damascus for talks with the President. Ibrahim Hamidi of al-Hayat wrote in yesterday’s paper that Syrian sources have suggested that Burns assured them that the US would lift its veto on Syrian efforts to join the World Trade Organization. One can only assume that Burns read out the long list of demands that Hilary Clinton reiterated yesterday, beginning with the demand that Syria distance itself from Iran. But why should Assad make a public display of his refusal to go along with Washington’s plan for him, particularly in such a manner designed to embarrass Clinton? Why not just cash in his winnings and stay silent?

One can only speculate. Here goes:

  1. Syria believes that Washington has over-played its hand and needs Syria more than Syria needs Washington.
  2. The US is asking Syria, in essence, to give up its claim to the Golan in order to win normalized relations with the US. This is what distancing itself from Iran means.
  3. It is sick of being read long lists of demands and offered little in return.
  4. It has told America and anyone that will listen that it will not distance itself from Iran.
  5. When Obama backed down on his demand that Israel “stop settlements,” Assad realized that America could offer him little. He has reestablished Syrian influence in Lebanon; the US is pulling out of Iraq; Saudi Arabia has come to terms with Syria. Turkey and France split with the US on on the policy of isolating Syria and reengaged; Europe followed. The US is alone in its pretense of isolating Syria. Isolation backfired. Thus, Syria calculates that Washington’s return of its ambassador was motivated by weakness, not strength, as some Washington analysts insisted. What is more, Syria insists that the exchange ambassadors is normal behavior and not something it must pay for by fulfilling a laundry list of demands.
  6. Iran needs a boost. The US is trying to isolate Iran and ear-twist the international community into broader sanctions, as well as some form of UN rebuke. Iran needs Syria to start a little log rolling; it needs a bit of resistance momentum to give cover to countries like Turkey, Brazil, India and ultimately China and Russia to speak out against sanctions and further anti-Iran action.

Here are comments from two Syrian and an Israeli friend:

1:

I am glad the president finally set the record straight when it comes to this silly notion of separating Iran from Syria. It has been utterly frustrating to listen to this idiotic concept being promoted by the press and the white house. Damascus had to firmly kill this idea once and for all. Today, the world heard it from the horse’s mouth. From this day on, peace talks in return for throwing Iran under the bus no longer works. As for Israel, the reference to Lebanon and Iraq as part of the group is a message that the two countries will be in the cross fire should Israel decide to act foolishly. Taking on Hillary this way is an embarrassment for the white house. Damascus and Tehran are in control..Hillary are you listening? As for Cairo and Riyadh, not a peep, of course. You can hear a needle drop in their presidential palaces. Bashar must have been irritated by the latest visit of Burns who may have delivered a long to-do list to Damascus. The answer came back today loud and clear. Israel is paranoid of Iranians? Well today 75 million of them can walk visa free into their northern neighbor’s country anytime. Take that Bibi.

2:

Either they want to send s decisive message: no “pealing” of Syria off Iran will take place. So stop playing this card. Or Syria is upping the ante before a new round of negotiations with Israel.

3:

Ahmadinejad’s statements are, by all accounts, belligerent and threatening. His double-talk is useless, because the “sensible” parts (if you can find any) are quickly overshadowed by contradictions and threats. Unlike his Syrian counterpart, his isn’t an arm stretched out in Peace. While his differential use of “Zionists”, “Zionist rulers”, “Zionist entity” may be of some interest to Arabs (ya’ani, maybe he’s not really talking about all of Israel, just the Zionist-part), we Israelis aren’t particularly interested in careful examination of his choice of words, just as Syrians aren’t particularly interested in Lieberman’s anti-Syrian-regime rhetoric. To Israelis, “Zionist Entity” means Israel and all its citizens, just as to Syrians “You (Assad) and your family” means Syria, its citizens, its sovereignty, and its pride. When the Iranian President (and his boss) declare that the end of the Zionist Entity is coming soon, few in my country search for alternative meanings to this threat. Before Iran sought nuclear weapons, no one in Israel ever spoke of “hitting it”, despite the vehement anti-Israeli rhetoric that has been coming out of the Islamic Republic since the Revolution.

___ [News summary follows] Read the excellent Peter Harling article below.

Syria, Iran Leaders Snub U.S. With Vow of Closer Ties
February 25, 2010
By Massoud A. Derhally and Ladane Nasseri

Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, vowed to strengthen ties between their countries, rejecting a U.S. push for Syria to move away from Iran.

“I am surprised how they can talk about stability and peace in the Middle East and call on two countries to distance themselves from one another,” al-Assad said of the U.S. today in a televised news conference with Ahmadinejad in Damascus. “We are the ones who decide what’s in our interest and prefer that others not give us advice.”

Ahmadinejad called for the U.S. to “pack up and leave the region,” saying “nothing can come between” Syria and Iran. The allies signed a visa-waiver accord today, al-Assad said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Senate subcommittee yesterday that Undersecretary of State William Burns urged Syrian officials recently to “begin to move away from the relationship with Iran, which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States.”

The Syrian and Iranian presidents joined in condemning Israel, which backs U.S. pressure for tougher international action to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Ahmadinejad reiterated his stance on Israel today, saying if the Jewish state “repeats the mistakes of the past, this will affirm its demise.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said no option is being taken off the table in dealing with Iran. Israel and the U.S. suspect Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, an allegation Iran denies.

Traded Threats

Syria and Israel have traded threats in recent weeks. Al- Assad said on Feb. 3 that Israel is “pushing the region toward war.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned the following day that al-Assad risked falling from power “if he provokes Israel.”

Al-Assad said Syria supports Iran’s enrichment of uranium as part of its nuclear program. In a swipe at the U.S. and European countries, he said, “Colonial efforts are being made to forbid an independent state that is a United Nations member and signatory to Non-proliferation Treaty from attaining nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

“There is a preplanned strategy to forbid Muslim countries from acquiring nuclear-energy technology, and what is implemented with respect to Iran will be applied to other countries,” al-Assad said.

Ahmadinejad, who is on a two-day visit to Syria, marked the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday today as he attended afternoon prayers at a mosque in Damascus with al-Assad.

To contact the reporters on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Amman at +962-779-881-588 or mderhally@bloomberg.net

Syria’s ties to Iran self-isolating, US says
Feb 26, 2010

Washington – Damascus’ close relationship with Iran is undermining Syria’s position in the Middle East, the US State Department said Thursday, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the Syrian capital.

State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters that the United States has expressed concerns to Syrian President Bashar al- Assad about his country’s relationship with Tehran.

‘This is ultimately a decision that Syria has to make,’ Crowley said. ‘But I think as President Assad assesses Syria’s long-term interest, he need only look around the region and recognize that Syria is increasingly an outlier.’

Crowley said that the US wants ‘to see Syria play a more constructive role in the region, and one step would be to make clear what Iran needs to do differently. And, unfortunately, there was no evidence of that today.’….

Haaretz: Barak to U.S.: Now is the time to impose new Iran nuclear sanctions, 2010-02-25

Syria, Iran affirm ties despite US calls
By ALBERT AJI and ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, AP

…..Assad’s strong words Thursday indicate that America does not have the kind of leverage it thought over Syria, said Joshua Landis, an American professor and Syria expert who runs a popular blog called Syria Comment.

“America overplayed its hand,” Landis said. “The rest of the world is engaged with Syria — France is doing business, Turkey is doing business. Syria can survive. But it can’t survive cutting ties with Iran.”

Still, there are signs Assad could be open to a breakthrough with America.

Assad has begun to dismantle his father’s socialist legacy since he rose to office in 2000. He has loosened the reins on banking, sought to attract foreign investment, and encouraged tourism and private education.

He also is hoping for U.S. help in boosting the Syrian economy and American mediation in direct peace talks with Israel — a recognition that he needs U.S. help to reach his goal of winning the return of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

But Clinton said Wednesday that the recent decision to send an ambassador to Syria did not mean American concerns about the country have been addressed….

The Middle East’s Dangerous Equilibrium
BY PETER HARLING | FEBRUARY 23, 2010 | FOREIGN POLICY

President Obama’s first year of “engagement” has yielded little more than simmering crises and a frustrating diplomatic stalemate. But for all its pitfalls, the United States cannot quit the Arab world.

A year into U.S. President Barack Obama’s presidency, the Middle East is on the brink. Almost every country in the region spent 2009 waiting in vain for something dramatic to come out of Washington. By the time 2010 was rung in, most players appeared to have given up just as hastily on the Obama administration. As hopes of progress wane, the region risks slipping back into chaos.

The year’s holding pattern produced some positive signs. In Lebanon and Gaza, Hezbollah and Hamas showed relative restraint, a reflection of the new constraints they face, having both assumed a larger share of power and suffered the destructive consequences of past wars. The West Bank appears remarkably quiet. Iraq continued to witness, as the U.S. military put it, “sustainable levels of violence.”

But the calm is deceptive. None of the region’s fundamental problems has been solved. There has been no progress on the peace process, whether in its Palestinian or Syrian versions. Iran’s nuclear file is fast approaching a perilous impasse. Iraq’s future remains as unpredictable as ever: Regional actors have yet to fully play their part, even as the United States, seeming more interested in maintaining acceptable conditions for a withdrawal than in consolidating what it will leave behind, gradually bows out. In Lebanon, the stalemate reached during George W. Bush’s administration is now enshrined in a national unity government which has yet to prove it can produce much more than paralysis. Yemen is shaken to its roots. Throughout the area, a vicious struggle is taking place just under the surface at a time when the rules of the game are dangerously unclear.

Hamas, virtually strangled in Gaza, might be tempted to reframe its struggle more regionally — something it historically has been loath to do. So far, the United States has done little to lift the Israeli siege and has done much to obstruct Palestinian reconciliation, meaning thatHamas has few other options than to look outside the territory.

Hezbollah has been preparing for the next, more decisive round with Israel since the 2006 showdown. Because the movement is now an integral part of the Lebanese government, because it has redeployed its military deeper into Lebanese territory, and because it doesn’t see its defeat as an option, there exists a real potential for a far more comprehensive war than last time. Although, arguably, neither side wants a renewed conflict, their mutually reinforcing military and rhetorical buildup, combined with the absence of negotiated redlines and effective containment mechanisms, creates a dynamic that could spiral out of control. Rather than attempting to mediate between the parties and work toward clarifying and enforcing reciprocal redlines, the United States has urged the side on which it has least leverage, Hezbollah, to stop its “provocations.”

The Iranian issue has fallen back into a now familiar pattern, with yet another cycle of halfhearted diplomatic overtures, half-effective sanctions, and half-empty threats. Washington and Tehran apparently have turned the page on their elusive “engagement,” returning to a state of subdued confrontation. Here as well, Iran’s uneasy domestic situation, coupled with the U.S. preoccupation with withdrawing from Iraq and “surging” in Afghanistan, could lower the threshold for confrontation.

As is often the case, Damascus offers a relatively accurate reflection of the regional state of play, as it endlessly seeks to adjust to the shifting political terrain. Washington contends that Syria is covertly deepening its military cooperation with Iran and Hezbollah just as fast as it is, overtly, developing ties with Turkey in all other domains. Skepticism in the United States has reduced prospects for a genuine partnership, while reluctance in Israel has thwarted progress in peace negotiations. For this reason, the Turkish and Iranian offers are — from the perspective of Damascus — the only games in town. Moreover, as pressure mounts onHamas , Hezbollah, and Iran, Syria’s room to maneuver shrinks. When the perils of war return, Syria will need those allies more than ever. In this instance, Damascus fears that anotherredline could be crossed, leading to conflict spilling over onto Syrian territory for the first time since 1973.

Such dynamics represent clear threats to U.S. interests. They render calls for disengagement illusory; if Washington were to ignore the Middle East, the region surely would find tragic ways to recapture its attention. At a time when the United States is discovering the limits of military might, confronting its tarnished regional image, and struggling with dwindling political leverage, it is tempting to conclude that there is little for it to do. Yet a lack of progress in the region is having a considerable effect all its own, and not for the better. As the administration’s calls for peace fall flat and pressure on the militant camp comes to bear, the balance between diplomacy and conflict is turning wobbly in a region that desperately needs some external stabilization from Washington.

BBC MidEast translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech: Iran president warns US not to “interfere” in regional issues
2010-02-25

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad has warned both US and Israel against repeating past “mistakes”. In a joint news conference with his Syrian counterpart in Damascus on 25 February, Ahmadinezhad said: “We believe that if the US secretary of State wants to do something, she should do it for the people of America. No-one has asked her to express her opinion on regional issues. Of course we know that they [American authorities] have reached a dead-end. They desired once to rule over the entire Middle-East. Now, they not only have failed to gain any power, but also they are forced to leave their aspirations behind and leave the region. They are leaving their reputation, image and power behind in order to escape. They are angry. Let them be angry. Our reply to them is: be angry and die with anger. The whole government of America has no influence in the regional ties.” The following is the text of Ahmadinezhad’s comments broadcast live by state-run Iranian TV news channel on 25 February; subheadings inserted editorially:

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. [Prayers in Arabic]. I would like to also congratulate my dear brother his Excellency President Bashar Al-Asad, you dears, the great Syrian nation and the whole of mankind on the birthday of the great prophet of Islam.

I thank the Almighty God for giving me the opportunity to visit my dear brother [al-Asad] and to extend my good wishes to the great Syrian people on such a great day. I would also like to thank the president [al-Asad] for mentioning important issues. I endorse everything that he has said. I also agree with and endorse everything that my dear brother said. Our hearts, thoughts and hands are together and God wiling this will be the case forever. Our great prophet was
the key to and flag-bearer of unity and the harbinger of our unity. He is the one that linked our hearts together. His love is the key to our endeavour toward genuine peace and justice. I would like to once more offer my best wishes on the birthday of the great prophet of Islam. I am happy about the fact that we are amongst our dear brothers on such a day. I would like to make one or two short points to reiterate on what my dear brother has said.

Iran-Syria relations

The first point is about Iran-Syria relations. Everyone must know that these relations are brotherly, deep, broad and ever-lasting. No factor can undermine these brotherly relations. These relations are becoming deeper, broader, and closer everyday. We are like two brothers living in two geographical locations. We have common interests and objectives and of course common enemies. Our economic, cultural and political cooperation is increasing everyday. The outlook for our relations is very bright and constructive. Both sides are determined to broaden their relations as much as possible. The second point is about the conditions of the world and our region. As he [Asad] clearly said, the whole world and our region are on the verge of great developments and changes. The relations and arrangements which have existed for the past few decades have reached the end of their path. Today, the world is in need of new arrangements and relations which are based on justice, respect for human beings and equal rights of nations.

“Zionist regime doomed to destruction”

Both the Zionists and their supporters have reached a dead end. Praise be to God, the passage of time is to the benefit of the nations of the region and to the disadvantage of the imperialists and occupiers. It is very clear. I explicitly stress that the Zionist regime is doomed to destruction. The reason d’etre of this regime has come to an end and the world is against the Zionist criminals and occupiers. Time is against the criminal and occupier Zionists. They are facing a complete dead end. The pressures that they are exerting on the Palestinians and the threats they are making are due to their weakness. They are seeing
themselves in a deadlock. They are under the impression that if they scratch the faces of the nations in the region they will find a way for their survival. Reports are suggesting that they are thinking of making their previous mistakes. But we – myself and my brother Bashar al- Asad – the nations of Iran and Syria know and everyone else must know that if the Zionist regime wants to repeat its previous mistakes, it confirms its definite death of that regime. This time, all of the nations of the region, spearheaded by Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, and all of the world countries will rise before them and uproot them.
The world must know that the Iranian nation will be by the side of the Syrian government and nation and the Palestinian resistance forever.

Dream of Greater Middle East “dead”

They were dreaming of creating a Greater Middle East under the hegemony of the Zionists and the imperialists. Today, this dream is dead. However, I would like to tell them that a new Middle East is on its way. It will be a Middle East without the Zionists and imperialists. This is a divine promise and God willing it will
materialize. This is a wish which the countries of the region have and hopefully it will materialize. Of course, we hope that they come to their senses and officially recognize the rights of and respect the countries of this region. But they must know that if they decide to repeat the same past mistakes they will have no place in our region. Today, relations between the nations of the region are very strong. Relations between Iran and Syria are very strong. The Palestinian resistance, Lebanese resistance and nation, the Syrian and Iranian nations are all by each other’s side forever. We are confident that
world developments are to Iran and Syria’s benefit. It is to the benefit of freedom-seeking nations and governments. The ill-wishes can not do anything.

I thank God for giving me the opportunity to visit my dear brothers on the birthday of the honourable prophet of Islam. It is a great honour for me to take part in the celebrations held to mark the birthday of the prophet of Islam alongside my dear brother and brave Syrian president, and the proud Syrian people. I would like to thank him for being a good host and will now answer any questions.

Unity among Muslim nations

[Reporter poses a question to President Asad regarding the increasing Israeli threats against Syria. In response, President Asad plays down the threats]
[Reporter in Arabic Farsi voice-over] I am from Al-Manar TV channel and would like to congratulate Mr Ahmadinezhad and Mr Asad [on the occasion of the birthday of Prophet Muhammad]. Mr Ahmadinezhad you are now standing next to Mr Asad taking part in the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday ceremonies. What does your presence next to Mr Asad in Syria mean?

[Ahmadinezhad in Farsi] I would like to thank my dear brother Mr Asad. I think we are a united nation. Many of these geographical borders are imposed on us. None of those borders are originated from our religion and our dear prophet. Our dear prophet was the harbinger of unity among Muslim nations. Our enemies are united today and we should obviously take lessons from our prophet and be united. For us, a mosque is [the same as any other] mosque, a Muslim is [the same as any other] Muslim and a brother is [the same as any other] brother, particularly the Syrian nation and government. We feel we are parts of
one same body with the Syrian nation. As it was well-said, we are one family. Our talks are held in a brotherly atmosphere. It is like a family atmosphere and I am very happy to be among my dear brothers for the birthday celebrations. I think that your answer is in the word brother.

In a family, too, there might be different views regarding different issues. However, a family remains a family and brotherhood remains there. Today, a stable relation and a deep bond have brought us [Iran and Syria] together. Our Islamic beliefs, aspirations, our Islamic independence and dignity as well as defending our nations, dignity and honour [are our common bonds]. We consider the Syrian nation and the Iranian nation as separate nations and yet we consider the two nations a united entity. There is no room for differences. We believe that all the arguments which promote differences are coming from the enemies.

Take a look at Iraq. The Iraqi nation coexisted for hundreds of years and people [from different sects] are still marrying into one another. Since the arrival of the aggressors the issue of differences among the people of Iraq has been raised. In the past, no one would ask you if you were Kurdish, Turkmen, Shi’i or Sunni. They all lived together. Ever since the aggressors arrived, such issues have been brought up. It is clear where those issues are originated in. We all have one God, one prophet and one holy book. We all follow one path and pursue one objective. With the grace of God, we shall all achieve our objectives.

[Reporter asks Bashar al-Asad to comment on the recent remarks by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. In response, he says that Damascus intends to improve its ties with Iran]

Future of regional relations

[Al-Jazeera's reporter] I am from the Al-Jazeera network. Will Syria, Turkey and Iran sign any agreements in future, so that a new prospect can be created for the region?

[Ahmadinezhad] Yes, that is true. We want to act as that lady [the US secretary of State Hillary Clinton] advised [us]. [He and the audience laugh] She said keep your distance from one another. I want to tell her there is actually no distance. We have a proverb in Farsi used for anyone who makes inappropriate comments that he/she is not supposed to make: “Now a word from the mother-in-law”. [The audience applauds]

We believe that if she [Hillary Clinton] wants to do something, she should do it for the people of America. No one has asked her to express her opinion on regional issues. Of course, we know that they [American authorities] have reached a dead-end. They once wished to rule over the entire Middle-East. Now, they not only have failed to gain any power, but also they are forced to leave [their aspirations] behind and leave the region. They are leaving their reputation, image and power behind in order to escape. They are angry. Let them be angry. Our reply to them is: be angry and die with anger. The whole
government of America has no influence in the regional ties. The period when someone from overseas could issue orders for [the Middle- East] to be obeyed by rows of [regional] countries and nations is over. Today [regional] countries are in control. The expansion of Iran-Syria ties, Syria-Turkey ties and Iran-Turkey ties God willing, Iraq too will joint the circle shows that regional countries follow the path of convergence. [This coalition stands] opposed to those who are trying to rule over the region.

Of course, they want to gain [regional rule] and see that Syria and Iran are obstacles blocking their way. So they make comments and their comments have no validity for us. We recommend them to take their leave soon and cut the nuisance, instead of interfering with regional issues. If they are ready, we may hold a referendum in the region so that they can see how much they and their actions are hated; though we are sure that they already know [how much they are hated] however they are so rude that they pretend not to know.

We advise them to pack up and go. However, we also remind them that if they continue their interferences [and go on with] their previous approaches, the nations of the region will get rid of them. We stand together and we remain together to the end. Nothing can divide us. I believe what I said is enough for her [Hillary Clinton].

Originally published by Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, Tehran, in Persian 0902 25 Feb 10. (c) 2010 BBC Monitoring Middle East.

US sees no sign Syria heeding US concerns on Iran

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States said it saw no sign Thursday that Syria, which welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Damascus, was heeding US concerns about the Syrian-Iranian alliance.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that Washington is urging Syria to “begin to move away from the relationship with Iran” now that a US ambassador is returning to Damascus for the first time in five years.

“As the secretary reiterated yesterday, we have expressed our concern directly to President (Bashar) Assad about Syria’s relationship with Iran,” Clinton’s spokesman Philip Crowley said.

“This is ultimately a decision that Syria has to make, but as President Assad assesses Syria’s long-term interests, he need only look around the region and recognize that Syria is increasingly an outlier,” Crowley told reporters.

“We want to see Syria play a more constructive role in the region,” he added.

“One step would be to make clear what Iran’s need to do differently and unfortunately there was no evidence of that today,” he said.

Syria and Iran defy Clinton in show of unity
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis -Thu Feb 25, 2010

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria and Iran put on a show of unity and defied U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday, dismissing her call on Damascus to loosen its decades-long alliance with Tehran…..

A New York-based company called Payoneer, named by Dubai police today in connection with the murder of Mahmoud al Mahbouh, is run by Yuval Tal, is a former Israeli special-forces soldier, and provides financial services for Taglit-Birthright Israel:

Lebanese PM: trust-building process with Syria can’t be obstruct
2010-02-25

BEIRUT, Feb 25, 2010 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Thursday attempted to defuse tension with Damascus by vowing to maintain the trust-building process with the Syrian leadership, amid a looming crisis with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over earlier remarks made by Hariri. “I decided to build trust with Syria because it serves the interests of both Beirut and Damascus,” Hariri told reporters at the Government Palace in Beirut, adding that he would not go
back on his decision to do so. He said that “trust-building is an ongoing process with Syria, and nothing can obstruct it. The national and Arab interests are above anything else.”

Hariri’s comments came after Syrian daily al-Watan quoted high- ranking Syrian sources as expressing in remarks published on Wednesday disappointment about Hariri’s remarks published in Italian daily Corriere della Sera last Sunday. The Lebanese PM told the Italian newspaper that “Syrian behavior was similar to the one that existed between Iraq and Kuwait when former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein refused to recognize Kuwait.”

Al-Watan said that Damascus is seeking clarification from Hariri over his “insult” to both Lebanon and Syria. Gaza’s power plant to shut down amidst latest fuel crisis

Gaza – Ma’an -

An EU contract paying for fuel shipments into the Gaza Strip for its sole power plant expired on 30 November 2009, according to Kan’an Obeid, deputy manager of the Energy Authority in the coastal enclave.

While the EU had been providing the service after the contract expired, EU officials notified the Energy Authority that they would no longer pay for the fuel shipments unless the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah drafted a new agreement and payment scheme.

Obeid said that the fuel in Gaza will last until Thursday morning. If a new shipment does not arrive, Gaza’s power plant will be forced to shut down, in turn affecting 70 percent of the population.

The Energy Authority is in talks with the finance minister in Ramallah to implement a payment plan whereby the Gaza Electricity Company will collect money from its customers, then transfer the funds to the minister, who would pay Israeli fuel companies for the service.

Gaza’s power plant has four generators, and while all are functional, only one is being used. This generator supplies electricity to the population of Gaza for 16 hours a day, Obeid said, as there is not enough fuel to power all four. The plant is currently running on reserve supplies, he added.

The fuel for the plant is delivered by Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing, southern Gaza, in trucks. The majority of fuel used for personal use is smuggled from Egypt through the tunnel matrix. The plant can only use Israeli industrial grade diesel.

In December 2008, Gaza’s power plant was shut down as a result of the fuel shortage, shortly before Israel’s military offensive on the blockaded area.

Support for Israel in U.S. at 63%, Near Record High
Near-record-low 30% optimistic about Arab-Israeli peace
by Lydia Saad

PRINCETON, NJ — For the first time since 1991, more than 6 in 10 Americans — 63% — say their sympathies in the Middle East situation lie more with the Israelis than with the Palestinians. Fifteen percent side more with the Palestinians, down slightly from recent years, while a combined 23% favor both sides, favor neither side, or have no opinion.

The 63% sympathizing with Israel today is statistically unchanged from the 58% to 59% seen from 2006 to 2009; however, it is considerably higher than most of the previous readings on this Gallup measure since 1993. The trend includes two 38% readings in 1996 and 1997. Only in January 1991 — shortly after Israel was hit by Iraqi Scud missiles during the Gulf War — did U.S. support for Israel register as high as it does today.

Comments (117)


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101. Nour said:

Norman,

Many of the people in March 14 were stooges of the Syrian regime when the regime was in Lebanon. They switched because they felt that the political winds were shifting and many took certain positions in exchange for monetary compensation. In other words, these people have no principles, so the only way that their “interests” met with the US and “Israel” is in that they felt they would personally benefit from such a position. But they have no ability to use the US as an instrument for anything. They are used and dumped by the US as the US sees fit.

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February 28th, 2010, 3:57 am

 

102. AbuResistance said:

Phil Sands isn’t only an awesome reporter, he’s a solid analyst as well. Michael Young could learn a thing or two from him.

—————————————

Business as usual as Syria stands firm with Iran

Phil Sands, Foreign Correspondent

Last Updated: February 27. 2010 11:10PM UAE / February 27. 2010 7:10PM GMT

DAMASCUS // If Washington was hoping Syria would sell out its alliance with Iran, it has now been shown in the starkest terms there are no cut-price political deals on offer.

The renewed diplomatic offensive by the Obama administration has been widely advertised of late; the recent announcement that a US ambassador would be returned to Damascus was much touted.

Last Wednesday in a Senate hearing, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, made explicit the underlying rationale. The US, she said, was asking Syria to “generally move away from the relationship with Iran”.

It didn’t take long for Syria to respond: Bashar Assad, the president, met his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the following day. They signed an agreement ending visa restrictions, publicly reaffirmed the strength of their ties and, for good measure, Mr Assad sarcastically thanked Mrs Clinton for her advice on how to manage Syria’s affairs.

If that slap on the wrist was not clear enough, the message was rammed home that evening when the Syrian president hosted a dinner for Mr Ahmadinejad and none other than Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hizbollah. He rarely leaves secret locations in Lebanon to avoid Israeli assassination squads, but he made the trip to Damascus to break bread with his principal allies.

Hizbollah is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and Israel, notwithstanding its electoral successes and the fact that across much of the Middle East it is considered a resistance movement locked in a justifiable war. The group has grown into one of the most influential political players in the region.

Support for Hizbollah and, in similar fashion, Hamas, also happens to be a major way for Iran to project its power right up to Israel’s doorstep.

These alliances have been brought into sharp focus with growing international concern over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, widely suspected of being directed towards making weapons, despite Iranian denials.

With Iran defiant in the face of international pressure, Israel – the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East – has said it would consider military strikes to stop Tehran obtaining atomic weapons.

Such threats will be costly to enforce if Iran is able to call on Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas to help retaliate. That is what Thursday’s Damascus summit between Hizbollah, Iran, Syria and Palestinian militant factions spelt out: if Iran is attacked, there will be a regional war. Not limited skirmishes, not a few unanswered air strikes – a Middle East war.

Syria, as many here are keen to point out, is not a natural ally of Iran or a natural enemy of the United States. The regime is broadly secular and pragmatic, not ideological.

But neither is Syria’s continued defiance of the United States and policy against Israel irrational. Just as Hizbollah and Hamas were born in response to Israeli policies and tactics, so has Syria’s support for these groups been nourished by Israel’s occupation of Syrian territory.

Syria’s relationship with Iran has, likewise, drawn strength from that same source; the relentless decades of failure to achieve an Arab-Israeli peace. The United States can send an ambassador to Syria. And Washington might even lift economic sanctions. But although important, such developments will not be enough for Syria to relinquish the leverage it gets from alliances with Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran.

The political price of that is much higher. For one, it will take a sincere effort by the United States to bring about a Middle East peace, and emphatically not yet another hollow “peace process”.

It means Washington taking a firm and visible step away from its role as Israel’s lawyer and taking up the position of a genuinely neutral mediator.

The United States refuses to allow Europe to sell civilian aircraft to Syria, but at the same time supplies Israel with the latest in jet fighter technology, which is then used to break UN resolutions in the skies above southern Lebanon.

Ending sanctions against Syria would not amount to neutrality. Ending offensive weapons sales to Israel, however, might.

In her Senate testimony, Mrs Clinton said she had “laid out for the Syrians the need” for greater co-operation with the United States on Iraq, Lebanon and peace with Israel. Rather than a new, respectful dialogue between equals, that sounded very much like Washington laying down terms.

There had been a “slight opening” with Syria, Mrs Clinton said. For it to grow, Damascus will have to believe its interests have come to be aligned more closely with US interests.

Syria has, for decades, refused to bend to the will of the United States, even under duress. Therefore, any shift will have to come from a US realisation that its best interests lie in a peaceful Middle East, not in Israeli dominance and Israeli occupation.

Barack Obama, the president, may understand this, but there is no sign it is something he is currently either willing or able to enact as a matter of policy. Which means only one thing: from both sides, business looks set to continue very much as usual.

psands@thenational.ae

http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100228/FOREIGN/702279870&SearchID=73383144879792

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February 28th, 2010, 8:32 am

 

103. why-discuss said:

Hillary Clinton seems to be the dumbest of all the State secretaries we have seen for years. While Condie was worshipping Bush, she was still active and taking positions. Hillary is aloof, only visiting the Gulf and Cairo and saying nothing. Is she trying to show she is doing something? but her result after a year are simply pitiful.
The last blow will be the refusal of Russia and China to adopt the sanctions she is forecasting in a month. Will she resign then?

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February 28th, 2010, 11:38 am

 

104. t_desco said:

The yellowcake is back! No, not from Niger this time, but… from North Korea:

(Kyodo) — North Korea provided about 45 tons of “yellowcake” uranium to Syria in September 2007 for production of fuel for an undeclared nuclear reactor, diplomatic and military sources knowledgeable on North Korean issues said Saturday. (…)

The diplomatic source said that the cargo of the yellowcake left North Korea’s Nampo and passed through China’s Dalian and Shanghai (completely unnoticed by the Chinese authorities; t_d) before reaching the port of Tartus in Syria on Sept. 2, 2007. (…)

The diplomatic source said Iran provided financial support for the construction of the Syrian nuclear reactor. Iran asked Syria to hand over the yellowcake after the strike, and the source said it is highly likely that the material was transferred to Iran via (NATO ally; t_d) Turkey.” (sic)
(Mainichi Japan) February 28, 2010

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February 28th, 2010, 1:15 pm

 

105. nafdik said:

Can they have their cake and eat it?

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February 28th, 2010, 3:32 pm

 

106. Qifa Nabki said:

Phil Sands wrote (via AbuResistance):

“That is what Thursday’s Damascus summit between Hizbollah, Iran, Syria and Palestinian militant factions spelt out: if Iran is attacked, there will be a regional war. Not limited skirmishes, not a few unanswered air strikes – a Middle East war.”

Is Bashar really going to launch a full missile attack against Israel if there is an attack on an Iranian reactor? I kind of doubt it.

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February 28th, 2010, 7:03 pm

 

107. Qifa Nabki said:

Nour said:

“You really believe the clowns of March 14 are capable of using the US as instruments? Most of these people are either self-interested opportunistic characters with no real cause (who were tools of the Syrian regime at the time they were in Lebanon) or violent and vulgar sectarian warlords who are willing to prostrate themselves for the sake of satisfying sectarian hatreds.”

I think you misunderstood my point, which is that the relationship was mutually beneficial. The U.S. had an agenda in Lebanon which fit the agendas of certain Lebanese parties. Some of those parties had previously worked with the Syrians, helping them fulfill their agenda in Lebanon. Some parties previously worked against the Syrian agenda and now work with it.

It strikes me as intellectually dishonest of some commentators in this forum to put such a high emphasis on ideological steadfastness. Michel Aoun once worked for AIPAC to fight Syria, and even tried to assassinate Hafez al-Assad with support from Iraq. Today, he is one of Syria’s most important allies in Lebanon. I can only imagine that if Geagea and Gemayel had taken the same path as Aoun, you all would be waxing rhapsodically about them as well.

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February 28th, 2010, 7:17 pm

 

108. norman said:

QN ,
Why are you trying to expose our bluff, we just trying to make them think hard before they do anything ,

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February 28th, 2010, 7:32 pm

 

109. norman said:

QN ,
Why are you trying to expose our bluff, we just trying to make them think hard before they do anything ,

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February 28th, 2010, 8:00 pm

 

110. Qifa Nabki said:

Ammo Norman,

Sorry, I’m a bit slow; my lips are sealed. :)

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February 28th, 2010, 8:39 pm

 

111. Qifa Nabki said:

Syria Faces Increased Iranian Pressure To Join War

BY DAVID BEDEIN, MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2010

The Thursday visit of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Syria may convey a signal that Syria is under increasing pressure from Iran to join any war against Israel.

The Iranian president was also expected to visit Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Masha’al.

The Middle East Newsline has learned from Arab diplomatic sources that Syrian President Bashar Assad has received several messages from his Iranian counterpart for a commitment by Damascus to join any war against Israel. The sources said Mr. Ahmadinejad was demanding that Syria employ its ballistic missile arsenal in a massive strike on the Jewish state.

“Perhaps the next war, if it breaks out, will change the face of the region from top to bottom, just as World War II did,” Abdul Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based pan-Arab daily Al Quds Al Arabi, said.

Mr. Atwan, regarded as close to several Arab regimes, reported that Mr. Assad has come under increasing pressure from the Iranian leadership to prepare for war against Israel. The Palestinian journalist said Mr. Ahmadinejad recently telephoned Mr. Assad and demanded that Syria launch tens of thousands of missiles that would destroy Israel in any future war.

Mr. Assad’s response to Mr. Ahmadinejad was not clear, Mr. Atwan said. The editor said Syria was caught between a choice to stay out of the next Israeli war, as in 2006 against Hezbollah, or fire tens of thousands of missiles, including those with weapons of mass destruction warheads, “under the current binding agreement” with Iran.

“The second possibility is the more likely of the two.” Mr. Atwan said in a column on Feb. 13.

Under the Iranian scenario, diplomatic and other Arab sources say, Hamas and Hezbollah would continue their military buildup until Israel is forced to strike. Then, Syria, with help from Iran, would launch a massive missile strike that would target major Israeli cities and critical facilities.

Egyptian parliamentarian and editor of the state-owned Al Gomhuriya daily Mohammed Ali Ibrahim said that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been pressing Mr. Assad to prepare for a major strike should Israel attack either Hamas or Hezbollah. The parliamentarian, regarded as a mouthpiece for President Hosni Mubarak, said Iran has already taken the first steps toward a regional war by expanding its uranium enrichment program.

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February 28th, 2010, 8:47 pm

 

112. Ghat Albird said:

QIFA NABKI said:

Syria Faces Increased Iranian Pressure To Join War.

Pressure or no pressure. If israel with or without US support attacks “anyone in the Middle East” as the Jean Paul Sartre’s screenplay with the same title is known to have said, “Les Jeux sont faits” or its English versions “The Plays have been made” or the ” die has been cast.” or more succintly “there’s no going back”.

Me thinks somebody is playing somebody.

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February 28th, 2010, 9:18 pm

 

113. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

QN,

Mr. Bari Atuwan is a journalist with a personal agenda. So I wouldn’t necessarily trust every thing he says. He’s maybe well connected, but sometimes his publications are more of a wishful thinking, than factual.

You don’t win wars with missiles and rockets.
Wars are won by placing tanks in the command center / capital of your enemy.

Nazi Germany was bombarded to dust, yet the allies needed to conquer the bunker of the Chancellery in the heart of Berlin, to declare victory over Nazism.
Israel has this (tanks placing) capability. Syria, Iran Ha and Hamas have not.
.

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February 28th, 2010, 9:20 pm

 

114. qunfuz said:

Of course AbdulBari (not Bari) has a personal agenda. Thanks to Zionism he was born in a tent. His crippled grandmother was shot dead by Zionist terrorists. One of his brothers was mentally damaged by Zionist torturers. His baby nephew was murdered when a tear gas cannister was shot into his cot by another Zionist terrorist. How much more personal do you want?
http://qunfuz.com/2010/01/23/a-country-of-words/

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February 28th, 2010, 9:40 pm

 

115. Ghat Albird said:

Sixth Annual Apartheid anniversary will be held in over 40 cities according to

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Editorials/Article.aspx?ID=169868&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

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February 28th, 2010, 11:07 pm

 

116. Syria Comment » Archives » Will Israel Flex Its Muscle Further? said:

[...] Syrian support for their policies in Iraq and the region as a whole. Despite Assad’s recent summit with Ahmadinejad, during which he stated that Syria would not distance itself from Iran, Western leaders continue to [...]

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March 16th, 2010, 4:17 am

 

117. A Process of Change « Qunfuz said:

[...] than distancing herself from Iran, Syria held a tripartite summit in Damascus between al-Asad, Ahmadinejad, and Nasrallah. Ahmedinejad made the most dramatic [...]

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March 23rd, 2010, 7:16 pm

 

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