Posted by Joshua on Monday, July 14th, 2008
Assad sits out Olmert speech at Paris summit
By AMY TEIBEL, Associated Press Writer Sun Jul 13, 6:00 PM ET
PARIS – Syria's president sat out the Israeli prime minister's speech to a Paris summit Sunday in an apparent rebuff just hours after Ehud Olmert urged Damascus to open direct peace talks, Israeli officials said.
"We are not seeking symbols," Assad said on French television, adding he avoided a handshake with Olmert because the two nations are still only in indirect peace talks.
Nevertheless, Assad agreed to sit down with Olmert at the same table in a historic first for the enemy states: Never before had the leaders of the two countries been so close.
It seems only yesterday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was persona non grata in the West.
But Assad was the star of the international show this weekend, invited by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to attend a Euro-Mediterranean summit in Paris with 40 other leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and even to stay on for Bastille Day, a rare mark of French distinction.
Sarkozy showered Assad with praise for helping resolve Lebanon's political crisis for now, a policy that in any case was to Syria's advantage, and for starting indirect peace talks with Israel.
The French president also sought Assad's help in using his good relations with Iran to resolve the stand-off over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, and with Palestinian Hamas militants to secure the release of a captured Israeli soldier in Gaza.
So are things finally looking up for Syria?
"This is a real win-win for Syria," said one EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Syria was the only country in the region with whom the EU didn't have a partnership agreement — and now it is the one that gets the special treatment."…..
On a domestic level, Assad's autocratic regime is being legitimized by the West despite its crackdown on dissidents…..
FROM PARIAH TO STATESMAN
"The Syrians are trying to have the best of both worlds," said Philip Robbins, a Middle East expert at Oxford University.
"On the one hand there is no sign they are severing their relations with Iran, Hamas or Hezbollah, and on the other hand they have been quite successful in improving their relationship with the French and Western countries.
"Three years ago Bashar was embattled … he and the family came really under pressure after Hariri's killing. Now their position has improved," Robbins said.
More importantly, analysts say, the U.N. tribunal that could prosecute elements of the Syrian leadership its investigators identified as responsible for Hariri's assassination has been made to look irrelevant.
"It's a non-subject in French-Syrian relations," a French official said. "France has nothing to say on the subject — it is the international community through the Security Council that has taken this matter in hand."
European officials dismissed criticism that Europe has upgraded Assad from pariah status without securing a real change in behavior…..
"If the Israelis have decided to talk to the Syrians, we have no cause to shun them, despite the past and certain unacceptable acts that, believe me, I haven't forgotten," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told Le Parisien daily.
A senior official in Sarkozy's office added: "The head of Hamas lives in Damascus. To think we can do anything without including the Syrians is to not want to do something."…..
Israel `Extremely Serious' About Peace With Syria, Olmert Says
By Gwen Ackerman
July 13 (Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel is “extremely serious'' about reaching a peace accord with Syria, ahead of a summit in Paris today at which he will have his first encounter with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The “handshake roulette” between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad, which has been keeping the Union for the Mediterranean and the Middle East preoccupied for weeks, will stop today. But even if a Syrian handshake does take place with an Israeli lame duck, or cooked goose, it will produce no thrill. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been working on the real thrill for almost two months: bringing Assad back into the international fold and replacing the U.S. president as the intermediary in the peace process.
Now that a Lebanese government has been formed, Assad and Sarkozy will be free to discuss the peace process with Israel, the international trial of the suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, and advancing the Israel-Palestinian negotiations.
It’s a two-way deal: Assad will push the peace process with Israel and Sarkozy promises to make a state visit to Damascus in September or October. Assad will see to the functioning of the Lebanese government and open an embassy in Lebanon, and Sarkozy will send a delegation of high-level business people and legislators to Syria in August. A deal to sell Airbus planes to Syria is also in the offing. American sanctions on Syria are clearly breaking down.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a last-minute decision to come to the conference, despite concerns that the Union for the Mediterranean will leave his country at sea, far from the warm shores of the EU. Turkey, also an intermediary in the Syrian-Israeli process, will push in two directions at the conference: toward direct talks, and bringing in Washington as a partner. A Turkish source told Haaretz Saturday that he did not discount the presence of an American representative at the coming round of talks.
“The Americans must accept that we are part of the solution not only in Lebanon but also in Iraq and Palestine,” Assad told Le Monde diplomatique. The Americans apparently realize that if they don’t hurry, Sarkozy will take the whole pot.
According to Arab press reports, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the conference’s co-chairman, has invited Assad to dinner. Yes, this inter-Arab conflict must also be solved if Egypt wants to advance negotiations between Israel and Hamas. So must the bad blood between Saudi Arabia and Syria, after the Hariri assassination in 2005 and Assad’s calling the Saudis “half men” for not sufficiently supporting Hezbollah in the Lebanon war. And Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah are not on speaking terms. If feathers can be smoothed over dinner, Assad can receive Arab approval and Sarkozy can chalk up another success in the face of American feebleness.
"…Damas joue sur tous les tableaux: Le pas de deux entre l’Iran et l’Occident ferait-il partie d’une subtilité orientale ou d’une duplicité syrienne ? Car Damas joue sur tous les tableaux…"
In Le Nouvel Observateur, here: "Nicolas Sarkozy se rendra en Syrie "avant la mi-septembre 2008"
Le président syrien Bachar al-Assad a par la suite confirmé l'échange prochain d'ambassadeurs entre Damas et Beyrouth….
U.S. PoliciesWeaken Influence In The Middle East
By Farooq Mitha: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tampa Tribune 07/10/2008, Page A09
Regional players in the Middle East are finding their own way to a future of peace and coexistence, but much of this is happening without a pivotal role for the United States. The United States, once seen in the region as a necessary party to peace and the beacon of democratic values, now seems to be moving towards the sidelines with decreased credibility. Failed policies and planning, from the war in Iraq, to the handling of Israeli-Palestinian talks, and the political crisis in Lebanon have left the United States out of touch with the changing realities in the region and have stagnated democratic reform……