Posted by Joshua on Friday, March 13th, 2009
Syria fears that the US remains determined to dismantle the Doha agreement which gave the pro-Syrian opposition a permanent foothold in the cabinet and guarantees Syria that Lebanon cannot be “used against Syria.”
The US is trying to reasure the Lebanese that the US will protect them and push for Lebanese sovereignty even as it re-engages with Syria. The Obama administration believes that the two can be had at the same time. Also, Washington can point to the Doha agreement and Israel’s failure to destroy Hizbullah or kill Nasrallah in 2006 to argue that absolute sovereignty for Lebanon is unrealistic. Better for Lebanon to come to an amicable understanding with Syria that will allow it to move forward and get its economic and institutional house beyond the present crisis. Nothing good can come from stalemate. This the same message that Assad is sending. Lebanon can move forward so long as it does not become a danger to Syria.
Undoubtedly this will annoy some Lebanese, who insist that Syria is the problem in Lebanon along with its allies among the Shiites and Christians.
Here is President Assad’s recent statement on Lebanon to the al-Khaleej newspaper of the UAE:
What is important is for the Lebanese to reach an understanding and to live with agreement. Agreement brings stability. If there is no agreement between the factions, there will be no stability. The importance of this election comes from whether the winner will take Lebanon toward agreement or not. If they take it towards agreement over everything, I think the elections will be an important turning point that will create stability in Lebanon. And if there is another power that wants to destroy the agreement [by encouraging one side to proclaim] “I am the winner,” regardless of which side it is or which side wins, there will be one result which is to destroy the stability in Lebanon that was reached following the Doha agreement.
On the Hariri Tribunal, Assad sent a message to the March 14th camp that Lebanon would “pay the price” if it became “politicized.” What exactly that means is not clear. All the same, Assad went out of his way to say that he was not saying that the Tribunal would not be “objective.” The warning, however, was clear. Syria’s expects Lebanon’s politicians to be polite to Syria.
Question: How worried are you that it will be politicized?
Assad: “There are no guarantees; and we do not see that everything in the world to be unobjective. If the UN and Security Council do not carry out their duties there is no guarantee, but if the trial is politicized, Lebanon will be the first to pay the price. I hope there will not be politicization of the court.
Syria has asked for the formation of a unity government in Lebanon regardless of whether the February 14 (pro-American) or March 8th [pro-Syria] coalition wins.
Jeffrey Feltman says that only the Lebanese can decide this. Naharnet reports:
Damascus has reportedly told U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman that it wants a national unity government following Lebanese elections. Feltman replied: This is a Lebanese issue.
Pan-Arab daily Al Hayat on Tuesday quoted high-ranking political sources as saying that Damascus “took the initiative” to discuss Lebanon during weekend talks with Feltman and fellow envoy Daniel Shapiro.
The sources said Syrian officials conveyed to the U.S. delegation their country’s keenness on holding Lebanese parliamentary elections on time.
This was okay. But when it came to renewing their call for the establishment of a Lebanese national unity government following the June 7 elections, Feltman allegedly told the Syrian officials: “This is a Lebanese issue.”
The sources said the U.S. delegation discussed with Syrian officials the “principles of holding elections without Syrian meddling, not more.”
They said Hizbullah and AMAL Movement leaders have recently been emphasizing the formation of a national unity government following Lebanese elections.
Both Geagea and Jumblat, figure heads of the March 14 coalition, have gotten the message from Saudi Arabia and the US that Syria will no longer be a punching bag and they must repaire what they can of a relationship with Syria’s allies in Lebanon and retract their claws.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Tuesday stressed the need to build good relations with Syria. His remarks came following a meeting with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah.
Jumblat said he was pleased with the meeting between Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and Speaker Nabih Berri at Baabda Palace on Wednesday.
Concerning his own talks with Berri, Jumblat told An-Nahar newspaper that he considered Lebanon’s Shiites to be “partners.”
“Are we going to work towards isolating them or are we going to embark on dialogue with them?” he asked.
He also continued to praise regional developments by saying “the atmosphere that the Arab region has witnessed concerning the reconciliations is a positive thing,” adding that “they should reflect positively on Lebanon.”
“We should benefit from [the reconciliations] and employ them in developing the dialogue amongst ourselves,” the Druze leader said.
Brent Scowcroft, a former U.S. National Security Advisor, has said that the situation in the Middle East is “fragile,” particularly with regard to Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestine territories.
The U.S. should not “wait until the change of governments because the region is fragile and the probability of it exploding in Lebanon, or Iraq, or Palestine is high,” Scowcroft told the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat in remarks published Tuesday.
Scowcroft stressed that the U.S. should become actively involved in the region ahead of the change in the Israeli government.
He added that, were any explosion in the region to occur, it would “topple… hope for compromise” and thus the U.S. needs to “get involved and get involved strongly.”
Israel has expressed its objection to the British cabinet’s decision to initiate talks with Hizbullah, Isreali media reported on Sunday. Israel called on the United Kingdom to stop establishing any kind of relations with the party. An Israeli foreign affairs spokesman said on Sunday that Israel considered any rapprochement between Britain and Hizbullah as very dangerous, since it said the latter was a terrorist organization.
A senior U.S. official said Thursday he was unhappy with a British decision to open low-level contact with Hizbullah and suggested London only indirectly informed the new administration ahead of time.
The remarks contrasted with those last week from the State Department which said U.S. officials had been informed about the move in advance and gave no sign of displeasure — even if Washington was not ready to follow London’s lead.
The senior U.S. government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to a group of journalists in Washington, clearly expressed discomfort with the British decision.
He said he would like the British to explain to him “the difference between the political, military and social wings of Hizbullah because we don’t see a difference between the integrated leadership that they see.”