Posted by Joshua on Friday, June 13th, 2008
Sarkozy has officially invited Assad to attend Bastille day, France's national Holiday, celebrated on July 14 with military parades and lots of pomp on the Champs Elise. Both French opposition members and Washington have criticized him for this. The Socialist Party warned it would be "unwise". Centrist leader Francois Bayrou said "The Syrian question raises real concerns in Lebanon, particularly the prospect of seeing the Syrian head of state taking a front-seat place" at both the summit and the July 14 celebrations. He urged the government to "think very carefully".
Rice was critical of France's invitation and warned the French President to be stern with Syria's leader and to dress him down about Lebanon, Isreal, and the long list of things the US is stern about with Syria.
Rice also defended the sending of Canadian Maher Arar to Syria under a contentious extraordinary rendition program. Arar was sent to Syria legally, according to the State Department, which insisted that, "It was not a rendition. This is a myth. Arar was removed pursuant to a legal framework." Just last week, a government investigator said he couldn't rule out the possibility that U.S. officials wanted to send the Canadian to Syria because they believed he would be tortured. Last October, Rice admitted American officials mishandled the case but didn't apologize to Arar.
Experts say Sarkozy is hoping Assad's presence will boost the launch of the Mediterranean Union project, which has received a lukewarm welcome from some European and Arab states.
Sarkozy's move to resume ties also drew a cautious reaction from Washington. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday she hoped Paris would send the right message to Damascus.
The two sides finally reached agreement on May 21 in Doha, leading to the election of then army chief Sleiman after a six-month power vacuum.
Sarkozy called Assad immediately afterwards, saying France's conditions for renewed dialogue — "positive, concrete developments" towards ending the Lebanese crisis — had been met.
There is certainly a relaxation of the strength of the criticism directed at Syria," says Rime Allaf of Chatham House, a London think tank. "The Syrians are stronger today than they were just a few months ago."
The May settlement essentially met Syria's longstanding desire to prevent the emergence of a pro-US government. Syria compromised on some points, including the reappointment of anti-Syrian Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. But the new president is relatively pro-Syrian and the Syria-backed opposition has a cabinet veto.
"Syria got what it was always calling for," says Suleiman Haddad, chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee.
Analysts say the deal reflects the recognition of Syria as part of the solution. "The Doha agreement was the result of not being able to isolate Syria," says Ms. Allaf. "There was a realization … that without Syria nothing was going to happen." …
Analysts say Syria faces other challenges to its rehabilitation. Allaf notes that Lebanon could still implode as political parties struggle to form a government. Syria also remains under suspicion for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Others point to the continued tensions with regional powerhouses Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Poll: Growing Israeli opposition to Golan pullback in Syria peace talks
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Pollsters say Israeli opposition to handing the Golan Heights back to Syria as part of a peace deal has leapt since the announcement last month of renewed talks between the sides.
A survey conducted by the Hebrew University and a Palestinian think tank also shows most Israelis and Palestinians see no point to current peace negotiations.
The survey was published Thursday, and said that 67 percent of Israelis are against returning the strategic plateau, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War. That's up from 56 percent in a March poll.
It said 55 percent of Israelis and 68 percent of Palestinians feel talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are going nowhere and should be shelved.
Iraqi Refugees between Precarious Safety and Precipitous Return:
This is an excellent and comprehensive study of Iraqi refugees. (Thanks MSK)
By Layla Al-Zubaidi and Heiko Wimmen
Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Middle East Office in Beirut
Sami Moubayed, Why now?
A brief look at the domestic Syrian scene shows revenue from the oil sector is now in deficit. Surpluses from state-run agencies and industries are in decline; they are no longer making money after decades of mismanagement. Meanwhile, expenditure is increasing by 19%. Syria still has a gigantic civil service (1.3 million employees) and cannot lay off people by nature of the socialist system. Their salaries, as well as those of retired workers, means salaries and pensions account for 50% of the state budget.
Syria seriously needs to consider new resources for the state treasury, which simply won't come while there are American sanctions, tension with certain Arab states, and talk of war looming with Israel. It becomes difficult to attract investment while the Israelis are maneuvering on the Syrian border, where Syria has to mobilize for war whenever that happens, and where the lion's share of the treasury goes to military spending.
While many people are talking about regional and international gains from peace, the decision mainly stems from a domestic need to move forward.
What should have been said to AIPAC
in Chicago Tribune
June 11, 2008
When politicians speak before the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, they do so to burnish their credentials as friends of Israel.
As longtime State Department Middle East adviser Aaron David Miller reminds us in his new book, "The Much Too Promised Land," "it's hard to compete and be successful in American politics without being good on Israel." And so when the AIPAC annual conference coincides with a presidential election, as it did this year, these speeches become bidding wars to demonstrate the fervor of the candidates' support for the Jewish state. Sen. Barack Obama declared himself the "true friend of Israel." And Sen. John McCain set the late Sen. Henry Jackson's uncompromising pro-Israel stance as his "model of what an American statesman should be." For both, friendship with Israel means embracing the notion that the Jewish state faces dire threats that require unwavering American support.
But the mark of real friendship, as abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher put it, is "to speak painful truth through loving words." By that criterion, neither of the presidential candidates qualifies as Israel's true friend. Rather, it has been individuals like former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger who have been Israel's real friends. As public officials, they had a realistic view of Israel's situation and were willing to criticize the Jewish state and push it at critical junctures in its history for it own good.
No doubt Israel faces threats from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. But Israel's security situation is by no means as perilous as the candidates imply. ……
A fun Jon Stewart Youtube send up of the three candidates appearance at AIPAC, here
How Obama's speach at AIPAC is analyzed on TV in Tehran: http://youtube.com/watch?v=l06ab7HDjVY
The early years of Islam compose an exciting field of current scholarship that is yielding fresh insights and understanding, says Patricia Crone, professor of Islamic history at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. ….
Condoleezza Rice Reflects on the Lessons of the Past Eight Years Read her new essay | Read her 2000 essay The secretary of state offers her defining take on Iraq, Iran, democracy promotion, and American foreign policy in general. – Condoleezza Rice, Foreign Affairs July/August 2008