Monday, May 31, 2004

US Sanctions Hurt Syria

US Sanctions hurt Syria more than many pretended they would according to an al-Jazeera article today.

Syrian Trade and Economy Minister Ghassan Rifaai spoke openly about their "negative impact" on the economy. He acknowledged the sanctions were not "a good sign at the moment when (the country) is moving towards an (economic)opening and to attract investment." "The announcement of sanctions battered us psychologically and will worsen the climate for investments, trade, industry and our financial transactions abroad," one representative of an American firm in Syria told AFP.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Tlas resigns, EU deal, reform, and Turkish relations

EU Trade Accord

European Union member states yesterday agreed to sign the trade accord with Syria, ending months of haggling over a clause about weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the Financial Times reported on May 28. The accord goes beyond the standard EU format, for the first time including a clause on WMDs. It stipulates that Syria must implement all international non-proliferation accords, co-operate on countering the proliferation of WMDs and set up effective controls for the export, transit and end-use of WMD-related goods and technologies. If not, the accord would be suspended. What exactly this means remains to be seen.
Europe gave a bow to Washington by including the WMD wording but insists that "the show must go on," when it comes to improving relations with Damascus and encouraging economic reform in Syria. President Bashar al-Asad seems to be finding his sea legs politically. Only last week, Mustafa Tlas retired, the long-time Minister of Defense and old-guard exemplar. Everyone is speculating whether Foreign Minister Shara'a will be next and if Bashar is doing some general old-guard house cleaning. Bashar owed a debt to Tlas for overseeing the smooth transition of power, when Hafiz died. Tlas was a leading protector of the Asad legacy, and Manaf, his son, is smart and much respected by Bashar. The two have been friends since childhood and hung together at the restaurants and cafes of Lataqia during their more care free years. They often went jet skiing together along the beaches of Lasqi. All the same, Mustapha Tlas, had become a millstone around Bashar's neck. He was a constant embarrassment for saying outrageous things. One of his more memorable diatribes was about Arafat, whom he called a son of a whore and worse. He made a big public fuss of Gina Lola Brigetta, much to the shame of the Syrian public. Most notoriously though, he was a loud mouthed anti-Semite. His book, The Matzah of Zion, has gone through numerous printings and is referred to in the foreign press almost as frequently as the Hama massacre. More damaging among fellow officers is his recently publish tell-all memoir about infighting among the top brass of Syria. (I haven't been able to get my hands on it yet. Banned in Syria and Lebanon.) An in-law told me about it and said it is being passed around in Syria, but was full of "lies" and dirt. Should be juicy. Economic reform is being pushed with increased vigor by Asad. Banking and tax reform will be essential if Syria hopes to compete with the flood of foreign goods that will begin to enter the country from Turkey and the EU. With this new trade agreements Syria has set itself of a course of no return. The most recent Syrian Report says that real-estate prices have risen by 50% in the last year due to improved mortgage availability. Thursday, May 27, 2004 Syria to forge ahead with privatization Conference draws 200 bankers By Agence France Presse (AFP) DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar Assad pledged Wednesday that his country will forge ahead with the privatization of the banking sector in an effort to bolster its economy. "After four decades of state monopoly over the banking sector and executive supervision of monetary policies, the currency and credit council is now in charge of drafting and executing this policy," Assad said in a statement... "We want to develop the banking industry until we reach a competent and efficient system that participates in financing investments and external trade," Assad added. Around 200 Arab and European bankers, most of them from Britain, attended the congress organized by Fawaz al-Akhrass, the president of the Syrian-British Association and father-in-law of Assad. The event, jointly held in cooperation with the Syrian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also brought together 300 businessmen as well as the directors of six state banks and two private banks. "The permission to allow four private banks to operate in Syria is only a beginning," Assad said. "Banking reforms constitute an essential element for economic development ... and will be based on the creation of a legal framework, laws on banking secrecy, the fight against money-laundering and currency exchange reforms." Turkey Turkish - Syrian relations improve as Turkish - Israeli relations continue to deteriorate. Thursday, May 27 2004 @ 11:02 PM CDT May 27, 2004 Turkey, the only Moslem nation with which Israel enjoys full diplomatic, economic and friendly relations, is sending signals that the honeymoon is over. For possibly the fifth time in recent weeks, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Israel of state-sponsored terrorism, while Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said yesterday that he is considering withdrawing Turkey's Ambassador to Israel "for consultations." Gul explained yesterday that his country wishes to signal Israel its displeasure at Israel's recent anti-terrorism offensive in southern Gaza. Commentators say that Turkey is also upset at Israel's refusal to allow Turkey to mediate between Israel and Syria, as well as possible Israeli contacts with the Kurds in Iraq; both Turkey and Syria do not want to see a Kurdish state arise in their region. MK Ehud Yatom (Likud), a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, was critical of Turkey's move. Noting that Turkey has also become a target for Al-Qaeda attacks, he said that it "must decide which camp it belongs to - that of Western nations headed by the US fighting against international terrorism, or the other side." Meanwhile in Syria
Turkish Minister of State for Trade Affairs, Korshad Tuzman, has underlined his country's determination to boost trade relations and volume of trade exchange between Syria and Turkey. In a statement to reporters in the Turkish border city of Ghazi Enteb, Tuzman indicated that his scheduled visit to Syria tomorrow accompanied by a group of Turkish businessmen and politicians aims at underlining Turkey's determination to boost trade relations with Syria in spite of the sanctions that some party wants to impose on Syria. He also stressed Turkey's priority given to boost the volume of trade exchange and investment with Syria and with other neighbouring countries. Sources at the Turkish Ministry of Trade Affairs, indicated that the delegation which is scheduled to accompany Tuzman during his visit to the Syrian northern city of Aleppo is composed of 30 parliament members and 250 businessmen. The Turkish delegation is scheduled to participate at the Syrian-Turkish Association Forum.
He wants trade between Syria and Turkey to reach $2,000,000 next year and believes that lowering tariffs will help reach this goal. We shall see?

More dubious Def. Dept. allegations

More unsubstantiated claims from unnamed Defense Department sources are being unloaded on the gullible public. While the New York Times and media in general are in their mea culpa mood about repeating lies on intelligence on Iraq, they should be more careful about believing what they are told about Syria. If anyone still has faith that US intelligence agencies haven't fallen into the arena of partisan politics and smear campaigns, he will be disabused by the remarks of Richard Perle in today's New York Times. He and CIA ex-chief Woolsey accuse the CIA and Defense Intelligence of "outrageous abuse of power." (The thieves have fallen out.)

"There is a smear campaign under way, and it is being perpetrated by the C.I.A. and the D.I.A. and a gaggle of former intelligence officers who have succeeded in planting these stories, which are accepted with hardly any scrutiny," Mr. Perle, a leading conservative, said in an interview. Mr. Perle, referring to both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the campaign against Mr. Chalabi was "an outrageous abuse of power" by United States government officials in Washington and Baghdad.
In the same vein, Bill Gertz of The Washington Times has "accepted with hardly any scrutiny" the dubious reports of unnamed sources in the Defense Department. Iraqi weapons pipeline probed - The Washington Times: Nation/Politics - May 25, 2004
The Pentagon is investigating reports that Iraqi weapons are being sent covertly to Syria and that they are fueling anti-U.S. insurgents training there, The Washington Times has learned. The shipments include weapons and explosives sent by vehicles that were detected during the past several months going to several training camps inside Syria, which has become a key backer of anticoalition forces in Iraq, according to defense officials familiar with reports of the shipments. One defense official said the pipeline was uncovered as part of efforts to discover what happened to Iraq's arms programs - conventional as well as weapons of mass destruction. 'Everyone seems to have forgotten that there was the prospect of ongoing traffic in munitions ... that could then be re-imported into Iraq with quite considerable effect,' the official said. 'We are pursuing the extent and location of that.' The weapons are traveling by covered trucks and unmarked vans along routes that appear to have been set up before the U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq last year. The night-time deliveries are reported to include small arms, bombs and explosives pilfered from some of the several thousand weapons depots scattered throughout Iraq. The Pentagon has identified more than 8,700 weapons dumps and is continuing to find caches almost daily, officials said. The arms and explosives come back into Iraq with the Syrian-based insurgents and terrorists, the officials said. Camps were set up by former officials in the Saddam Hussein regime and are being used to train foreign fighters who are continuing to flow into Iraq to conduct attacks."... Mr. Rumsfeld said recent sanctions imposed on Syria are an attempt to pressure its government to change its behavior. He said he thinks that "it is ... appropriate that Syria not be rewarded." "The hope is that through discussion, and debate, and consideration, diplomacy, that Syria will recalibrate its direction," he said after a speech at the Heritage Foundation. "Whether that will happen, I don't know. I wish I did know. But in the meantime, we've got to make sure that they do as little damage to what we're trying to accomplish in Iraq as possible." On May 11, the Bush administration announced new sanctions against Syria, noting Damascus' support for terrorists and its failure to keep anticoalition fighters from crossing into Iraq.
The following are comments on these allegations sent to me by Ray Close, ex-CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia, who also, years earlier, flew Ibrahim al-Husseini (Syria's Intelligence chief under Shishakli) into Syria in 1957 to carry out "Operation Straggle" - the failed coup that frightened the Syrian left into forming the UAR. See bio bellow.
"I'm no apologist for the present Baathist regime in Syria. Remember that I once spent several years trying to undermine their predecessors, and acquired a wealth of experience in the process. Our efforts finally to overthrow the Syrian government (to liberate the Syrian people and install democracy?) failed miserably, much to our agency's embarrassment and to the personal frustration and humiliation of those of us who screwed up the operation. But Bill Gertz's Washington Times article made me laugh out loud. If I understand the English language, then, this article says that: 1. The Pentagon has received intelligence reports (from sources that are not American-controlled) of the smuggling of significant quantities of arms from Iraq to Syria. The Pentagon and the NSC apparently presume that these reports are reliable, because we see that critically important political policy decisions are being influenced by these reports (like the imposition of sanctions on the Damascus regime); also, critically important military actions are also being influenced by the same intelligence (such as the raid that killed forty people last week). 2. Unfortunately, however, intensive surveillance efforts by United States intelligence agencies, employing their own ultra-modern technology, have been unable to detect any reliable evidence to corroborate these reports. Hey, guys --- does that sound familiar? This is pure neo-con bullshit again, spoon-fed to Gertz by his "informants" among the neo-con faction in the Pentagon, or, just as likely, straight by the Israeli embassy in Washington. One of my correspondents sent me this useful recollection concerning allegations that Syrians are fighting in Iraq: "This reminds me that some months ago when the 82nd Airborne Div and one of the Cavalry Brigades were still in al-Anbar Province there were accusations by US officials in Baghdad about infiltrators crossing into Iraq from Syria. A reporter subsequently questioned several commanders of units on the border about this. The replies he got were uniformly: 'What infiltrators?'" Ray
Ray Close is from a long line of Middle East experts. From the outset of the Iraq campaign, he fearlessly organized fellow colleagues from the CIA to speak out against the misuse of intelligence. He has been a relentless campaigner to return professionalism to our intelligence community and to rebuild the firewall separating it from politics. Here is a short bio:
Ray Close comes from a family with deep roots in the Middle East. He and many of his immediate relatives have been teachers, diplomats or businessmen in the Arab Middle East for four generations, since his maternal great-grandfather arrived in 1853 and began establishing schools in southern Lebanon. His father, Harold Close, was a professor and later Dean of Arts and Sciences at the American University of Beirut from 1910 until 1955. His mother's brother, Colonel William Eddy, served as the interpreter between President Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud at their historic meeting aboard a US Navy cruiser in the Suez Canal immediately following the Yalta Conference in February 1945. After graduating from Princeton University in 1951, Ray served for 26 years as a Middle East specialist with the Operations Directorate of the CIA. During his career, he served under cover as a political officer at American Embassies in Lebanon, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. For seven years before his retirement in 1977, he was the CIA's senior representative in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

How Washington can win Syria

(updated May 28) The lesson of Libya is that Washington has to offer carrots to get states such a Syria to cooperate with it. This point is argued very persuasively by Flynt Leverett, who worked on the Libya case while he was senior director for Middle Eastern affairs at the National Security Council from 2002 to 2003 under President Bush.

The lesson is incontrovertible: to persuade a rogue regime to get out of the terrorism business and give up its weapons of mass destruction, we must not only apply pressure but also make clear the potential benefits of cooperation. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has refused to take this approach with other rogue regimes, notably Iran and Syria. Until the president is willing to employ carrots as well as sticks, he will make little headway in changing Iranian or Syrian behavior.... Senior Syrian officials, including President Bashar al-Assad himself, in a conversation in Damascus last week, have told me that they want a better strategic understanding with the United States. To achieve this, however, Washington needs to be willing to spell out what Syria would get in return for giving up its ties to terrorists and its chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. As Mr. Assad told me, Syria is "a state, not a charity" - if it gives up something, it must know what it will gain in return. One reason the Bush administration was able to take a more constructive course with Libya was that the White House, uncharacteristically, sidelined the administration's neoconservative wing - which strongly opposes any offer of carrots to state sponsors of terrorism, even when carrots could help end such problematic behavior - when crucial decisions were made. The initial approach on the Lockerbie case was approved by an informal coalition made up of Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Likewise, in the lead up to the negotiations involving Libyan weapons of mass destruction, the neoconservatives at the Pentagon and in the shop of Under Secretary of State John Bolton were left out of the loop. Perhaps a coalition among members of the State Department's bureau of Near Eastern affairs and the National Security Council's more pragmatic elements can chart a similar course involving Iran and Syria. However, until the administration learns the real lessons of the Libyan precedent, policy toward other rogue regimes is likely to remain stuck in the mud of ideology.
Washington has many things Syria wants. - The Golan - The oil pipeline, which connects Kirkuk to Banyas, opened and running. - To be taken off the terrorist list and have the Syrian Accountability Act lifted The Golan is the only one which will work, however. If Syria and Israel could come to an agreement, Hizbullah could be disarmed and Syria would cut loose the Palestinians. Both are cards Damascus keeps to play for the Golan. The oil pipline is a bonus, but wouldn't be enough on its own for Damascus to give up Hizbullah or the Palestinians. Anyway, Syria will get the pipeline and oil flowing again as soon as the US really hands power back to the Iraqi government. The wait will not be that long in the great scheme of things. Getting back the Golan may also be a lost cause. Sharon won't let it happen. In January, 2004, when Bashar had repeatedly asked for renewed negotiations, he was rebuffed. As the Toronto Star, reported on Jan. 19 2004:
Sharon was asked by a legislator at Monday's committee meeting if now is a good time to renew talks with Syria, said Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin. "No one should have any illusions: the price of peace with Syria is leaving the Golan Heights," Gissin quoted the prime minister as saying. Ran Cohen, a committee member from the left-wing Meretz party, said Sharon suggested that such a pullback would be too much for Israel to bear. "His main declaration was that he is not ready to withdraw from the Golan, even for peace with Syria," Cohen said. "He didn't agree to pay the price that President Assad asks to complete a peace treaty with Syria."
Probably Syria will never get back the Golan. Hafiz al-Asad made a mistake in holding out for the June 4, 1967, lines. (Of course Perez and Barak were also stubborn, but Syria will end up the greater loser.) Israel is having difficulty giving up Gaza, which is a hell hole. How will it ever give up the Golan, which is beautiful, has two and a half times as many Israelis living on it, and doesn't present a security problem for Israel - at least not directly? Without genuine negotiations on Golan, Syria will remain opposed to regional peace and will refuse American demands that it put the anti-Israeli militias it supports out of business or give up chemical weapons. Sharon demands Syria give up these cards before Israel will open negotiations, but this is like asking the Palestinians to have a democratic state before negotiating. Without the Golan, it will take Syria another generation or two to come to terms with Israel.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

EU close to breakthrough on Syria accord

The EU seems to be pushing through its free trade agreement with Syria despite pressure from the US to make it contingent on Syria's compliance with the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. Paul Taylor writes:

BRUSSELS, May 25 (Reuters) - European Union countries are close to a deal that could unlock a stalled trade and aid pact with Syria, just two weeks after U.S. President George W. Bush imposed sanctions on Damascus, diplomats said on Tuesday. "... The Commission rushed to tie up negotiations with Syria before Christmas in what critics said was a political gesture to counter the U.S. Congress' adoption of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. The issue highlights transatlantic divergence over whether to engage with or isolate countries such as Syria and Iran. EU officials say the association agreement provides a hook to get Syria to cooperate more against terrorism, as well as to prod political and economic reforms in Damascus.
Is Bashar Really a Ba'thi? Bashar's openness with journalists is a breath of fresh air. In a recent interview with American journalists in Damascus he defended Syria's lack of democracy rather intelligently. Most striking was his insistence that he would eventually introduce elections, but explained that Syria was too "tribal" today.
"We are going to change," he said. "The first thing I proposed as president was change. But our political life is based on certain tribal and political customs. "They don't go back just tens of years; they go back thousands of years. It's not so easy to change. ... We are still at the beginning of this process. We have a long road ahead of us."
This is truly new language for a Syrian President. For the past 40 years Syrians have categorically denied that tribalism or sectarianism is a part of their politics. This always created a surreal quality to Ba'thi explanations of their political structure, because the Syrian system is so clearly under-girded by sectarian and even tribal considerations. Now that the US is learning its own painful lessons about tribalism in Iraq and how difficult it is to build democracy in segmented societies, it should be more sympathetic to Syria's leaders. The US should note that in the last 20 years Syria has killed fewer of its subjects than any of its neighbors - that includes Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Israel. Jordan is the one exception - perhaps. Prison Reform in Syria Riad al-Turk states that Syrian prisons under Bashar are like "five star hotels" compared to what they were under his father. Evidently, the United States is not the only country undertaking prison reform. The US should be pushing for Red Cross visits not regime change. Wedding Party Attack The attack on the wedding party in Iraq near the Syrian border last week was really a wedding party. Gen. Kimmitt had claimed that the forty people killed were terrorists coming across from Syria. According to the wedding video of the events, ten children and a number of women were killed, as the original accounts claimed. See the AP article, which was given no coverage in the US press, leaving Americans with the false impression that terrorists are streaming into Iraq from Syria.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Will the US be Able to Islolate Syria?

The US hopes to strangle Syria economically and isolate it politically in order to force Asad to changes his ways. For the neo-conservatives in the Defense Department and Vice-President's office, regime change is the intended outcome. Can the US succeed? Or is this just another domestically driven policy that has no hope of producing the desired outcomes? So far, Syria has done a good job of wiggling out of the US head lock. In part, this is due to Bashar's deft handling of regional diplomacy and his effective charm offensive. He is much better than his father at handling the press and his neighbors. But most importantly, the US is failing because its policy doesn't make any sense. Only Israel prays for its success, as well as a number of powerful lobbying groups in Washington - groups that cobbled together the policy in the first place and have been its driving force in congress. None of Syria's neighbors believe Bashar is the problem; rather, they believe he is the solution: key to stability in the region and economic progress. They want to see him succeed, not fail. That is why the US will gain nothing from its confrontation with Asad. It may win a few tactical victories, but it will lose the war. The clearest sign that this policy is dead in the water is that it has won zero support in Syria itself - the one true test for success. The groups that stand to benefit the most from regime change in Syria: the Muslim Brotherhood or "Islamic Current," have rejected it. They are the likely successors to Bashar should the state crumble. All their leaders have condemned it. (See my previous entry on the Muslim Brothers.) The civil society groups and Communist Party have also condemned the sactions, as have Christian leaders.

Even Syria's longest-held political prisoner, who spent a total of 19 years behind bars, said America had no right to impose unilateral sanctions. ``If you would like to stop the terrorism - not only the terrorism of (Osama) bin Laden - it has to be done through an international organization,'' Riad al-Turk said.
Among Syria's neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the GCC both denounced the sanctions, saying they should be applied to Israel and not Syria. The 22-member Arab League said Wednesday the embargo would harden Arab opinion against the United States. In a statement, the organization said the sanctions would ``add to the sour feelings in the region and will raise more questions among Arab people'' about U.S. plans for the region. The Lebanese - supposed beneficiaries of the US drive to force Syrian troops out of Lebanon - also denounced it. President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon said the sanctions were ``wrong in content and timing'' and were influenced by Israel. His foreign minister, Jean Obeid, said the sanctions will harm America's image in the region. Much more importantly, Turkey has rejected them outright and moved rapidly to sign an historic free trade agreement with Syria. Vice President Khaddam and Bashar have been working on the Turks for some time. The break through came in January, when Bashar visited Istanbul - the first time a Syrian president has done so since Alexandretta (Hatay) was annexed by Turkey in 1938. "We have moved together from an atmosphere of distrust to one of trust," Bashar said. "We must create stability from a regional atmosphere of instability." The visit signified to many Syrians and Turks that Syria had finally given up claims to the lost province. Turkey has repaid Syria by stiffing the US on its Syria policy. The neocons have always insisted that Turkey and Jordan, working in concert with Israel will be the main regional actors in their plan to strangle Syria (see below). Their utopian dreams don't take into account that Turkey and Syria both opposed the US occupation of Iraq, fear the creation of a Kurdish state and turmoil in the region, and both need each other's trade. Last year, Turkey imported 413 million U.S. dollars of mainly oil and cotton from Syria while it exported 407 million U.S. dollars of goods to Syria. When borders are opened this could expand rapidly. Before the 91 Gulf War, Iraq was the main conduit for the burgeoning trade between Turkey and the Gulf. Syria is now set to compete for this through-traffic. Its much improved road system and expanding hotel and restaurant network should haul in the Hajji traffic too. It is also worth noting that Turkey recently put the kibosh on several military contracts with Israel. "This decision comes in the framework of the new Turkish policy which rejects the strategic military cooperation with Israel," Turkish officials said. Nevertheless, "Ankara's strategic relationship with Jerusalem is perceived as essential to fulfilling its demanding security agenda," writes Ilan Berman in the Middle East Forum. It is also crucial for Turkey's access to US arms. The Erdogan government seems to be reevluating its overall strategic relations with Israel and perhaps the US, which opens up new possibilities for Syria in its effort to break out of isolation. Jordan has been more circumspect in denouncing American plans. All the same, King Abdullah has been working closely with Syria to connect their electricity networks. It’s part of a larger scheme to link Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. They have also started to build the Wahdah Dam on the River Yarmuk in northern Jordan, which will reduce Jordan's water deficit by 10% and boost Syria's electricity supply. Iraq will be the big question mark. US sanctions will reportedly cost Syria $300 Million in trade, but much of this will just be diverted through Lebanon. The real cost to the sanctions is trade with Iraq and most importantly oil. The US closed the 500-mile oil pipeline running from the Kirkuk oil fields in northern Iraq to the Syrian port of Baniyas. The pipeline, if fully repaired, can handle up to 800,000 barrels per day. Bashar had also signed important railroad, electicity and trade agreements with Iraq shortly before the US invasion. Now much of that is on hold. All the same, delegations of Iraqi government officials have been beating their way to Damascus in the hope of reviving this trade. Once the US turns over sovereignty to Iraq, much of this trade will resume. One cannot brush off US sanctions as meaningless however. Andrew Tabler writes in the Daily Star that Bush's "application of penalties under two additional pieces of legislation indicated, as well, that the United States has much more in store for Syria in the months ahead."
Bush declared that Syria's alleged support for terrorism, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and support for activities that aim to undermine US efforts in Iraq constituted "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States." The declared danger to the US permits American presidents to select from a number of legislative measures that would have considerable teeth against Syria. So far, the most significant involves the use of Section 311 of the USA Patriot Act concerning money laundering. Bush has instructed the Treasury Department to issue a 30-day "notice of proposed rulemaking" to determine if the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria, the country's largest bank, will be considered a money-laundering institution. This measure is likely to have a sweeping effect on international business with Syria, and will complicate the procedures of foreign companies operating under US dollar-denominated contracts with the Syrian government.
Europe is Syria's main trading partner and the US has failed to gain EU backing for its sanctions. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the EU's share of Syrian exports grew from 30% to around 60% according to the IMF. In terms of bilateral assistance, Japan, Germany and France provide the bulk of Syria's grants and loans. In 2000, these three countries provided $97.3 million dollars in bilateral assistance to Syria. The EU has favored cajoling Syria towards reform through 'critical and constructive engagement'. It has been adamantly opposed to regime change and refuses to join in US sanctions. This makes them practically useless. While the US was preparing to impose sanctions on Syria, Damascus was negotiating with the EU for special trade privileges under what is known as an "association agreement". But just as the details were being finalized there was a last-minute hitch. At the behest of Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, the EU decided that partners in its association agreements must denounce weapons of mass destruction. This, the EU said, would become a standard clause in all such agreements - but the timing suggests it was inserted specially for Syria and was due to US pressure. Interestingly, though, the "standard" clause about denouncing weapons of mass destruction will not be applied to countries that already have association agreements with the EU: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Tunisia ... and Israel. If Syria hopes to really undermine US pressure, it must get the accord signed, and soon. The accord is important to Syria because it will reduce Syrian import tariffs and remove duties on many exports to Europe. It also would open up Syria to foreign financial companies, possibly boosting prospects for investment in the country. If the signing is delayed much longer, the EU's 10 new members may block the agreement in order to boost their own EU trade. It has also been rumored that Foreign Minister Faruq al-Sharaa has opposed the deal so far because it will ring the death knell for Syria's struggling state industries and socialist economy. All the more reason why the US should be supporting it and not sticking their wrench in the gears of Syrian reform. Brian Whitaker of the Guardian explains in "Suspicious sanctions," just how cynical and hypocritical the politics behind the application of US sanctions have been. He writes:
"American sanctions are at odds with EU policy, which favoured cajoling Syria towards reform through 'critical and constructive engagement'. This was one area where the British prime minister, Tony Blair, did not diverge from his European colleagues: Blair was developing quite a good rapport with President Bashar al-Assad, who had studied in London and had a British-born wife. In the run-up to war with Iraq, the congressional plans for sanctions against Syria were quietly shelved - only to re-emerge in April last year. This time, despite the Bush administration's misgivings, Congress was almost unanimous in approving the Syria Accountability Act: only four Senators and eight members of the House of Representatives opposed it. Such was the unanimity that leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties agreed not to let any witnesses give evidence against the sanctions plan in the House international relations committee. The attitude of Congress seems to have had little or nothing to do with the merits - or otherwise - of the case for sanctions, but a lot to do with the re-election prospects of its members. For American politicians there is no mileage in being sensible about Syria, and much to lose. The Accountability Act's main complaints against Syria are that it supports terrorism, is occupying Lebanon and is developing weapons of mass destruction. The trouble with this is that it appears - especially in the Arab world - highly discriminatory. The Act simplistically treats Syria as one of the 'evildoers' that President Bush often talks about and ignores the all-important political background. It is basically using the issues of terrorism, Lebanese sovereignty and weapons of mass destruction as a pretext to further Israel's regional agenda. Despite official denials, Syria is widely believed to have chemical weapons and possibly an embryonic biological weapons programme, though this does not place the country in breach of any international treaties or security council resolutions. In any case it is small beer compared with the 200-or-so nuclear weapons that neighbouring Israel is believed to possess. Given that Israeli forces have been occupying a significant stretch of Syrian territory (the Golan Heights) for the past 27 years, it is not difficult to see why Syria might want some form of deterrent. But by addressing the question of Syrian weapons while ignoring Israeli arms, the US only damages its credibility in the region. Syria, meanwhile, says it favours dismantling all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East region but this must include Israeli nuclear warheads - a not unreasonable way to proceed. The terrorism issue is also closely tied to the conflict with Israel. Syria - unlike Libya in its wilder days - does not give generalised support to terrorism and, indeed, strongly opposes al-Qaida and related groups. It does allow various militant Palestinian groups to have a presence in Syria, which it says is for political (non-military) activities. Together with Iran, Syria also exercises considerable influence over Hizbullah in Lebanon. Rightly or wrongly, it regards these as legitimate groups resisting Israeli occupation of Arab lands. Essentially, Damascus views them as levers towards its main foreign policy goal - the return of the Golan Heights - and Syrian officials maintain that once that has been achieved and there is peace with Israel, there will be no reason to continue supporting such groups. Syria's "occupation" of Lebanon, according to the Accountability Act, is a breach of UN security council resolution 502, which dates back to 1982 and the Lebanese civil war. A look at resolution 502 shows that it refers to - and condemns - Israel by name but makes no mention of Syria. The historical context of the resolution is that, in September 1982, following the assassination of the Lebanese president-elect, Bashir Gemayel, Israeli forces in Lebanon advanced to new positions in West Beirut. Resolution 502 demanded an immediate pull-back of Israeli forces to their previous positions, as a first step towards a complete withdrawal from Lebanon. (In the event, Israeli forces remained in Lebanon for a further 18 years but faced no American sanctions as a consequence.) How, then, can Syria be in breach of this resolution? The answer lies in clause four, in which the UN - without naming anyone - "calls again for the strict respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Lebanese government through the Lebanese army throughout Lebanon". Syrian troops were in Lebanon at the time, having originally entered as part of an Arab League peacekeeping force, so the resolution can be interpreted as referring to them. It is debatable, though, whether the 20,000-or-so Syrian troops in Lebanon today are "occupying" the country as the Accountability Act claims. The Syrian presence in Lebanon differs, for example, from the US-led occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights in that it was legitimised (technically, at least) at the end of the civil war by a series of agreements with the Lebanese government. Although these were signed under some duress, since the Lebanese government didn't have much choice in the matter at the time, it can be argued that the Syrian forces did help to provide much-needed stability in the aftermath of the civil war, even if they have now outstayed their welcome. Fully restoring Lebanon's sovereignty is certainly a good idea in principle, but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the issue is being stirred up for other reasons. If members of Congress are so concerned about sovereignty, then what about Israel's partial occupation of Syria or, indeed, the American-led occupation of Iraq?

US Pressure Brings Bashar and Muslim Brothers Closer

Islam Online- News Section Salwa Astawani writes May 23

The Syrian leadership and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood abroad are engaged in serious talks to bridge the gaps and turn a new leaf, the head of Syria’s Islamic Studies Center said on Saturday, May 22. Mohammad Habash, a legislator for the Islamic current, told the current talks are setting stage for the return of broader reconciliation between both sides. "Syria has recently made unmistakable signs, which indicated that Damascus wants to build bridges of trust with the Islamic current," he said. Group leaders like Fathi Yakin, Kamel Sherif and Hamza Mansour have also taken part in a conference on the modernization of the religious discourse in Damascus, the lawmaker added. "They got to know that Damascus has no problem with the Muslim Brotherhood as a religious group but it adopts a zero-tolerance with any armed opposition groups," Habash said. Hamash, who is the trusted middleman between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Syrian authorities, said the good offices demonstrated a rapprochement between what he called the national and Islamic powers. "Undoubtedly, the awkward U.S. policies [in the region] have made both camps feel targeted," he added. "I think the Islamic public opinion believes that Syria wants to make peace with the Muslim Brotherhood to stand up to the U.S. scheme for the region. It is logical now that both sides would eventually integrate."
If misguided US policies can stimulate an accord between Bashar and leaders of the "Islamic current," it will have done some good, even if unintended. Following the brutal suppression of the Hama uprising in 1982, the party splintered and its leadership fell into complete disarray. For the origins of MB factionalism see the excellent 1983 article by Chris-Kutscher. Also see his 1988 "SYRIA : Wither the Syrian Muslim Brothers?" One should not attribute this rapprochement only to US pressure, however. Bashar has been reaching out to "loyal" opposition parties since he came to power. Despite his crackdown on the "civil society" groups following his over-zealous Damascus Spring, he continued to cultivate relations with the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (PPS) and released most imprisoned Communists and remaining Jadidists. At the same time the wings of the Ba'th Party have been clipped, although the present cabinet has as many Ba'thi members as ever. Most knowledgeable Syrianists have speculated that if regime change occurs in Syria, the Muslim Brothers would likely be the beneficiaries and perhaps even come to power. Although such a probability should dissuade neocons from squeezing Asad's regime too hard, they are oblivious to reality. When they first proposed the Syrian Accountability Act everyone looked to the exiled MB leaders to see if they would come out for or against it. Jazeera brought a number on TV and all denounced the US and called for a unification of ranks among Syrians and a dialogue with Bashar. Perhaps that is what we are seeing.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

The Syria and Lebanon Liberation Act closest Washington has come to calling for overthrow of Assad regime

Representatives Eliot Engel, Democrat of New York, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida, ratchet up their attacks on Syria. / News / World / Middle East / Lawmakers seek to pressure Syria

Lawmakers yesterday said they are drafting legislation calling for active support of prodemocracy opposition forces in Syria and occupied Lebanon in what would mark the closest the US government has come to calling for the overthrow of President Bashar Al Assad of Syria. The Syria and Lebanon Liberation Act, expected to be completed this week and then brought before the House International Relations Committee, calls for a ''transition to free, democratic rule in Syria" and ''establishes a program of assistance to independent human rights and pro-democracy forces in Syria and Lebanon." The bill would approve grants for independent media broadcasts, according to a summary of the legislation. In urging President Bush to take a harder stance against Damascus for its support of terrorist groups, Repsentatives Eliot Engel, Democrat of New York, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida, also accused Syria yesterday of staging a terrorist attack Tuesday in the Syrian capital in an effort to avoid looming sanctions by the Bush Administration.
The destructiveness of this sort of legislation is explained in "The Road to Damascus," by Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson in Foreign Affairs, May/June 2004 who argue for more carrots.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Propaganda Watch

The steady drum-beat of dubious accusations launched by the administration against Syria is disheartening. It is reminiscent of the build up to the Iraq war. Administration efforts to paint Syria as a "terrorist state" run by an "irrational" and fascist regime doesn't make sense. The purpose of the constant accusations is clear - to isolate and weaken the Asad regime. To what end? The administration is divided. Cheney's office backed by Defense are at logger-heads with the State Department as they were on Iraq. The neocons are out for regime change. State wants behavioral adjustment - to curtail Palestinian groups and Hezbollah and to force better cooperation on the Iraq border. At least, this is what they say. How much heart the Department of State actually has for this game is not clear. Powell's attempts to talk to the Syrians infuriates Defense. Perhaps the State Department has been cowed again by the neocons and is just trying to put the best face on a senseless policy it is powerless to change? No good can come of it. The Nuclear accusation John Bolton, the State Department arms control boss, has taken the lead in the WMD scare. Most recently, he charged that Syria is believed to be in possession of equipment for making nuclear bombs. According to the Israeli daily Ma'ariv, Bolton has claimed that Syria was a "client" of Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who ran an international smuggling ring, providing nuclear weapons technologies to countries like North Korea, Libya, and Iran. Ma'ariv wrote on May 5, "One atomic energy expert ... said Bolton leads a faction in the [Bush Administration] that believes they have strong evidence" of Syria's nuclear weapons program. However, the same article also noted that "Those who are pushing the idea that Syria has centrifuges, have been held back by other members of the inter-agency community who question the veracity of the claim." Another source added, "Not everyone in the U.S. intelligence community and government is certain Syria has operating centrifuges.... One source said that not even Syria's arch foe Israel is convinced." No one else made the Khan connection with Syria during the unraveling of his network back in March and April. Bolton's claims come out of the blue and look like an opportunistic add-on by a man who will say anything to keep Syria in Washington's cross-hairs. WMD Several days ago, another wild conjecture about Syria getting Chemical Weapons from North Korea made the papers. In an article entitled: Syrians With Secret CBW Material On Korean Train That Exploded? The article states:

A military source familiar with Korean Peninsula affairs revealed on 6 May that Syrian technicians were killed in a train explosion incident that occurred on 22 April in Yongch'on in the northwestern part of the DPRK and that the damage was especially serious in that section of the train where the Syrians were aboard, along with large equipment. The same source noted that although the contents of the equipment are unknown, DPRK military-related personnel wearing protective suits arrived on the scene immediately after the explosion and removed debris only from that section of the train where the Syrian group had been aboard. Consequently, there is a strong likelihood that the accident occurred when military materials were being secretly transported between the DPRK and Syria.
Once again, we have an unnamed source, "strong likelihood," and "secret transportation." Why must Syria and North Korea be trading WMD? Because men in white coats turned up. And that is enough to clinch WMD? In the US, every time a container truck turns over on a highway, we see men in chemical protective gear turn up because it is protocol. The WMD "proof" will turn up in the congressional record and intelligence reports soon, no doubt. Jihadists pouring across the Syrian boarder into Iraq There is very little evidence for the accusations that Syria is sending Jihadists across its boarder into Iraq. Today, General Kimmitt said the US had killed some 40 people near the Syrian border who were sneaking in to fight in Iraq. The Washington Post reported:
Kimmitt said: "At this point, the intelligence that we have and the intelligence that we drew on to conduct this operation was sufficient for us to believe -- to conduct that operation," he said. "We believe that we operated within the rules of engagement for that operation." "This is one of those routes that we have watched for a long period of time as a place where foreign fighters and smugglers come into this country," Kimmitt said. He added: "We are satisfied at this point that the intelligence that led us there was validated by what we found on the ground, and it was not that there was a wedding party going on." He did not directly answer a question about whether foreign fighters were the only people killed.
The identity of the men killed during the raid is still murky (Kimmitt states that no passports were found on the bodies to identity them. Some foreign phone numbers were discovered in the evidence - Sudan and Afghanistan - were cited. Attacking suspected smugglers with gun-ships is bad. US troops must find a way to detain such parties. Shooting first and asking questions later is no way to behave. Seymour Hersh makes this point in a report on a similar event in June 2003 on the Syrian side of the boarder. He write:
In fact, according to current and former American military and diplomatic officials, the operation was a fiasco in which as many as eighty people - occupants of the cars and trucks as well as civilians living nearby - were killed. The vehicles, it turned out, were being used to smuggle gasoline.
Bashar al-Asad never complained openly about this incursion and faulty intelligence. Nevertheless, the incident fed the fires of the Syria bashers and continued to be used by them as evidence that Syria was violating the boarders. A striking example of this can be found in today's article published by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) - Stuck Between Iraq and a WMD Cache Damascus Aiding Anti-Coalition Insurgency in Iraq JINSA Editorial Assistant Jonathan Howland writes:
Five Marines and ten Iraqis were killed in Husaybah between April 17 and 18 while engaging an estimated 150 terrorists. U.S. military officials, however, expect to have the area under relative control shortly. "We did find, fix and ultimately finish a number of terrorist cells that were out there, that were facilitating this type movement, " Maj. Gen. John Sattler, chief of operations for U.S. Central Command, told the Times. The size, sophistication, and intensity of the attack, in addition to its proximity to the border, indicate Syrian involvement in the Husaybah attack, according to, April 20, 2004, the online outlet for the private intelligence firm of the same name.
National Public Radio reported on 19, April 2004, however, that no foreign fighters had been detained or observed in the town of Husaybah. The insurgents seemed to all be from Ramadi and Faluja. After a year of claims, we are left with precious little proof and many baseless claims. Bashar al-Asad addressed infiltration from Syria to Iraq in his recent Jazeera interview. He demanded to be given names, shown a passport, or given some evidence of Syrian Jihadis. Speaking of the infiltration, he said,
"This matter arose after the occupation of Iraq, and top European and American officials brought it up before me. I have always told them, and the members of the Governing Council, 'You say that people are entering Iraq from Syria, and you know who they are or have caught some of them. What are their names? What passports do they have? Are they Syrians? Are their [passports] forged? Give us some of the names, tell us how they entered, interrogate them.' So far, we have received no information. I told [the Americans]: 'Give us one piece of information. After all, we are talking about infiltration.' People are crossing the Syrian border, and we do not know. This [i.e. weapons smuggling and infiltration of people] interests us as a state. Anything that happens [in this regard] without our knowledge is illegal activity, and we have to be notified about it. Up until now, [we have received] no informationÂ… The accusations toward us are merely throwing on us the responsibility for other countries' failures."
Conspiracy Theories Now we are being told that Syria bombed itself on April 27. The Iraeli press began this wacky story, which has made its way into JINSA analysis. To lend validity to the claim, they write:
Others, including some members of Congress, support this theory. "This was a charade, one more political maneuver by the regime to avoid U.S. sanctions," Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) declared. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) added, " ... This was staged. Syria seems to be once again starting fires just to get credit for putting them out."
It is our congressmen who are starting fires they won't be able to put out. Ros-Lehtinen and Engel are the co-sponsors of the Syria Accountability Act and pointmen for JINSA's lobbying efforts. These accusations are no more creditable than Arab claims that the CIA planned the Twin Tower bombings. Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Fayssal Mekdad, also attacked the lawmakers' comments.
''If it is true that some people are saying this, this is something shameful," he said in a telephone interview. ''This shows their insincerity in combatting terrorism. It's really ridiculous, unacceptable, and it shows a lack of responsibility at such a difficult time."

Neo-con Plans for Syria

The best way to understand neoconservative plans for Syria is by following David Wurmser, who is Vice-president Dick Cheney's adviser on Syrian policy. A pro-Likud ideologue, he is an advocate of pre-emptive war against Syria and Hezbollah, a position favored by other neocons, such as Douglas Feith, John Bolton, Richard Perle and Eliot Abrams. David Wurmser has participated in several key reports outlining the neoconservative agenda in the Middle East. See the IRC. In 1996 he helped write a report for Israel's Likud party that urged Israel to break off then-ongoing peace initiatives. The report, which was titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" and was published by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (an Israeli- and DC-based think tank) advised then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "to work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll-back" regional threats, help overthrow Saddam Hussein, and strike "Syrian military targets in Lebanon" and possibly in Syria proper. Coauthors of the report included Richard Perle, Meyrav Wurmser, and Douglas Feith. In 2000, Wurmser worked on a strategy document published by Daniel Pipe's Middle East Forum and Ziad Abdelnour's U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon that advocated a wider U.S. role in Lebanon. The study, "Ending Syria's Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role?" called for the United States to force Syria from Lebanon and to disarm it of its alleged weapons of mass destruction. It also argued that "Syrian rule in Lebanon stands in direct opposition to American ideals" and criticized the United States for engaging rather than confronting the regime. Among the documents signers were several soon-to-be Bush administration figures, including Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Michael Rubin, and Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky. Other signers included Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and Frank Gaffney. Richard Perle has been a leading advocate of action against Syria. He said he "hope(d)" the United States would itself take action against Damascus, particularly if it turned out that Syria was acting as a financial or recruiting base for the insurgency in Iraq. "Syria is itself a terrorist organisation," he asserted, insisting that Washington would not find it difficult to send troops to Damascus despite its commitment in Iraq. "Syria is militarily very weak," added Perle. See the revealing article by Jim Lobe, "The Wurmser Turns". He outlines Wurmser's argument as follows:

[To remake the Middle East, Wurmser] called for ousting Saddam Hussein and installing a Hashemite leader in Baghdad. From that point, the strategy would be largely focused on Syria and, at the least, to reducing its influence in Lebanon. Among other steps, the report called for Israeli sponsorship of attacks on Syrian territory by "Israeli proxy forces" based in Lebanon and "striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper." "Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, even rolling back Syria," the report argued, to create a "natural axis" between Israel, Jordan, a Hashemite Iraq and Turkey that "would squeeze and detach Syria from the Saudi Peninsula."
During the latter part of the 1990s, he wrote frequently to support a joint U.S.-Israeli effort to undermine then-President Hafez Assad in hopes of destroying Ba'athist rule and hastening the creation of a new order in the Levant to be dominated by "tribal, familial and clan unions under limited governments." While at the American Enterprise Institute in 1999, Wurmser wrote a book-length screed against Iraq and Syria, Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein, with a foreword by Richard Perle. The book was financed by bingo magnate and Temple Mount Zealots funder Irving Moskowitz. More recently Wurmser worked in the Pentagon intelligence unit set up by Under Sec Douglas Feith after the Sept 11 attacks to search for links between terrorist groups and host countries. James Risen of the NYTimes wrote in April that Wurmser, Feith and Michael Maloof, a former journalist, culled classified material, often uncorroborated CIA data, uncovering what Maloof calls 'tons of raw intelligence' that two were 'stunned' to find was not mentioned in CIA's finished reports; unit saw new alliances among Islamic terrorists such as Shiites and Sunnis and secular Arab regimes and gave senior Bush administration figures conclusions connecting Iraq and Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Some intelligence experts charge unit had secret agenda to justify war and was staffed with people handpicked by conservatives like Richard N Perle to justify preordained conclusions; Patrick Lang says those brought in were not analysts but people who would deliver desired opinions; chart showing links between Feith, Maloof, third group member David Wurmser and Richard Perle, Stephen A Cambone, Iraqi exile figure Ahmad Chalabi and top officials briefed by unit: John R Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Dir George Tenet, national security adviser Stephen J Hadley and Vice Pres Cheney's aide I Lewis Libby (M) In April 2003, Feith's group drew up contingency plans for a war on Syria which were nixxed by Bush, according to Guardian reporter Julian Borger.
In the past few weeks, the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, ordered contingency plans for a war on Syria to be reviewed following the fall of Baghdad. Meanwhile, his undersecretary for policy, Doug Feith, and William Luti, the head of the Pentagon's office of special plans, were asked to put together a briefing paper on the case for war against Syria, outlining its role in supplying weapons to Saddam Hussein, its links with Middle East terrorist groups and its allegedly advanced chemical weapons programme.

The Syria Accountability Act

Sanctions on Syria are a mistake. The neoconservatives who have designed this policy seek regime change in Syria, arguing that it is a totalitarian, fascist and a terrorist state. This is far from the truth. Bashar al-Asad is the best president Syria has had in over 40 years and could be a valuable ally to the US. Syria has been the most successful country in the region at accommodating the demands of its highly diverse population and in promoting tolerance among its people. It is the only Arab government that explicitly states in its Islamic school texts that Christians will go to heaven. Lebanon has a Christian president today because Syria intervened in its civil war on the side of the Christians who make up somewhere around 30% of Lebanon's population, which is betwen 3 and 4 million. If the United States used the same logic in Lebanon that it is using in Iraq, Lebanon's president would be a Shiite, because the Shiite community is the largest sectarian group in Lebanon. (Juan Cole estimates it is roughly 40% in his May 22 posting.) What is more, Hizballah is the largest political party in the Lebanese Parliament. Asad recently offered citizenship to more than 100,000 Kurds who fled Turkish oppression and were denied Syrian citizenship by a previous regime. A fascist would not give citizenship to non-Arabs, but Asad has been solicitous of the Kurds and given them important government positions which they can use to temper excessive Arabism and Islamic fundamentalism. The best example of this the last Syrian prime minister Mustafa Miro who is of Kurdish origin and Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro, the Grand Mufti of Syria. Asad has repeatedly asked Israel to resume peace negotiations. Sharon turned him down, saying there was no point because Israel is not prepared to give back the Golan Heights. According to the Toronto Star, Jan. 19 2004:

Sharon was asked by a legislator at Monday's committee meeting if now is a good time to renew talks with Syria, said Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin. "No one should have any illusions: the price of peace with Syria is leaving the Golan Heights," Gissin quoted the prime minister as saying. Ran Cohen, a committee member from the left-wing Meretz party, said Sharon suggested that such a pullback would be too much for Israel to bear. "His main declaration was that he is not ready to withdraw from the Golan, even for peace with Syria," Cohen said. "He didn't agree to pay the price that President Assad asks to complete a peace treaty with Syria."
Sharon leaves Syria no choice but to resist Israeli expansionism by supporting militant groups. Rather than treat Asad as a pariah, President Bush should help him carry out his liberal reform program, find an accommodation with Israel, and seek his support in a region that needs the stability and religious tolerance he has brought his people. For an excellent argument against Sanctions and confrontation with Syria see "The Syria Accountability Act: Taking the Wrong Road to Damascus," by Claude Salhani foreign editor and a political news analyst with United Press.

The US and Syrian Reform

I recently wrote an article on US policy toward Syria that was published in the May Issue of The Syrian Report. I argue that the US must engage the Asad government and encourage reform rather than push for regime change as it is presently doing. Here is the first paragraph and a link:

The United States and Reform in Syria By Joshua Landis - March 2004 Syria is the low-hanging fruit in the post-Saddam Middle East. Washington hawks, hoping to extend the impact of America's victory in Iraq, are looking to Damascus as the next battlefield. The Ba`thist regime in Syria is isolated, bankrupt and divided under the leadership of its young President, Bashar al-Asad. Its very military and moral weakness make regime-change a temptation to policymakers who believe that America's greatest enemies in the region are dictatorship and the status-quo. As David Frum and Richard Perle explained recently, when the door [to democracy] is locked shut by a totalitarian deadbolt, American power may be the only way to open it up.[1] The question for the hardliners is not how to apportion the carrot and the stick, but how most deftly to deliver the coup de grace. Israel's ambassador to Washington explained how this could be done: "The way to deal with [Syria] is to de-legitimize its regime and the way to do that is by applying political pressure and to really apply economic sanctions... this is the key element to pressure [it] into regime change... So, this is the direction ... a lot of psychological pressure."[2] The United States would be unwise to squeeze Syria to the breaking point. Regime change will present the U.S. with a number of immediate dangers and few clear advantages.