Odds and Ends
I will be traveling for a week and won't be able to post, alas.
Here are a few worthy articles:
In the "American Conservative," Divided & Conquered: A visit to Syria, Israel, and Palestine reveals the barriers—physical as well as political—to Mideast peace: By Scott McConnell, July 3, 2006.
Syria cracks down on dissent by Anoushka Marashlian, for "Open Democracy," 19 - 6 - 2006.
The domestic, regional and exile pressures on Bashar al-Assad's regime are still a long way from threatening regime change in Damascus, says Anoushka Marashlian.
Compare the al-Hayat story by Walid Choucair to Slackman's
Syria is Not Iran - Jun 24, 2006: It is natural for Syria to want to open up to the influential Arab states at this stage. The question that is mostly raised in the ...
Wary of U.S., Syria and Iran Strengthen Ties
Michael Slackman and Katherine Zoepf in the NYTimes June 25, 2006
SAYEDA ZEINAB, Syria, June 24 — For a long time, the top-selling poster in Hassan al-Sheikh's gift shop here showed President Bashar al-Assad of Syria seated beside the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon. A few weeks ago a slightly different poster overtook it, this one with the Syrian president, the Hezbollah leader and Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mr. Sheikh's shop is on a bustling street in Sayeda Zeinab beside the entrance to a Shiite shrine that shares a name with the town, and both have been packed with Iranian pilgrims, many more than in years past.
Those changes illustrate what may well be a worrying phenomenon for Washington as it seeks to contain Iran and isolate Syria: the two governments, and their people, are tightening relations on several fronts as power in the region shifts away from the once dominant Sunni to Shiites, led by Iran.
This is, in part, the result of the American installation of a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-led government. But it is also spurred by the growing belief in Arab capitals that the Bush administration may soon negotiate a deal with Tehran over Iraq and nuclear weapons.
Arab governments once hostile to Iran have begun to soften their public posture after decades of animosity toward Tehran. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt met Iran's national security chief, Ali Larijani, in Cairo recently, and Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, visited Tehran this month and declared the two nations to be good friends. In addition, Iranian officials recently sent messages of friendship to every Persian Gulf state.
Amid all that activity, Syria has managed to inflate its power in the region by playing a subtle double game and setting itself up as a possible go-between.
On one hand, it is offering Iran the chance to develop a strong and unified crescent of influence extending from Syria to the Palestinian territories, now led by Hamas, a Syrian and Iranian ally. On the other, Syria, which has a secular-oriented government but is made up of different religious sects and ethnic groups, has held itself out as an important player in the Sunni effort to limit the spread of Shiite influence. That has helped it with Arab countries and has attracted investment from the around the gulf, diplomats and political analysts in Syria said.
"Syria will work to use its role as a pivotal point to get the most from both the Arabs and Iranians," said Ayman Abdel Nour, a political analyst and Baath Party member who works for more political freedoms.
Syria's strategy has helped it win crucial support at a time when it is cut off from the United States and Europe. But political analysts and government officials say it is also a risky strategy, one that could weaken Syria if Iran cuts a deal with the West over its nuclear program — and abandons its ally in Damascus.
"Syrian officials are worried about America making a deal with Iran," said Marwan Kabalan, a political science professor at Damascus University. "Syrians fear that Iranians will use them as a card to buy something from America."
At the same time, Iran's efforts to bolster Shiism in parts of Syria come as the government here is confronted by the rise of radical Islamic ideas that many say are being exported from the gulf region. Though relations with Iran are widely perceived as a political alliance rather than a religious one, the confluence of the two forces could aggravate sectarian rivalries. Tensions among Syria's many religious and ethic groups burn so hot beneath the surface of the society that newspapers are forbidden from identifying sects even when reporting on Iraq.
Syria and Iran began establishing closer ties decades ago, but the real strides have been recent.
Syria has signed expanded military and economic agreements with Tehran covering everything from telecommunications projects to higher education. Syria will buy missiles from Iran. Iran will build cement and car plants in Syria.
At the same time, Arab nations that have been cool to Syria are now reaching out to it. Syria received the king of Bahrain this month, he met Thursday with Mr. Mubarak, and this week President Assad held a telephone conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan. Relations between Amman and Damascus became strained when Jordanian officials accused Syria of allowing Hamas to smuggle weapons across Syrian territory and into Jordan — charges Syria has denied.
"Iran injected Syria with a lot of confidence: stand up, show defiance," said Sami Moubayed, a political analyst and writer in Damascus. "Iran is giving them advice. This is certain."
European diplomats here said that Syria's turn away from the West — and toward Iran and other Eastern countries — had also been part of a domestic power struggle between two forces within the government. Those who favored at least trying to keep a foot in the door with Europe have been silenced, and those seeking to shift Syria toward the East have been empowered, said the diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid aggravating tensions between their governments and Damascus.........
Damascus (AsiaNews) Syria Poses Conditions for Dialogue With Beirut
The Syrian Information Minister Mohsin Bilal, said that first "we have to wait until internal Lebanese dialogue is concluded" (started in Beirut in March and going on intermittently since). He told a delegation of Lebanese journalists, including the AsiaNews correspondent: "When you have finished your meetings, you will be welcome in Syria".Exiled leader of Muslim Brotherhood in Syria ready to hold peace ...
Bilal emphasized the availability of his government to start sincere dialogue, without mediation, between the two countries before dealing with practical issues. "Don't expect Syria to ask anyone to mediate between us and Lebanon," he warned, underlining the importance of existing agreements "which must be respected." This was a response to calls by the anti-Syrian coalition in Lebanon, which is demanding a review of all agreements Lebanon signed with Syria in the past.
The minister clearly said Damascus will receive anyone who wants to go to Syria, "on condition they don't pass through Washington or Paris." Lebanon has asked for a meeting with Syrian officials, but Damascus has been reluctant to invite Prime Minister Fuad Siniora for talks. In a wider context, the reference here is to international pressure exerted by the United States, France and Great Britain, which have promoted a series of UN resolutions regarding Lebanon. The most unpalatable for Damascus is Resolution 1559 of the Security Council that calls on Syria to end its interference in Lebanese affairs, to define its borders and to establish diplomatic ties with Beirut. Bilal called on the French government "to play its historic role", distancing itself from the USA, which is only following "its self-interest" in the region.
Today, the Syrian press reported government sources saying that yesterday's meeting between the Syrian President, Bashar Assad and his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, mediator in the Lebanese-Syrian conflict, "did not yield any positive outcome". Damascus even took the opportunity to reiterate that "for the moment, the issues of the border and diplomatic ties will be not discussed."
Already at the beginning of the week, the Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Walid Muallem had said that "this is not the right time to establish diplomatic ties" between Syria and Lebanon. However the Lebanese MP, Saad Hariri was more optimistic. Yesterday, in Paris, where he met President Chirac, the son of the ex-Premier Rafic Hariri, killed last year, said diplomatic ties with Syria "are possible".