Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, November 19th, 2008
[Landis analysis] Two pieces of important news. Al-Baradei claims that the traces of uranium discovered at the Euphrates bomb site do not mean there was a reactor. He has demanded greater Syrian and Israeli cooperation. The Syrians are unlikely to allow further teams of investigators to explore Syrian sites.
Second, Miliband, Great Britain’s foreign minister, did two important things. He visited Damascus, which raises the pressure on Obama to revise US policy toward Syria. He has asked Syria to push harder for advances on the peace process – but this should be read in two ways – one as a genuine message to the Syrians, but two is a message to Washington to throw its weight behind the talks and to place the Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations high on its agenda. Gordon Brown has already state that Mr Obama’s foreign policy priority should be the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The announcement that Miliband has re-established high level intelligence sharing with Syria is also significant. Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Mu`allim discussed restarting intelligence sharing in May 2007 at Sharm al-Sheikh, but Syria asked the US to return an ambassador to Damascus as a sign of Syria’s cooperation. The US refused this gesture, forcing the US military “to take matters in their own hands.” Ultimately, the politicians in Washington forced the Defense department to settle the border issue militarily – hence the raid last month that killed eight Syrians. (We still have no proof that the Americans killed or captured the “facilitator” Abu Ghadiyya, whom they claim they snagged n the raid. I find it a bit odd that they have not shown us a photo of the man as they did with Saddam or his sons. Why all the secrecy about a raid they claimed as a stunning success and a person they have told us so much about?)
At any rate, the Syrians clearly offered the British the same offer they made to the Americans well over a year ago. The difference is that the British have been smart enough to take the offer, sending their foreign minister to Damascus as a gesture of good will and cooperation. So the British will now supply the US with Syrian intelligence. This will be awkward for the Americans; they will be dependent on the British for intelligence. Of course, if the Americans like the bits of intelligence they get from the Syrians, they will have to ask for more and will have to ask the Syrians to act on the intelligence or to deliver certain fighters. In this way, one can only presume that the Americans will start to negotiate with the Syrians indirectly. Just as the Syrians talk to the Israelis through the Turks, the US will talk to the Syrians through the British. The silliness of this will strengthen the Defense Department’s hand in insisting that Washington politicians do the right thing and grow up. It is just plain silly. Syria wants to help the US kill al-Qaida types, but the US refuses to say yes. How goofey is that? If Obama doesn’t send someone of stature to Damascus to fix this, I will eat my hat.
(By the way, Colonel Patrick Lang just visited the University of Oklahoma to give a lecture. It was very nice to meet him after years of reading his fine blog. He gave an excellent and sweeping lecture on the state of the Middle East. He was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Middle East stuff for some years, the head of human intelligence, was military attache in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen, a Green Baret and many other things to boot.
Syria nuclear clues ‘not damning’
BBC News, 17 November 2008
… “There was uranium but it doesn’t mean there was a reactor… It’s not highly enriched uranium,” Mr ElBaradei added.
The US has said the target of Israel’s raid in September 2007 was a secret nuclear reactor built with North Korean help that was nearing completion. ….
The director of the UN atomic watchdog, has said a report he is due to present later this week on Syrian nuclear activity will “not be conclusive”. “We still have work to do,” …..”We need more co-operation from Syria… We need also co-operation from Israel,”…..
Britain re-establishes high-level intelligence links with Syria
November 19, 2008
Syria is known to have excellent intelligence on tracking the movements of Islamic extremists into Iraq Britain re-established high-level intelligence links with the Syrian authorities as David Miliband made his landmark visit to Damascus yesterday, according to senior Syrian officials. …
In their first phone call since the US election, Gordon Brown emphasised that Mr Obama’s foreign policy priority should be the Arab-Israeli conflict, which he sees as the key to other concerns in the region, including the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Joshua Landis, an American expert on Syria, said the visit was “a message from the British to Obama. Like the French, they want the US to push Syrian-Israeli peace. Negotiations between Syria and Israel began last May, but the Bush Administration was unhappy about the dialogue and refused to support them.”
Iran aims for 2009 launch of nuclear plant Iran (Thanks FLC)
“…Atomstroyexport, the Russian firm building the plant, said in September the plant was nearing completion and that it would start “technological work” in December 2008 to February 2009 that would put the plant on an “irreversible final” course…”
By Haaretz Service
Dennis Ross, Obama’s adviser on Middle East policy, issued a statement Sunday, saying “I was in the meeting in Ramallah. Then-senator Obama did not say this, the story is false.” The British Sunday Times said Obama expressed this sentiment during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories last July.
By Richard Beeston
Times Online, 17 November 2008
The move, first raised earlier this year at a meeting in New York between the Foreign Secretary and his Syrian counterpart, Walid Moualem, was a key objective of the Syrian visit. The newly revived intelligence relationship could be hugely beneficial to Britain. Syria is known to have one of the best intelligence-gathering systems in the Middle East, in particular in tracking the movements of Islamic extremists into Iraq and around the region.
Israel believes that there is a chance for dialogue with Iran if Barack Obama succeeds in uniting the international community behind a common policy.
Shimon Peres, the Israeli President who arrives in London tonight, said that his country’s most implacable foe could be brought to the negotiating table depending on a new political climate and economic factors, in particular a falling oil price.
The veteran politician, who turned 85 this summer, also told The Times that he expected Israel to achieve peace with its Arab neighbours within his life time, and even predicted that he would one day visit Damascus and Riyadh.
His upbeat message will no doubt be dismissed by many in the Middle East as the musings of a lifelong optimist. Certainly no recent Israeli leader has expressed any positive view of Iran, whose nuclear policy and support for militant groups is regarded as the major existential threat to the Jewish state…
POSTGLOBAL: A Debate Blog on Foreign Policy and International Affairs
Iran losing clout in Iraq?
Foreign Policy, 16 November 2008
A sampling of the blog’s debate topics and authors:
SAMI MOUBAYED, Syria
Region’s Dynamic Will Change, Regardless of the Outcome
Peace isn’t likely, but a regional shake-up is…
YOSSI MELMAN, Israel
Missing from Talks: Sincerity
Neither Syria nor Israel is prepared or willing to make the necessary concessions…
MAZIAR BAHARI, Iran
Talks Poised to Bring Iranian Rebirth
Iran will gain ground in the tug-of-war with the United States…
“….The changes were mostly minor, according to people close to the negotiations, but may have allowed Iraqi politicians to portray themselves as driving a tough bargain. Lawmakers are wary of appearing too pro-American, and some faced pressure from Iran, which strongly opposes the accord, Iraqi officials and analysts said…”
The choice for Obama lies on the road to Jerusalem
By Philip Stephens
Financial Times, November 13 2008
..Yet here Mr Obama has promised least. True, he has made the right noises about throwing his authority behind a two-state solution. There is talk of the appointment of a special US envoy to take a permanent seat at the negotiating table. As yet, however, Mr Obama has given little sign that he is ready to invest the energy and political capital to broker a deal.
You can see why. The Annapolis process, the belated effort by the Bush administration to secure an accord, has gone nowhere slowly. This week the outgoing administration all but abandoned hopes of progress before Mr Bush leaves the White House.
Tony Blair, the United Nations’ special envoy to the region, displayed all his trademark optimism by insisting that a “platform” was in place for a final settlement. We have heard that one before.
The polls suggest that the Israeli elections are unlikely to deliver a coalition with the authority to strike a land-for-peace bargain with the Palestinians. Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish Likud leader, may emerge as prime minister. During his last spell in office Mr Netanyahu sought to derail the Oslo accords. I have heard it said that the one meeting that went badly during Mr Obama’s tour of the Middle East and Europe this year was his encounter with Mr Netanyahu.
For their part, the Palestinians remain divided in spite of the best efforts of Egyptian mediation. Hamashas so far refused to offer the recognition of Israel demanded by the international community. In the absence of a committed interlocutor on the Israeli side, it is hard to see what would prompt Fatah and Hamas to settle their differences.
So why should Mr Obama risk his reputation in such a cause? The answer comes in several parts…
In Lebanon, puritanical Sunnis and a reputed playboy team up in politics
By Borzou Daragahi
Los Angeles Times, 17 November 2008
When it comes to strange Middle East bedfellows, Lebanon’s latest politicalpartnership may be the most unlikely: The leader of one party has a reputation as a playboy with ties to neoconservatives in the Bush administration. The other group is widely viewed as a community of extremists whose puritanical strain of Sunni Islam inspired Osama bin Laden.
Lebanon’s Salafists, often equated with terrorists in much of the Arab world, have teamed with Saad Hariri and his mainstream Future Movement to become part of the country’s political order.
“They used to be very marginal,” Benedetta Berti, a terrorism specialist at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, said of the Salafists. “Now, they have to be taken into account by any political movement. They have become a significant political force. Not by number, but in terms of the political impact they could have.”
The curious experiment, in one of the Arab world’s most democratic political systems, could have implications for the rest of the region. In Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Algeria, Salafists are often tossed into dungeons.
“One of the main reasons Salafists join the jihadist . . . and terrorist groups is because of alienation and marginalization,” said Mustafa Allouch, a Future Movement lawmaker from Tripoli. “They don’t find any hope for expressing their ideas. It’s better to accept all types of ideas and put them under the light so they don’t grow in the darkness…”
“The status of forces of agreement between the United States and Iraq goes further than most people in the United States realize. It contains no provisions for the U.S. to leave behind a residual force recently mentioned by Barack Obama or the trainers that have long been part of the withdrawal discussions …Unless the agreement is amended, which would require the formal written approval of both sides, in three years there no longer would be any legal basis for U.S. armed forces or civilian contractors of the Department of Defense to remain in Iraq. If Iraq wants American forces to leave earlier, it could terminate the agreement with one year’s notice. The United States has the option to do the same…”
The Syrian News Agency says Assad expressed Syria’s deep concern over the “deteriorating situation in Gaza” during a meeting in Damascus Sunday with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. SANA said Assad stressed the need for the 22-member Arab League to take decisions at an Arab ministerial meeting in Cairo later this month to put an end to the Israeli siege.
Pact, Approved in Iraq, Sets Time for U.S. Pullout
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and STEPHEN FARRELL
New York Times, 16 November 2008
Iraq’s cabinet on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a proposed security agreement that calls for a full withdrawal of American forces from the country by the end of 2011. The cabinet’s decision brings a final date for the departure of American troops a significant step closer after more than five and a half years of war.
The proposed pact must still be approved by Iraq’s Parliament, in a vote scheduled to take place in a week. But leaders of some of the largest parliamentary blocs expressed confidence that with the backing of most Shiites and Kurds they had enough support to ensure its approval.
Twenty-seven of the 28 cabinet ministers who were present at the two-and-a-half-hour session voted in favor of the pact. Nine ministers were absent. The nearly unanimous vote was a victory for the dominant Shiite party and its Kurdish partners. Widespread Sunni opposition could doom the proposed pact even if it has the votes to pass, as it would call into question whether there was a true nationalconsensus, which Shiite leaders consider essential.
The proposed agreement, which took nearly a year to negotiate with the United States, not only sets a date for American troop withdrawal, but puts new restrictions on American combat operations in Iraq starting Jan. 1 and requires an American military pullback from urban areas by June 30. Those hard dates reflect a significant concession by the departing Bush administration, which had been publicly averse to timetables…
Barack Obama links Israel peace plan to 1967 borders deal
By Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter
Times Online, 16 November 2008
Barack Obama is to pursue an ambitious peace plan in the Middle East involving the recognition of Israel by the Arab world in exchange for its withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, according to sources close to America’s president-elect.
Obama intends to throw his support behind a 2002 Saudi peace initiative endorsed by the Arab League and backed by Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister and leader of the ruling Kadima party.
The proposal gives Israel an effective veto on the return of Arab refugees expelled in 1948 while requiring it to restore the Golan Heights to Syria and allow the Palestinians to establish a state capital in east Jerusalem.
On a visit to the Middle East last July, the president-elect said privately it would be “crazy” for Israel to refuse a deal that could “give them peace with the Muslim world”, according to a senior Obama adviser…
Kissinger Says Clinton Would Be Outstanding at State
By Cherian Thomas and Julianna Goldman
Bloomberg, 17 November 2008
Henry Kissinger said Hillary Clinton, a leading contender to be the Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, would be an “outstanding” appointment.
“She is a lady of great intelligence, demonstrated enormous determination and would be an outstanding appointment,” Kissinger, who served in the post from 1973 to 1977 under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, told the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit in New Delhi today.
New York Senator Clinton appears to be President-elect Obama’sleading choice for the job, according to a Democrat familiar with the matter. Clinton, who lost to Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, flew on Nov. 13 to Chicago, where the two met.
“If it is true, it will show a couple of things,” Kissinger said. “It shows great courage on the part of the president-elect to appoint a very strong personality, who has an independent constituency, into a cabinet position. It also shows willingness on the part of Clinton to subordinate herself to someone whom she lost out to.”
Former President Bill Clinton declined to speculate today on whether his wife may be offered the job.
“If Obama did decide and they do decide to do it together, I think she’d be really great at being secretary of state,” the former president said after speaking at a symposium in Kuwait. “Whatever happens or doesn’t happen is between Obama and her…”
Professor Hired for Outreach to Muslims Delivers a Jolt
By ANDREW HIGGINS
Wall Street Journal, 15 November 2008
Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany’s first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn’t like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.
So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalischannounced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed.
Muslims, not surprisingly, are outraged. Even Danish cartoonists who triggered global protests a couple of years ago didn’t portray the Prophet as fictional. German police, worried about a violent backlash, told the professor to move his religious-studies center to more-secure premises.
“We had no idea he would have ideas like this,” says Thomas Bauer, a fellow academic at Münster University who sat on a committee that appointed Prof. Kalisch. “I’m a more orthodox Muslim than he is, and I’m not a Muslim.”
When Prof. Kalischtook up his theology chair four years ago, he was seen as proof that modern Western scholarship and Islamic ways can mingle — and counter the influence of radical preachers in Germany. He was put in charge of a new program at Münster, one of Germany’s oldest and most respected universities, to train teachers in state schools to teach Muslim pupils about their faith…
Syria heartened by Obama’s plan for Iraq: envoy
By Louis Charbonneau
Reuters, 14 November 2008
Syria said on Friday it was heartened by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to pull U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office since it reflects the desire of Iraq and its neighbors.
Damascus’s Deadly Bargain
by Lee Smith
Hudson Institute, 14 November 2008
….To better understand Syria’s motivations, I visited Abdel Halim Khaddam, Syria’s former vice president, in Brussels, where he was leading a meeting of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a Syrian opposition group. Having served under both Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar, Khaddam is well-acquainted with the strategic and political exigencies driving the regime’s support for terror. “Fighting the Americans in Iraq is very dangerous,” he tells me. “But it also makes Bashar popular. Under the banner of resistance, anything is popular.”
Thus, it seems the first reason Syria backs these militants is because it wins public acclaim. As is the case in many countries across the Arab world, most Syrians distinguish between terror and resistance. They define the former as violence that hurts Syrians and Syrian interests–such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s war against the Syrian state in the late 1970s and early ’80s, for example. But resistance is the violence that the Syrian regime makes possible at the expense of other states–from Lebanon to Israel to Iraq–strengthening its position as the self-described “capital of Arab resistance…”
Assad urges Arab action to break Gaza siege
AP, 16 November 2008
Syrian President Bashar Assad has called for Arab League action to help break Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip.