Posted by Joshua on Friday, August 29th, 2008
Bush's Policy of No Dialogue with Syria is Costing US Lives
By Joshua Landis
for Syria Comment, 29 August 2008
Washington's latest refusal to talk to Syria does not make sense. There is no hope of changing Syria's behavior by the refusal to talk. On the contrary, it is costing the lives of US soldiers.
General Petraeus wanted to travel to Syria last December in order to restore intelligence sharing between the two countries. He believes that by working with Syria on joint policing of the long Syria-Iraq border, lives of his soldiers will be saved. Petraeus's people are convinced that dialogue will help stop foreign fighters from penetrating into Iraq; cooperation will reduce the number of suicide bombers and US dead. This is not complicated. Petraeus was refused permission to visit Syrian.
Syria is eager for this cooperation. It welcomed renewed intelligence sharing at the famous Sharm al-Shaykh meeting between Rice and Muallem in May 2007. Syria was prepared to receive two top US generals in Damascus to find ways of catching infiltrators. Muallem asked that the US re-assign an ambassador to Damascus as a token of the renewed cooperation between the two countries. (The US withdrew its ambassador in 2005, following the Hariri assassination. The UN is pursuing an investigation into his murder.) Rice could not send a new ambassador to Syria or restart official communication between the two countries. Damascus demurred in its willingness to receive clandestine generals.
Petraeus's officers are likewise forbidden from contacting their Syrian counterparts in order to work on joint security measures and to catch the 30 or so jihadists believed to be getting across the desert border into Iraq. Likewise, State Department officials are forbidden from talking to their Syrian counterparts. This policy of silence precludes an easy and obvious method to reduce the deaths of American and Iraqi soldiers.
One could justify this higher death rate among American soldiers, if Washington had a reasonable chance of winning political concessions from Syria. Unfortunately, Washington has no workable plan for gaining Syrian concessions.
Yesterday, the White House restated US policy to preclude dialogue with Syria unless Damascus decides "to play a positive role, stay out of the internal affairs of Lebanon, stop supporting terrorists and be a productive player on the world scene." Syria cannot do this without US help.
Syria supports both Hizbullah and Hamas as instruments to pressure Israel to give back the Golan, territory Israel conquered from Syria in the 1967 War. By refusing to support Syria's peace talks with Israel, Washington ensures the Golan will not be returned and that Syria continues to support its allies in reconquering occupied territory. So long as Washington refuses to be a productive player itself, it cannot expect Syria to be one. The White House could save US soldiers' lives through intelligence sharing with Damascus. Why it refuses to do so is a mystery.
[End of Landis Analysis]
News Round Up:
US refuses to follow France's lead and talk with Syria
August 28, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States refuses to follow France's lead and will not talk to Syria until it decides to take a "positive role" in international affairs, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Thursday.
Wood declined to comment on French President Nicolas Sarkozy's announcement Wednesday that he would visit Damascus on September 3-4, after welcoming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Paris last month.
The spokesman, however, restated US policy that precludes any dialogue with Syria unless it decides "to play a positive role, stay out of the internal affairs of Lebanon, stop supporting terrorists and be a productive player on the world scene."
"Today, it has not been" the case, Wood added.
"Until Syria plays a positive role in the region, it is going to continue to isolate itself," he said.
Washington continues to blacklist Damascus as a state sponsor of terrorism.
On announcing his trip to Damascus, Sarkozy rejected the idea of isolating Syria, preferring to take "another route, more risky it is true, but more promising: open dialogue leading to tangible progress."
Making a diplomatic comeback after years of ostracism, Assad was among more than 40 leaders who on July 13 in Paris inaugurated the new Mediterranean union, Sarkozy's flagship project to bolster cooperation between Europe, the Middle East and north Africa.
Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac severed ties with Syria in response to the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, after accusing Damascus of involvement in the murder. Syria has denied the allegations.
[Landis Comment] The following Washington Times editorial arguing that the US should not advance the peace process that both Syria and Israel say they want, would seem to be based on misapprehensions. One can only presume it is an effort by the Washington Time's editorial board to justify the latest refusal of thee Bush administration to allow open dialogue with Syria. President Clinton in his memoirs said it was not Assad who "sabotaged" the peace process; rather, he wrote that Barak got "cold feet." The problem was that from Israel's point of view, Syria was asking for too much land. The price was not right. Getting to the right price is something Washington should be helping with, not hindering.
EDITORIAL: An Israel-Syria 'deal'?: Washington Times
…….. Maybe there is a geopolitical sea change taking place in Damascus. If so, the Assad government has thus far hidden it very skillfully. In March 2000, President Clinton put the prestige of his office on the line in the hope that Mr. Assad's father was ready to make a peace agreement with Israel. Hafez Assad showed by his actions that he was not, and then proceeded to sabotage Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's efforts to withdraw from southern Lebanon. We shouldn't be deluded again.
US sanctions could derail Airbus deal with Syria
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
Reuters, August 28, 2008
DAMASCUS- Airbus is finalising a deal that could secure it a multibillion-dollar order from the Syrian government, but U.S. sanctions could torpedo the purchase, sources familiar with the talks said on Thursday.
Habib Feqih, president of Airbus Middle East, is in Damascus to sign the cooperation framework agreement, which involves the possible lease and purchase of a total of 54 aircraft between now and 2028, and help by Airbus to restructure Syria's flag carrier Syrianair, the sources told Reuters.
But the U.S. sanctions, imposed on Syria in 2004 for its support for anti-American groups, could complicate any Airbus sale to Syria, if not make it impossible, since the planes use American components, an industry executive said.
"I cannot see a way for Airbus to sell planes to Syria. I do not think it would be able to obtain export licences for the U.S. manufactured parts," he said.
A way around the sanctions could be if a limited number of aircraft were to be purchased by another airline or operator outside Syria, and then leased to a Syrian company, the executive added.
Under such a lease, the lessor would also provide the crew and take care of maintenance and insurance. Sham Wings, Syria's only functioning private airline, has leased at least one aircraft, a medium bodied McDonnell Douglas.
Another source said the cooperation agreement would amount to little if no legal way could be found to conform to the sanctions, with French officials assuring the United States that Airbus had no intention of breaking them.
"Someone has to convince the American government to make an exemption for a deal with Syria to go through. Airbus has a huge business in the United States," the source said…
Syria Issues Listing Rules for Its Bourse, Al Watan Says
By Nadim Issa
Bloomberg, August 28, 2008
The Syrian Commission on Financial Market Securities ratified the rules and regulations required to list on the Damascus Securities Exchange, Al Watan reported, citing a statement by the commission.
In order for companies to list they have to be established for over three years from the start of their activities, have an average net profit of at least 5 percent in the past two years and their paid up capital should not be less than 300 million Syrian pounds ($6.5 million), the Syrian newspaper reported.
In the secondary market, the companies' capital should not be less than 100 million pounds and they have to be established for over two years from the start of their activities, the newspaper reported.
For non-Syrian companies to list, they have to get the approval of the commission; have an average net profit of at least 5 percent for the past three years and be listed in their country for over two years, Al Watan reported.
Russia's case on Georgia territories: Like Kosovo or not?
By Robert Marquand
The Christian Science Monitor, August 28, 2008
Paris – In the wake of Russia's recognition of two separatist Georgian republics Tuesday, Moscow is moving swiftly in another war – how to define and present its legal case to the world. One chief area of this battle is Kosovo, the Serbian province that declared its independence in February – something Moscow had long warned would "legitimize" the separation of territories such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia.
Yet hours after Russia recognized the independence of those republics Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov turned the tables. Taking a new legal tack, he called any parallels between Kosovo and Georgia "irrelevant," and offered an interpretation of events that essentially makes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili a worse war criminal than former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.
Despite strong warnings from then-President Vladimir Putin leading up to Kosovo's declaration of independence, the US and 20 of 27 European Union nations have since recognized Kosovo's new status.
Now, much of the world's media is explaining how Kosovo led to Russian tanks in Georgia. This week, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, something that took the West a nine-year process of careful negotiation, minority rights clauses, and statebuilding to do in Kosovo partly because of due diligence over Russian warnings about a "Kosovo precedent."
Russia looking for China's backing….
Europe must stand up to Russia says UK
By Julian Borger and Ian Traynor
The Guardian, August 28, 2008
Britain yesterday raised the stakes in the scramble to contain Russia, pledging support for Moscow's regional rival, Ukraine, and calling on the international community to stand up to Russia's campaign to redraw the map of Europe and make it pay a higher price for its actions in Georgia.
David Miliband, the foreign secretary tipped as a future Labour party leader and potential prime minister, went to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, to deliver a speech aimed at flying the flag of western democracy on Russia's doorstep, while seeking to avert a new crisis boiling over on the Crimean peninsula, home to an ethnic Russian population and Moscow's Black Sea fleet.
The speech represented the strongest criticism of the Kremlin from a leading European government official in years, delivered in a country that is Russia's neighbour and which Russians view as the cradle of their civilisation.
Miliband declared a turning point had been reached in Europe's relations with Russia, ending a nearly two decade period of relative tranquility. He said Tuesday's decision by the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, to recognise Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia represented a radical break and a moment of truth for the rest of Europe.
"[Medvedev's] unilateral attempt to redraw the map marks a moment of real significance," the foreign secretary said. "It is not just the end of the post cold war period of growing geopolitical calm in and around Europe. It is also the moment when countries are required to set out where they stand on the significant issues of nationhood and international law."
"The Georgia crisis has provided a rude awakening," the foreign secretary said. He responded to Medvedev's boast that he was not scared of a new cold war, saying: "We don't want a new cold war. He has a big responsibility not to start one.
Miliband arrived in Kiev at a time when Ukrainian officials are jittery over concerns that Russia could orchestrate a conflict over its Black Sea fleet, which is based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, under a lease agreement with Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials say Russia has been distributing passports to ethnic Russians living in Crimea, as it did in South Ossetia, and fear that a row over the use of the base may be employed to stir up separatist sentiment as a precursor to calling for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine. Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president, has riled Moscow by suggesting that Russia should pay a higher rent for Sevastopol and could be subject to more stringent conditions on its use. Miliband urged the Ukrainian government to "stick to the letter" of the lease agreement.
In bilateral meetings yesterday, Ukrainians pressed for British support in their bid to begin membership proceedings for both the EU and Nato. They are looking for positive signals from an EU-Ukraine meeting next month, and hope to be offered a membership action plan at a Nato ministerial meeting in December. Miliband signalled that Kiev had Britain's backing.
"My visit is designed to send a simple message: we have not forgotten our commitments to you," he told Ukrainians, asserting that the relationship between Moscow and Kiev could not be that of "master and servant".
In the harshest criticism of Russian conduct since the Caucasus crisis erupted three weeks ago, he accused the Kremlin of shredding the rulebook governing international relations and of "torpedoing" the work of the UN security council.
"Over Georgia, Russia has moved from support for territorial integrity to breaking up the country in three weeks, and relied entirely on military force to do so. In between, it signed a ceasefire agreement which included international mediation as the way forward. If her word is not her bond then she will not be trusted by anyone … Russia needs to ask itself about the relationship between short-term military victories and longer term economic prosperity." Miliband said the west must now "raise the costs to Russia of disregarding its responsibilities". In particular, Europe should hit back on the oil and gas market, with measures aimed at loosening Russia's powers as a monopoly seller.
"Europe needs to act as one when dealing with third parties like Russia," he said. To do that, the EU should invest in gas storage facilities, build up an internal market and negotiate as a single entity, rather than cutting separate deals.
Russia, Miliband said, "must not learn the wrong lessons from the Georgia crisis: there can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law."
But the foreign secretary argued against isolating Russia. "Russia is too enmeshed in the world economy. It would be counterproductive," he said. The approach should be one of "hard-headed engagement". For example he opposed Russia's expulsion from the G8 group of industrialised countries, but instead called for the G7 (the group minus Russia) to hold discussions when necessary without Russia.
Last night G7 foreign ministers issued a joint statement condemning Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and deplored Moscow's "excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia".
While Miliband delivered his broadside in Kiev, his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, warned that Ukraine and Moldova, which also has a pro-Russian breakaway region, Transnistria, could become the next targets of a newly assertive Russia.
Yushchenko, who met Miliband yesterday, said Russian actions in Georgia were unacceptable. "What has happened is a threat to everyone, not just for one country. Any nation could be next. When we allow someone to ignore the fundamental right of territorial integrity, we put into doubt the existence of any country."
The Biden factor in US-Iran relations
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
Asia Times Online, August 28, 2008
Senator Barack Obama's choice of Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate for the Democratic ticket for the US presidency is a good omen for troubled US-Iran relations and will likely translate into positive developments on that front in the event Obama moves into the White House.
Biden, who has chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a strong advocate of engagement with Iran and a vocal opponent of any military action against Iran as a result of the nuclear standoff. He has participated in a number of forums sponsored by Iranian expatriates in the US, and has denounced some anti-Iran measures, such as the US's labeling of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist outfit.
With Iran looming as one of the major foreign policy issues in the presidential elections, Biden brings a measure of legitimacy to Obama's call for direct dialogue with Tehran, a position soundly rejected by his Republican rival, Senator John McCain.
The trouble with McCain's position on Iran, however, is that it does not sit well even with the Iran policy of the George W Bush administration, in light of the recent meeting of Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, with US Under Secretary of State, William Burns, in Geneva. This meeting marked a clear turnaround from the previous US policy of setting stringent preconditions, such as the suspension of Iran's uranium-enrichment program, for any direct contact.
At the same time, the downside of having a clearer position on Iran is that it is not particularly favored by the strong pro-Israel lobby in Washington that tilts in favor of McCain. It is therefore possible that Biden's selection may cost Obama a share of the Jewish vote, particularly if between now and November hostilities between the US and Iran escalate. In the absence of any breakthrough in the Iran nuclear stalemate and the ongoing tensions in Iraq, that is not hard to imagine.
In turn, the chances are that, faced with the prospect of a Jewish backlash, the Obama-Biden ticket may harden its stance towards Iran, just as Obama did during his recent trip to Israel, when he stated categorically that he was in favor of keeping all options open (such as an attack on Iran) and that he would not tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon.
The danger is that Biden might now sing the same tune and escalate his rhetoric against Iran, rather than remain consistent with his earlier positions that prioritized diplomacy almost to the exclusion of hard power.
This is an important issue that could be addressed in the near future, in light of a key article in the Washington Post by Michael Rubin, a staunch pro-Israel pundit at the American Enterprise Institute, indirectly criticizing Biden for his soft Iran positions, as well as his connections to Iran lobbyists.
It is almost a sure bet that Biden and Obama will show sensitivity to such subtle attacks on them and will try damage control by using more strident rhetoric against Iran. Equally possible is that Biden will resist pressure from Obama and his team and refrain from sounding bellicose against Iran, in which case we must anticipate a bifurcated Obama administration, should the Democrats win the presidential contest, with vice president Biden leaning more in the direction of soft power diplomacy toward Iran than the new president in the Oval Office.
However, should Iran respond well to the Democratic victory through a more flexible nuclear posture that would be amenable to reaching a compromise, then the Biden factor will definitely weigh in positively, both in the area of confidence-building as well as substantive progress in the divisive issues that remain between the US and Iran.
From Tehran's point of view, the replacement of hawkish Vice President Dick Cheney with the dovish Biden would be welcome news reflecting the beginning of an overdue adjustment of US foreign policy toward Iran. …….
Obama has shown only a superficial understanding of the Middle East in general and Iran in particular and this is a weakness that can be remedied by giving Biden considerable room to maneuver. Should the Obama team put a tight leash on Biden when it comes to Iran, it would mean sacrificing the potential for a breakthrough with Iran that Biden brings to the ticket. This is not to underestimate the difficulties in coordinating a unified and homogenous Iran policy between Obama and Biden.
Simply put, the Democratic ticket has no better chance to provide a serious change in US foreign policy than by charting a less-bellicose and more-conciliatory approach toward Iran. This is likely to be reciprocated by Tehran's leaders, including Ahmadinejad, who is still waiting for a response to his letters – one to Bush and the other to the American people.
Ahmadinejad's missive to Bush is unlikely to draw a response, but the chances are good to excellent that such an overture toward the US's first African-American president will elicit a productive response.
Should McCain be the next president, we should expect nothing more than business as usual in the troubled waters of the US's ties with Iran.
Make a Deal with Iran
By Nikolas K. Gvosdev
The National Interest Online, August 27, 2008
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), the presumptive Democratic nominee for vice president, last year listed both Iran and Russia as threats to U.S. interests. Unfortunately, he did not offer a way to prioritize the challenges posed by Tehran and Moscow. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), for his part, has shifted his public statements in recent months, giving greater attention to Russia as a challenge for Washington and the West, and de-emphasizing (at least in his speeches) the threat posed by Iran.
Leaving aside whether their assessments are correct, let’s address a different question. How does one’s stance on Iran (or Russia) affect other foreign- and domestic-policy promises? Both Senators McCain and Obama have made a series of statements about what they would do as president. Among both their laundry lists: bring down the cost of energy—both to help American consumers but also to deprive “rogues” of petrodollars; help Europe diversify its energy supply so as to reduce dependence on Russia; bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO; make progress in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan—both to permit the withdrawal of U.S. forces and to prevent chaos; and deter Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
To achieve all of these goals—not just the last one—the next president needs a major breakthrough on Iran—one that would end the standoff that has lasted since 1979.
OPEC president Chakib Khelil has repeatedly noted that one of the factors keeping oil prices higher than they ought to be is the perception among traders and speculators that a clash between Iran and the United States—especially a prolonged military confrontation—is likely. Khelil recently observed that oil should be trading at about $70 per barrel, rather than the significantly higher prices we’ve seen in the last several months….
And with all of the concern about the concentration and consolidation of Eurasia’s energy resources by Russian firms and transport routes, Iran is the only feasible alternative to supplying Europe’s thirst for natural gas. Iran has an estimated 974 trillion cubic feet of natural-gas reserves, the second largest in the world. Pipeline projects like NABUCCO, designed to give European consumers feasible alternatives to other routes owned or controlled by Russia’s GAZPROM, are only cost-effective if some of Iran’s natural-gas bounty is committed.
Iranian energy flowing westward to European markets would balance Russian influence—not remove it altogether—but would guarantee that the Kremlin’s ability to wield a potential “energy weapon” would be lessened significantly.
And speaking of the Eurasian space, any fundamental reorientation of the region away from its traditional trade and economic links to Moscow can only occur if the Iranian “doorway” to central Asia and the Caucasus is unlocked and unbarred. Landlocked countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan would benefit from having high-speed land links to Iran’s Persian Gulf ports.
The stabilization of both Iraq and Afghanistan would also be served by a rapprochement with Tehran. India has recognized this with its new transport policy of linking central-Asian states via Afghanistan to Iran—….
Finally, the United States would like to see Iran cease and desist its efforts to produce nuclear weapons.
Iran has presidential elections scheduled for 2009. It may be useful to recall that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, not on a platform of developing nuclear weapons or destroying Israel, but instead by promising to tackle corruption and deliver economic growth. If, prior to the forthcoming election, the United States and its European allies laid out a very specific and detailed program that included actual projects and the projected benefits to the Iranian people—rather than more generic assurances about goodwill and some small nickel-and-dime measure …
The United States is not in a position to “dually contain” both Iran and a resurgent Russia—if Washington decides that Moscow must be contained rather than engaged. ….As we have seen, Iran can “limp along” based on its trading links with Asia—especially India and China…..
Druse women join pilgrimage into Syria for first time
By Brenda Gazzar
The Jerusalem Post, August 28, 2008
Noflea Shker, a Druse resident of the Golan Heights, was nearly at a loss for words Thursday. She was about to cross the border into Syria, where she would see aunts and uncles for the first time in 25 years, her mother, who she had not seen in five years, and her seven-month-old grandson for the first time. "It's an indescribable feeling," said Shker, her eyes brimming with tears while she waited to disembark from a bus at the border crossing.
But Najwa Hamzi Amasha, another Druse resident, made no attempt to hide her disappointment at the rejection by Israel of her repeated requests to cross – she would not be meeting her siblings in Syria; she hasn't seen them in nearly three decades.
"The Jews of Sweden come to visit Jerusalem, their homeland, and their families," she said. "Why don't they let us – and we are 40 kilometers away – visit our families?" ….. "We want there to be continuous visits to our homeland, to our country, to our families," said Amasha, a widow with four grown children.
Thursday's crossing was the first time in more than eight years that the visit had taken place amidst open, albeit indirect, peace talks between Israel and Syria…. The Druse of the Golan Heights – who consider themselves to be Syrian and long to be reunited with their families across the border – perhaps more than anyone wish to see a peace agreement signed between the countries. ….
… "God willing, our president, Bashar al-Assad, will achieve peace… and the Golan Heights will be returned… The life of occupation is not a life." …
Meanwhile, at the Kuneitra crossing, 28-year-old Fida el-Shaer from Majda al-Shams decided to try her luck at getting permission to visit her family in Syria, although her request had already been denied. About one hour after she was escorted in by army officials only to be denied again, el-Shaer, who had broken into tears earlier in the day, remained outside the crossing in the stifling August heat. Asked why she was still waiting, she responded: "I have hope that maybe they'll still let me through. Without hope, one's soul would break."