Posted by Joshua on Friday, May 1st, 2009
Ibrahim Hamidi interviews Austria’s Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger. He is accompanying President Bashar al-Assad on his visit to Vienna and Bratislava.
1- President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Vienna is his first official visit to an EU state since 2004, when the US sought to isolate Syria. What does the visit mean?
We believe that dialogue is the best strategy to overcome the stagnation we experience in the Middle East. After the Doha Agreement and the following re-establishment of the constitutional order in Lebanon, Syria has shown readiness to contribute to stability and peace in the Middle East. The European Union and Austria want to respond to this welcome development by demonstrating preparedness for a serious dialogue.
A friendly, open and frank exchange between partners has been at the centre of my meeting with Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mouallem and of the meetings of President Mr. Assad with Federal President Fischer and other high-ranking Austrian political representatives. Austria with its traditionally excellent relations to the Arab world and Syria can serve as a door opener.
2- Is there a EU unified policy- to engage Syria? Is there a Political decision?
There have been a considerable number of visits to Syria by high-ranking EU officials in the recent past. We witness a gradual rapprochement which should be broadened in line with further steps taken by Syria. Syria has potential to be a constructive force in the Middle East and prove its commitment to regional cooperation and partnership.
3- Do all EU members want engagement at the same speed?
We cannot expect fundamental changes to happen over night. Instead, we are seeing a gradual approach which should be to the benefit of both the EU as well as Syria and the entire Middle East. After all, stability and prosperity in our neighboring region is as much in our interest as it is in the interest of Syria and its people.
4- What about the association agreement. Do you think that it will be signed in the coming months? In July?
A political decision is being prepared on the Association Agreement between the EU and Syria. But no final decision has been taken yet; the European Union is following Syria’s policies on the regional level as well as internally.
5- What is the Austrian role in making peace in the Middle East?
Austria is traditionally engaged in the Middle East and we have a keen interest in the positive development of the region. We have established trustful relations with all countries in the region.
Additionally, we are currently serving as non-permanent member on the UN Security Council. Literally from day one of our membership on the Council we have been involved in efforts to stop the escalation of the conflict in and around the Gaza-Strip, finally leading to the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009) that laid the ground for the current, albeit fragile, calm between Israel and Hamas.
We will continue our active efforts to further peace in the Middle East. The most visible contribution has been the presence of Austrian troops on the Golan Heights. More than 25.000 Austrian UN-soldiers have been deployed in the course of the last 35 years. Moreover, since January 2007 an Austrian, Major General Wolfgang Jilke, has been Force Commander of UNDOF.
6- Can Vienna play a role in the resumption of indirect talks between Syria and Israel?
Austria has always been ready to offer a platform and its good services to parties that are willing to engage in dialogue and negotiations. We continue to work in this tradition. We also support efforts by other countries, such as Turkey, that are aimed at bringing Syria and Israel back to the negotiating table. Nevertheless, in case we were asked to help, we would definitely do so.
7- What can the EU do to make the Israeli right-wing government commit to peace on all tracks?
The European Union and the other parties in the Middle East Quartet are continuously insisting on the parties to remain committed to the peace process and implement their respective obligations under the Roadmap. This includes in particular the freeze of all settlement activity in the occupied territories.
The Quartet and the international community can offer their assistance but they cannot replace the indispensable political will of the parties themselves. We call on all actors in the region to assume their responsibilities and return to the negotiating table. At the end the day, only negotiations can offer lasting and comprehensive peace, security and prosperity for future generations.
8- To accept two-state solution?
The two-state-solution continues to be at the heart of any durable peace settlement. On this, the international community is united and steadfast.
We also commend the Arab States on their strategic commitment in the Arab Peace Initiative. We hope that all parties concerned will play their part to make this important vision a reality.
From all4Syria منشقون عن “إخوان” البيانوني يشكلون حزب إسلامي سوري جديد
The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East
by Neil MacFarquhar
A New York Times correspondent’s affectionate, irreverent portrait of the Middle East he’s known since childhood—an unexplored place hidden behind the usual headlines.
Since his boyhood in Qadhafi’s Libya, Neil MacFarquhar has developed a counterintuitive sense that the Middle East, despite all the bloodshed in its recent history, is a place of warmth, humanity, and generous eccentricity.
In this book, he introduces a cross-section of unsung, dynamic men and women pioneering political and social change. There is the Kuwaiti sex therapist in a leather suit with matching red headscarf, and the Syrian engineer advocating a less political interpretation of the Koran. MacFarquhar interacts with Arabs and Iranians in their every day lives, removed from the violence we see constantly, yet wrestling with the region’s future. These are people who realize their region is out of step with the world and are determined to do something about it—on their own terms.
Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora (University of California Press, 2009)
by Sarah Gualtieri
This multifaceted study of Syrian immigration to the United States places Syrians- and Arabs more generally-at the center of discussions about race and racial formation from which they have long been
marginalized. Between Arab and White focuses on the first wave of Arab immigration and settlement in the United States in the years before World War II, but also continues the story up to the present. It
presents an original analysis of the ways in which people mainly from current day Lebanon and Syria-the largest group of Arabic-speaking immigrants before World War II-came to view themselves in racial terms and position themselves within racial hierarchies as part of a broader process of ethnic identity formation.