Posted by Joshua on Saturday, September 12th, 2009
BRUSSELS, Sep 11, 2009 (UPI via COMTEX) — Diplomats from the European Union have temporarily postponed a decision on whether to sign an association agreement with Syria, a Netherlands diplomat says.
The delay is the result of Dutch objections that the accord does not allow for suspension in the case of gross violation of human rights, the diplomat told the Brussels-based EUobserver in an article published Friday. The Netherlands indicated it wanted to wait until after the United States, Israel and the Palestinian authorities hold talks at the end of September, the diplomat said.
EU diplomatic sources also revealed that the European Union is likely to restart debate on upgrading relations with Israel should the summit result in a deal halting Israeli settlement building in occupied Palestinian territories.
The European Union has made no official link between an agreement with Syria and upgrading relations with Israel but the two policies are entangled for all practical purposes, observers say.
Security From Iraq’s Neighbors
By David Ignatius
Sunday, September 13, 2009
How can America help a fragile Iraq as U.S. troops and influence there decline? The Obama administration should revisit one of the good ideas proposed by the 2006 Baker-Hamilton commission — namely an “international support group” that can draw together the neighboring countries to keep Iraq from blowing apart.
The Baker-Hamilton recommendations are mostly forgotten, swept away by President George W. Bush’s 2007 surge of U.S. troops. That certainly improved security, but the recent bombings in Iraq are a reminder that the surge didn’t usher in a new era of peace and love. Political reconciliation is still more slogan than reality — and the neighbors are more a lurking menace than Baghdad’s partners.
This is where America still has the leverage to help, by drawing together all the volatile powers on Iraq’s borders — Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and, yes, Iran. A regional security framework will aid Baghdad, but it can also reduce tensions in an area that resembles a ticking time bomb.
In the “be careful what you wish for” department is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. For several years, the United States has wanted him to be a strong leader who could assert Iraqi sovereignty. But Maliki’s erratic behavior in recent weeks has complicated the regional dynamic. Rather than working to solve problems with his neighbors, he’s making new ones — despite U.S. efforts to mediate.
An example of the tricky regional dynamic is Syria. The Obama administration has been working carefully to rebuild U.S.-Syrian relations. Representatives of Central Command made two visits to Damascus this summer to discuss security cooperation on Iraq. This led to a tentative agreement that U.S. and Syrian military representatives would meet Aug. 20 on the Iraq-Syria border. U.S. officials proposed including Iraq, as well.
Not so fast, protested Maliki. He warned Chris Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, that policing Iraq’s border was an issue for Iraq, not America.
When Maliki visited Damascus on Aug. 18, he told President Bashar al-Assad that he opposed the Syrian-American plan to discuss Iraqi security and would boycott the Aug. 20 session. Maliki also demanded that Assad turn over Baathist leaders who were living in Syria. Assad refused, saying that these Baathists had opposed Saddam Hussein’s regime and posed no threat. The Maliki-Assad summit meeting “was a failure,” says one Arab official.
Then things exploded, quite literally. On Aug. 19, terrorists in Baghdad attacked the Iraqi Foreign and Finance ministries, killing more than 100 and wounding at least 500. Maliki’s government quickly blamed Damascus, and Iraqi TV broadcast the alleged confession of a Sunni Baathist named Wisam Ali Khazim Ibrahim, who said the attack was planned in Syria. On the morning of Aug. 20, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus informed Syria that the planned meeting that day was canceled. Maliki has since demanded an international tribunal to assess Syria’s alleged complicity.
But several senior U.S. officials say that the evidence doesn’t support Maliki’s charges. Instead, they say, the Aug. 19 bombings were most likely the work of al-Qaeda in Iraq. “Given everything that we know, it seems very unlikely the plot was hatched in Syria,” says one U.S. official.
Why is Maliki picking a fight with Damascus? The most likely answer is Iraqi domestic politics. With parliamentary elections scheduled for January, Maliki wants to show that he’s a tough guy — and it’s easier for him to stand up to Syria (and Washington) than, say, to Iran. His anti-Syrian blasts are also said to have earned him grudging respect from other regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia.
U.S.-Syrian bilateral relations are still moving forward. U.S. officials have given Syria intelligence about terrorist cells operating inside the country that allegedly are moving “foreign fighters” into Iraq, and the Syrians have indicated they will take action. Meanwhile, the two countries are discussing a gradual relaxation of existing sanctions against Damascus.
What’s missing is a regional security framework that would allow postwar Iraq gradually to regain its place with Syria, Iran and the rest as a power player. Building such an architecture would be the diplomatic equivalent of a three-cushion shot in billiards — drawing all the fractious neighbors into a constructive dialogue.
This is the kind of game-changing diplomacy that is possible only for a superpower such as the United States. It’s the last big thing that America can do for Iraqi security as the United States withdraws, and, mercifully, it doesn’t involve any troops. Henry Kissinger would be on the plane already. Any takers in the Obama national security team?
Breakdown in Lebanon: A New Round of Brinkmanship
By Andrew Lee Butters / Damascus Friday, Sep. 11, 2009
Lebanese parliament majority leader Saad Hariri addresses the media at the Élysée Palace in Paris on Jan. 2, 2009
Lebanon is an eternal exception to the maxim that all politics is local. With so many foreign powers meddling in the country’s perennially sectarian struggle for control, Lebanon functions as a kind of political barometer of the Middle East. And that’s why the news Thursday, Sept. 10, that Prime Minister–designate Saad Hariri had given up trying to form a consensus government three months after his ruling coalition won the country’s parliamentary elections is a sign of a more general unease in the region: Lebanon’s political crisis — and the broader Middle East cold war of which it is an expression — is far from over…..
[My own hunch is that the Lebanese paralysis is not so much about Syria, Saudi Arabia, the US, or international politics this time around. Rather, it is homemade and local. Syria could have lived with the Hariri cabinet as he proposed it. It certainly didn’t present a threat to Syria. But why would Syria want to lean on Aoun or Hizbullah to get such a government if their allies are not happy with it? ent that they aren’t happy with? Syria is fine with Lebanon without a government. It would not be worth expending important capital to help Hariri. Damascus would contemplate such an effort if such pressure would win Syria important concessions from the US, but perhaps American officials are not so keen themselves to expend political capital on Lebanon. They did so to get free elections and Syria stayed scrupulously out of them. But there aren’t any American officials visiting Beirut this days. They aren’t making grand statements about Lebanon. Anyway, why would the US expend capital to form a Lebanese government that cannot change the status quo in any meaningful way? Why would the US government fight for a Hariri government that is bound to be paralyzed from inception? The Obama administration is not interested in Bush’s forward agenda of freedom or democratization of the Middle East. It wants to nudge Lebanon off center stage as much as Syria does. Lebanon was Bush’s fixation; why would Obama want such a headache? Perhaps a bit of benign neglect is just what Lebanon needs? ]