Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, August 4th, 2009
DAMASCUS — British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis on Tuesday urged Syria to help push deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and also resume its own negotiations with the Jewish state.
Lewis also told reporters that Israel should return the strategic Golan Heights to Syria as part of a comprehensive peace between the two arch-foes, following talks with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.
“We want Syria to use its influence in terms of helping to create the conditions now for the two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians so crucial to the stability of the region,” Lewis said.
“We expressed the hope that as soon as it is possible the negotiations resume between Israel and Syria on the question of the Golan Heights and also the question of normalising relations between the two countries,” he added.
Lewis, who arrived on Monday for talks with Syrian leaders, said a keynote speech in June by US President Barack Obama in Egypt to engage the region had struck optimism for Middle East peace.
“We think that there is now a very important opportunity that perhaps hasn’t existed in the past for one of the world’s great conflicts to begin to come to an end, the conflict of the Middle East,” he said.
A solution, he said, should include “a viable Palestinian state” alongside Israel and a “comprehensive peace between Syria and Israel which includes the return of the Golan Heights.”
Turkey last year brokered four rounds of indirect talks between Israel and Syria, but these were suspended when Israel launched an offensive against the Gaza Strip in late December.
Syria has conditioned the resumption of talks to Israel’s return of the Golan, which was seized by the Jewish state during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed.
But Israel refuses to give up control of the strategic plateau.
“Whatever the case, the Golan must remain under Israeli control in any agreement with Syria,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a delegation of US congressman on Monday.
Lewis also urged Syria to use its influence to help stabilise neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon
Internet users could be among the first to benefit as the US prepares to dismantle trade sanctions
American officials are preparing to waive some of the sanctions against Syria imposed by the Bush administration, according to Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to Washington.
First to go will be the ban on exports of spare parts and safety equipment for the Syrian civil aviation industry, followed by that on computer products. Crucially, this will mean Syrian internet users should be able to download software and buy goods and services online.
The only sticking point is that the rules will not be swept away with one signature in the Oval Office. Instead they will be handled on a case-by-case basis. But the US is hinting it will push through each individual waiver request without too much difficulty….
…Why not go all the way and revoke the entire sanctions law? Imad Moustapha claims that would require the assent of the US Congress, where President Barack Obama could run into difficulties. Instead, the plan seems to be to lift parts of the embargo one by one until the law becomes meaningless.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak says Israel should join the U.S. peace initiative for the Middle East when it’s ready.
Lebanon’s Hariri takes time out after ally quits
Tue Aug 4, 2009
By Tom Perry
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri has taken a holiday to “think and reflect” after a once close ally quit his anti-Syria coalition in a move expected to delay the formation of a new government.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s departure from Hariri’s “March 14” alliance this week has redrawn Lebanon’s political map and undermined the coalition’s June parliamentary election victory over rivals including the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group.
Hariri, a Saudi- and U.S.-backed billionaire businessman, had been expected to conclude talks this week on the formation of a coalition government grouping his alliance with parties allied to Syria, including Hezbollah and the Amal movement.
But he left the country Monday night for a holiday, his media office said. The trip aimed to give Hariri a chance to “think and reflect calmly,” according to a statement released after a meeting of MPs from his Future Movement.
Hariri wanted to “take some real distance from the heat of the debate over the political make-up of March 14 and likewise the consultations over the government formation,” it said.
Hariri, 39, had reached agreement last week on the division of cabinet seats, splitting the portfolios between his alliance, the rival “March 8” alliance and a group of ministers to be named by President Michel Suleiman.
But Jumblatt has said the three ministers he is expected to be allocated in the 30-seat cabinet will be aligned with neither March 14 or March 8, the coalitions whose rivalry has defined Lebanese politics since the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
He told Lebanese television station MTV that he would ally himself with Suleiman, who was elected president last year as a consensus candidate.
The change in his position is seen linked to an end to Syria’s isolation by many Western governments and rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Syria, whose rivalry has been seen at the heart of Lebanon’s turmoil since the Hariri killing.
Jumblatt’s announcement has dealt a major blow to March 14, which won a parliamentary majority in a legislative election two months ago. Without his bloc of 11 MPs, March 14 no longer has an absolute majority in the 128-seat parliament.
Nabih Berri, parliament speaker and one of Syria’s closest allies in Lebanon, told as-Safir newspaper he feared a delay in the government formation. “It is very necessary that contacts be accelerated,” he said.
The Beirut stock exchange fell for a second day in response to the political outlook. The BLOM index fell 2.8 percent, dragged down by real estate firm Solidere. Its shares dipped more than 6 percent.
Jumblatt had been one of the most hawkish figures in the March 14 alliance, which coalesced after the Hariri killing with an agenda focused on ending Syrian influence in Lebanon.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat said following his announcement that he was terminating his alliance with March 14 forces that the coalition will remain a majority in Lebanon, stressing that he will not join the opposition.
Jumblat, in remarks published by several Lebanese newspapers on Tuesday, said his Sunday announcement “will not change the Cabinet lineup.”
“The majority will remain a majority,” he said, stressing his keenness to ensure the success of efforts undertaken by President Michel Suleiman toward a speedy government formation.
“I want to be independent… I did not apply to join March 8,” Jumblatt told the daily An Nahar newspaper in Tuesday’s edition, referring to the Hizbullah led-alliance.
A spokesman for Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party told the Aljadeed TV that the departure from the pro-Western coalition was final. “But it’s not to join another group,” said Rami Rayess.
He urged a rapid formation of a national unity government.
“We need to see progress toward government formation, and that is in everybody’s interest,” Jumblat said.
Jumblatt stressed he was moving to the center, telling a TV station that he will take the side of Suleiman.
“I am an independent. I will not affiliate with any other team. I will join the President who is the guarantor,” Jumblat said in an interview with MTV late Monday.
He pointed that a number of MPs within his Democratic Gathering bloc would vote in favor of the majority.
The Druze leader on Sunday announced that his alliance with March 14 forces had been “out of necessity and must not continue.”
On Monday evening Jumblat called on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut where Ambassador Mohammed Riza Shibani extended him an invitation to visit Tehran. And on Tuesday, Jumblat is expected to visit the Beirut headquarters of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party for talks with its leader MP Assaad Hardan.