Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009
Clinton to Engage Iran and Syria Soon
By JAY SOLOMON, JANUARY 14, 2009, WSJ
WASHINGTON — Sen. Hillary Clinton said at her confirmation hearing that the new administration would move quickly to engage Iran and Syria directly, making good on an Obama campaign promise to shift U.S. Mideast policy….
These initiatives, said the former first lady, would be part of the new administration’s focus on using diplomacy, economic aid and commerce, or “soft power,” to build bridges to allies and adversaries often critical of U.S. foreign policy in recent years.
Sen. Clinton said she would oversee a newly empowered State Department that would play a larger role in projecting U.S. influence overseas. Many U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have voiced concerns that the military has been drawn into too many aspects of foreign affairs, including diplomacy and economic development.
“America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America,” Sen. Clinton said in her testimony Tuesday. “The best way to advance America’s interest…is to design and implement global solutions.”
Sen. Clinton said addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict would be among her first priorities, but she didn’t offer any evidence of diverging from Bush administration policy on Israel’s attacks in Gaza. She said that for any cease-fire to hold, the Palestinian group Hamas must stop firing missiles into Israel…..
The Obama administration also views efforts to engage Syria as central to U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Sen. Clinton acknowledged that the U.S. has continued concerns about Damascus’s support of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. But she said Washington should test Syria’s willingness to break its strategic alliance with Iran and these extremist groups.
“I believe that engaging directly with Syria increases the possibility of making progress in changing Syrian behavior,” Sen. Clinton said in her written testimony, noting Washington would directly support Syrian-Israeli peace talks…..
….She acknowledged, though, that many past presidents, including her husband, had tried and failed to solve seemingly “intractable” problems in the Middle East. “The President-elect and I understand and are deeply sympathetic to Israel’s desire to defend itself under the current conditions, and to be free of shelling by Hamas rockets. However, we have also been reminded of the tragic humanitarian costs of conflict in the Middle East, and pained by the suffering of Palestinian and Israeli civilians,” she said.
“This must only increase our determination to seek a just and lasting peace agreement that brings real security to Israel, normal and positive relations with its neighbours and independence, economic progress and security to the Palestinians in their own state.”
Asked if she would be willing to engage directly with the Islamic extremists controlling Gaza, Mrs Clinton replied: “You cannot negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognises Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements. That is an absolute. That is my position and the President-elect’s position.”
The “smart power” strategy should go beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and address other issues, including Iran’s nuclear programme and the “irresponsible behaviour” of other countries in region such as Syria….
…. She noted that Obama had described the possibility of an Iranian atomic bomb with the same term used by President Bush: “Unacceptable.”
On Iraq, Clinton seemed to be preserving her options when asked by Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) about plans to remove all U.S. combat troops within 16 months.
Clinton said Obama intended to remove combat troops “safely and responsibly, as soon as possible.” She said troops would be moved out of cities and towns “hopefully by June.”…
She said an expanded U.S. diplomatic corps could take on jobs around the world that in recent years have fallen to the much larger Pentagon. Clinton, Gates and other current and former government officials think that in many countries, foreign service officials can perform nonmilitary jobs more efficiently and less expensively…..
Despite the Bloodshed, Israel is Failing (Contributed by Rumyal)
What Kind of Security Will This Barbarism Bring Israel?
By SAREE MAKDISI
… Indeed, it seems clear that the writing now being posted on alternative media outlets is also starting to outweigh the clumsy efforts still being churned out by America’s army of paid and unpaid cheerleaders for Israel, who have forsaken what little remained of their own humanity and blinded themselves to suffering that ought to move any rational, caring, sentient human being to tears—the Dershowitzes and Foxmans, the Orens and Boots, the Krauthammers and Peretzes, the Bards and Goldfarbs, the cynical apparatchiks of CAMERA and AIPAC and the mindless busybodies and shuffling zombies of Stand With Us, the Israel Project and the Israel on Campus Coalition—who persist with their stubborn, craven defense of the indefensible. About these misanthropes there is much to be said, most of it too unpleasant to print, so I’ll shift the burden here to those memorable closing lines of Wilfred Owen’s war poem “Insensibility:”
But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns,
That they should be as stones.
Wretched are they, and mean
With paucity that never was simplicity.
By choice they made themselves immune
To pity and whatever mourns in man
Before the last sea and the hapless stars;
Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;
The eternal reciprocity of tears.”…
Gaza War Weakens U.S. Standing, Pro-Western Arabs
By Massoud A. Derhally
Jan. 13 (Bloomberg) — Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, now in its third week, is weakening the U.S.’s standing in the Middle East and undermining pro-Western leaders in the Arab world, Lebanon’s top diplomat said.
Does Syria matter? Read the arguments of Tom Dine, Martin Indyk, Joshua Landis, Moshe Ma’oz, Michael Oren, David Schenker, Tony Badran, and Andrew Tabler in Moment Magazine
DAMASCUS (AFP) — A total of 5.9 million foreign tourists visited Syria in 2008, a rise of 15 percent from the previous year, according to the tourism ministry, cited by local media.
More than 3.3 million of the visitors came from Arab countries, an increase of 13 percent from 2007, with 1.1 million coming from elsewhere as well as more than one million emigrants of Syrian origin.
Income from tourism reached nearly 3.5 billion dollars, while investment in projects for the industry totalled around 8.2 billion dollars, the same source said.
Syria mulls allowing majority foreign ownership in firms Wed Jan 14, 2009
KUWAIT, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Syria is considering permitting foreign investors to hold majority stakes in local companies, including banks, its central bank governor said on Wednesday.
Gulf Arab investors, including banks and telecoms firms, have sought to expand into Syria over the past two years but are only allowed to own a stake of up to 49 percent.
“There is a plan,” central bank chief Adeeb Mayaleh said when asked if Syria would allow foreign investors to take majority stakes. He did not give a time frame.
“We haven’t reached that stage yet,” Mayaleh told reporters on the sidelines of an Arab economic summit in Kuwait City.
Private banks were only allowed to set up in Syria five years ago and regulations curb lending and a range of banking activities found in neighbouring countries.
Syria’s nine private banks have mainly Syrian, Jordanian, Lebanese and Gulf shareholders.
Western investors have stayed away from the sector, partly due to U.S. sanctions imposed on the Damascus government in 2004 for its support of anti-American groups in the Middle East.Tuesday, January 13, 2009
MOSCOW – On Jan. 12, a task force from the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet arrived in Tartous, Syria from Turkey, which hosted a naval exercise with Moscow.
Russian officials said the navy plans to modernize Tartous over the next few years. They said Tartous, designed to accommodate up to a dozen warships, could become the base for the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet….
Syria Oil Min: Oil, Gas E&P Awards Delayed On Financial Crisis
Wednesday January 14th, 2009
NEW DELHI -(Dow Jones)- Syria’s Oil Minister Sufian Al Alao said Wednesday the awarding of new oil and gas exploration and production contracts aimed at boosting the country’s output is being delayed due to deteriorating conditions in the world financial markets. “The financial situation is a challenge for exploration contracts,” Al Alao said on the sidelines of the Petrotech energy conference in New Delhi.
As a result of the financial crisis, contracts under negotiation with companies including the U.K.’s Anson and Petro-Canada are facing delays, he said, adding companies were finding it harder to raise funding and less attractive to invest amid a sharp drop in crude oil prices. Syria hopes to stem the decline at its oil fields with the awarding of new exploration and production deals to international oil firms.
The country last year produced 380,000 barrels a day of crude and plans to raise output by a mere 5,000 barrels a day this year, Al Alao said.
Olmert’s boast on U.N. Gaza vote is ‘completely not true,’ U.S. says By Peter Spiegel in LATimes
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he persuaded Bush to reverse a vote on a Gaza cease-fire resolution. But the State Department says Condoleezza Rice already had decided to abstain.
THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN Israel’s Goals in Gaza? The focus for Israel and Barack Obama’s team should be on creating a clear choice for Hamas for the world to see: Are you about destroying Israel or building Gaza?
Why Israel Can’t Make Peace With Hamas By JEFFREY GOLDBERG
The only small chance for peace in Gaza today is to help Hamas’s enemy, Fatah, prepare the West Bank for real freedom.