Posted by Joshua on Monday, December 10th, 2007
Iraqi security adviser tells US to engage with Iran and Syria
By Roula Khalaf in Manama, Bahrain
December 10 2007: The Financial Times Limited 2007
Iran and Syria have taken measures to curb violence in Iraq, a senior Iraqi official said yesterday in a rare acknowledgement of a shift in tactics by the two allegedly troublesome neighbours.
Mowaffak al-Rubbaie, Iraq's national security adviser, also called on Washington to engage with both Damascus and Tehran, warning that security in the Gulf was interlinked and "you cannot stabilise Iraq and destabilise Iran".
Speaking at a conference in Bahrain, Mr Rubbaie sought to assuage fears that Iraq faced the threat of falling under Iranian dominance, saying that Baghdad was working on a long-term strategic agreement with the US that would underline its outlook towards the west.
Mr Rubbaie pointed to signs that Tehran had tightened control over its border and made arms shipments to Shia militias "more difficult". Syria too, he said, was stopping militants from crossing the border with Iraq and had improved controls at Damascus airport.
American military officials confirmed that the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq through Syria had been substantially reduced. But Admiral William Fallon, commander of the US central command, told the FT that he did not see "such a clear change" in Iranian behaviour, which the US alleges includes supplying Iraqi Shia militias with sophisticated explosives, charges that Tehran denies.
"I believe there's some restraint in the activity of the extremist militias but I don't know the cause and effect," said Admiral Fallon.
However, in a veiled criticism of perceived US efforts to build a Sunni Arab front against Shia Iran, Mr Rubbaie yesterday said his country was becoming a stage where Iran and Saudi Arabia were playing out their rivalry.
"Until they [the US] engage with Iran and Syria, long-term regional security will be in doubt," he said. "We cannot continue playing on Tehran and co. versus Riyadh and co."
But senior American officials attending the conference, organised by London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, showed no sign of an easing in US policy towards Iran, and were instead seeking to limit the damage provoked by last week's US intelligence report, which said Tehran had halted its atomic weapons programme in 2003.
The National Intelligence Estimate baffled America's European and Middle Eastern allies and is likely to complicate the US-led drive to drum up international support for a tightening of UN sanctions against Iran.
In an apparent effort to reassure supporters of diplomatic pressure, Robert Gates, the US secretary of state, struck an unusually tough tone on Saturday, accusing Iran of provoking instability in the region.
"There can be little doubt that their destabilising foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the US, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing," he said.
He stressed that the National Intelligence Estimate also said Iran was keeping its options open and could resume its nuclear weapons programme at any time – "if it has not done so already".
The Arab world has reacted to the NIE with a mixture of relief that the prospects of military action against Iran have diminished, if not disappeared, and concern that diplomatic pressure will now also ease, boosting Tehran's confidence.
But the intelligence report also revived favourite conspiracy theories, including long-standing Arab concerns that the US was paving the way for a comprehensive deal with Iran that would be struck at the Arabs' expense.
Syria … is emerging from Western and Arab ostracism without sacrificing its anti-Israeli alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
No one expects a dramatic warming of U.S.-Syrian ties, but Syrian analysts and Western diplomats spoke of modest prospects for constructive engagement after years of mutual mistrust….
"Syria is rising now and the United States is collapsing in the region," said Imad al-Shuaibi, a Syrian political analyst familiar with government thinking. He dismissed the idea that a U.N. tribunal to try Hariri's killers posed any threat to Syria.
Syria is now looking to improve ties with Saudi Arabia and other U.S.-backed Arab countries before an Arab League summit in Damascus in March, without dropping Iran and its other allies.
"After Annapolis, we hope we are entering a new phase," a European diplomat said. "Syria's overall behavior on Annapolis and Lebanon shows it is trying to reintegrate itself in the Arab family and play things in a way that would benefit the region."…
better ties with Baghdad go down well in Washington and could further reduce U.S.-Syrian tensions. Such a detente would have repercussions across the region. But any notion that Syria can easily be "flipped" away from Tehran is premature.
"No one should imagine that Syria will get rid of its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah," Shuaibi declared.
Iran signs $2bn oil deal with China Dec-09 (Only a week ago China said it would join sanctions on Iran.)
Iran has signed a $2bn oil contract with Sinopec of China, sending a signal to western companies that they might miss out on potentially lucrative contracts if they continued to heed US-inspired sanctions against Tehran –
Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday replaced Syria's communications and religious affairs ministers, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
Assad issued a decree naming Imad Abdul-Ghani Sabbouni as minister of communications, replacing Amr Nazir Salem. Sabbouni had been Salem's advise.
Local Syrian Web sites in recent months had been critical of Salem, who had been nominated to the post in February 2006, for blocking some Web sites including www.all4syria.org and the Arab online newspaper www.elaph.com as well as online social networking site Facebook.
Recent reports have said that Syrian authorities blocked Facebook, the popular Internet hangout, over what seems to be fears of Israeli "infiltration" of Syrian social networks on the Net.
Residents in Damascus said that they have not been able to enter Facebook for more than two weeks. An Associated Press reporter got a blank page when he tried to open the Facebook web page Friday from the Syrian capital.
Syrian officials were not available for comment Friday because of the Muslim weekend, but some reports have suggested that the ban was made to prevent Israeli users from infiltrating Syrian social networks.
Lebanon's daily As-Safir reported that Facebook was blocked on November 18. It said the authorities took the step because many Israelis have been entering Syria-based groups.
Here is the WSJournal's editorial on the Iran NIE
This latest intelligence fiasco is Mr. Bush's fault.
Saturday, December 8, 2007 12:01 a.m.
President Bush has been scrambling to rescue his Iran policy after this week's intelligence switcheroo, but the fact that the White House has had to spin so furiously is a sign of how badly it has bungled this episode. In sum, Mr. Bush and his staff have allowed the intelligence bureaucracy to frame a new judgment in a way that has undermined four years of U.S. effort to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions….
The Chinese are backing away from whatever support they might have provided for tougher sanctions against Iran, while Russia has used the NIE as another reason to oppose them. Most delighted are the Iranians, who called the NIE a "victory" and reasserted their intention to proceed full-speed ahead with uranium enrichment. Behind the scenes, we can expect Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to expand their nuclear efforts as they conclude that the U.S. will now be unable to stop Iran from getting the bomb.
We reported earlier this week that the authors of this Iran NIE include former State Department officials who have a history of hostility to Mr. Bush's foreign policy. But the ultimate responsibility for this fiasco lies with Mr. Bush. Too often he has appointed, or tolerated, officials who oppose his agenda, and failed to discipline them even when they have worked against his policies. Instead of being candid this week about the problems with the NIE, Mr. Bush and his National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, tried to spin it as a victory for their policy. They simply weren't believable.
It's a sign of the Bush Administration's flagging authority that even many of its natural allies wondered this week if the NIE was really an attempt to back down from its own Iran policy. We only wish it were that competent.