Posted by Joshua on Sunday, April 26th, 2009
Is Clinton’s Visit to Lebanon tantamount to throwing down the gauntlet? Is it a challenge to the Lebanese not to vote for March 8 and notice to Syria to help throw the elections in Hariri’s favor if it wants engagement, relief from sanctions, and help with Israel?
Clinton’s decision to campaign for anti-Syrian zaims in Lebanon does not mean that the US will not engage Syria in a meaningful way. Clinton’s visit to Lebanon, prompted one Syrian friend to write:
“Clinton has finally made her move, and how predictable it is? Forget it. They will never give Syria what it wants. The status quo is back. Obama is no different from any previous president.”
I don’t agree with this conclusion. If the pro-Syrian coalition wins the elections, Washington will have to find a way to finesse. Why would the US punish the Lebanese for their decision to elect a party that is pro-Iranian? Obama is different from Bush, who decided to punish the Palestinians for voting contrary to US interests.
Clinton has threatened that the US will cut off US aid to Lebanon – a warning to the Lebanese not to vote for March 8. But it the Lebanese defy the US and vote for March 8 anyway, the US can cut aid but continue to finesse the situation by allowing the French and British to step forward and engage the new Lebanese government. Britain has begun a direct dialogue with Hizbullah. France has stated that it can live with any outcome of the elections so long as powersharing is respected in the new government. Both Britain and France have made it clear that they are willing to accept Lebanon’s democratic results without a major tantrum if their prefered party doesn’t win.
The US manages to shut its eyes to Hizbullah’s presence in Lebanon’s government today. What is to stop it from doing this even if March 8 wins? Eye shutting will admittedly be harder to do if March 8 forms the next government; but March 8 has already made a number of suggestions about how pro-American elements can play a big role in any new government. This compromise could be used as a basis to assuage US anger and mollify any desire on the part of Washington to pick up its marbles and go home.
After all, if Obama uses a March 8 victory in Lebanon to join Israel in refusing to engage Syria in a meaningful way, he will make a mockery of his campaign promises to do something about Arab-Israeli peace. Syria can soft peddle its influence in Lebanon, but it will not abandon it. The notion that Syria will realign its regional alliances as a prerequisite for engaging the US is a non-starter. It is also hard to believe that Washington is insisting that Syria throw the Lebanonese elections to March 14 in order to gain US engagement.
Washington has only said that it does not want coercion or violence in the elections, which is fair enough. We have already read about the massive amount of money that is flowing into Lebanon to influence the elections – presumably to help America’s and Saudi Arabia’s allies win. It will be interesting to see if Clinton speaks out about this as well.
Syrian diplomates are being reasured that Obama means business on Arab-Israeli peace. They insist that administration figures are not speaking the old language of conditions, i.e. give up Hamas, Hizbullah, and influence in Lebanon in order to get engagement, a fair hearing on the Golan, and relief from sanctions. I guess we will have to wait and see if my anxious Syrian friends are reading too much into Clinton’s surprise visit to Lebanon in advance of the June 7 elections.
VIENNA (AFP)–Syrian President Bashar al-Assad insisted on the return of the Golan Heights but said he could not foresee peace talks with Israel anytime soon, in an interview with an Austrian daily published Sunday.
“What counts in the end, is that there is occupied territory that must be returned to Syria, and then we can talk about peace,” Assad told the newspaper Die Presse, ahead of a visit to Austria Sunday.
“We do not make a peaceful solution dependent on the Israeli government. Governments in Israel come and go, whereas peace is a fixed goal that one must work towards consistently, even when there is no partner,” he said.
But he added: “I am not very optimistic about this government,” describing it as an “extreme, far-right government that does not support peace.”
Assad’s comments came as a split appeared Sunday within the Israeli government of hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu on possible peace negotiations with Syria.
After firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he could not see Syria as “a real partner for any type of agreement” in a newspaper interview Saturday, Defence Minister Ehud Barak told reporters that Tehran had an interest in holding talks with Damascus.
Clinton reassures Lebanon on overtures to Syria
The Associated Press
“There is nothing that we would do in any way that would undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty,” Clinton said. “I want to assure any Lebanese citizen that the United States will never make any deal with Syria that sells out Lebanon and the Lebanese people. You have been through too much and it is only right that you are given a chance to make your own decisions,” Clinton said.
“It’s a complicated neighborhood you live in and you have the right to your own future,” she added.
Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Mussawi said Clinton’s visit could have a negative impact on the pro-U.S. factions in the country. … But he added that American “interference in the past was never positive.” He also criticized what he termed a “double standard and deception” when the U.S. calls for Islamic factions to participate in elections and then refuses to accept the results if they win.
…U.S. officials have said they would review aid to Lebanon, including military assistance, depending on the composition of the new government.
Associated Press Thanks to FLC
“… While urging free and fair elections, the Obama administration is treading carefully. The Bush administration encouraged the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and then saw the radical Hamas movement win handily and badly damage efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Reflecting that concern, Clinton met during her brief stay with just one senior official, President Suleiman. U.S. officials say her meeting with Suleiman only is because the U.S. doesn’t want to be seen as taking sides in the elections. Suleiman is considered a consensus leader and neutral in the political struggle…” After the visit, Clinton, still hoping not to be seen as taking sides, visited the shrine of rafic hariri accompanied by his son….
April 26 (Bloomberg) — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he favors a resumption of peace talks with Syria, after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he opposed talks with Damascus if there were “pre-conditions.”
6 years in prison for airing Hezbollah TV in NYC, By LARRY NEUMEISTER
NEW YORK (AP) — A Pakistani immigrant described by prosecutors as “Hezbollah’s man in New York City” was sentenced Thursday to nearly six years in prison for airing the militant group’s television station. “He is a businessman and sought to provide services he thought would generate profits,” Dratel wrote.
Iqbal, who has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, will most likely be deported once he has completed his prison sentence, Dratel said. Iqbal, a former car mechanic, is married with five children and a sixth child due in July. Dratel called the airing of Al Manar “one discreet and narrow aspect” of an otherwise legitimate broadcasting company that also aired Christian programming, adult entertainment, a Jamaican channel and a gay and lesbian channel.
Iqbal, who has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, will most likely be deported once he has completed his prison sentence, Dratel said. Iqbal, a former car mechanic, is married with five children and a sixth child due in July.