Posted by Joshua on Friday, April 2nd, 2010
Kerry’s visit to Damascus has inspired Syria to put its best foot forward. Ahmed Salkini’s OpEd (copied below) expresses Syria’s eagerness to meet the US half way. “When peace is achieved,” he writes, “the cause for resistance vanishes.”
Bashar al-Assad is also working on a rapprochement with Egypt in order to forge greater agreement on the Palestinian issue. He will travel to Cairo soon, according to the Egyptian paper Al-Masriyun.
John Kerry is playing a key role in keeping engagement with Syria on track. He reiterated in Damascus that “engagement with Syria is a priority at the highest levels of our government.” Syria’s importance has been underscored by its improving relations with Iraq and Lebanon. Junblatt’s visit to Damascus is only one manifestation of the growing consensus in Beirut that good relations with Damascus will be crucial factor in to Lebanon’s future.
Iraqi politicians have also been canvasing Damascus for support and improved relations as we saw with the visit of senior Sadrists to Syria. President Assad is keen on cultivating good relations with the next government in Baghdad with an eye to pushing forward with economic planning between the two countries, particularly in breaking ground for the new oil pipeline. If Maliki is able to keep his seat at the helm of the Daawa Party and form the next Iraqi government, Damascus will have been dealt a blow. Maliki does not like Syria and relations with Iraq have only deteriorated over the last year of his government. The Syrian government has long supported Iyad Allawi who is pro-Baathist, secular and stands for strong central government in Iraq. The chances of Allawi being able to form a government seem slim indeed. Finding partners to form a solid coalition will be very difficult for Allawi, whose support for Sunni Baathists annoys many Shiites. He was also a close collaborator with the CIA during his years in exile.
As always, the key story in Syria is the economy. Syria is undergoing an intense period of reform. Never has it been more open to new ideas. Dardari is pushing briskly ahead with economic legal reform. He plans $130 billion in investment over the next five years, most coming from the private sector. The aim is to promote %8 growth. The government will have to lower interest rates and allow the currency to drop in value before it reaches growth figures close to %8. The Ministry of Finance will also have to create a bond market, which it is resisting.
“Facts are stubborn things”
By Ahmed Salkini, March 31, 2010
As the confirmation of Robert Ford for the post of Ambassador to Syria goes through its due process, it is a propitious moment to examine the premises of the Syrian-US dialogue. While we have certain undeniable differences, we share common visions and common opinions – the simplest of which that neither side is under any unrealistic illusions. The road ahead will inevitably prove challenging. Yet, it is through a continuous and honest dialogue that we can overcome these challenges, because no matter our preference, we have inescapably common interests.
Certain skeptics have raised their voices in dissension regarding the emerging Syrian-US rapprochement. They typically ground their argument on a claim of the futility of cooperation, while evoking recent memory of tumultuous times. Yet historical and current facts stand in opposition to these skeptics’ claim. And as John Adams once said, “facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
History has proven that through cooperation, much can be achieved to further both countries’ national interests. With our troops fighting and spilling blood side-by-side, we managed to liberate Kuwait in 1990. The following year, and through close coordination, we contrived the Madrid Peace Conference; although it did not bring about the much-anticipated just peace, its accords set the framework and contours for any future comprehensive peace agreement. In both occasions, it took intensive American diplomacy by an illustrious Secretary of State, James Baker, and in both cases cooperation yielded positive results. In the 1980’s through close coordination between the American, Syrian, and other Arab sides, we managed to bring an end to the bloody Lebanese civil war after years of ostensible endless fighting. Most importantly, after the heinous events of 9/11, Syria reached out to the US in its warring efforts against Al-Qaeda with “actionable information” that “helped save American lives,” according to then-Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
On the other hand, what did non-engagement of recent years achieve? Its proponents in Washington have, for the most part, left their offices as they watched their goal of isolating Syria dissipate. At the time, two esteemed American statesmen who opposed that policy, Senators John Kerry (Democrat) and Chuck Hagel (Republican), put it best: “our policy of non-engagement has isolated us more than the Syrians.” This was recently echoed by a former Bush-official and current Obama-appointee, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffery Feltman: “consequently, the United States, not Syria, seems to be isolated.” On the Syrian side, we have made it abundantly clear that although we emerged unscathed from attempts to isolate us and proved that we can withstand the most prodigious pressure, unfavorable relations with the world’s superpower are not conductive to peace.
Admittedly, there are inexorable and philosophical differences; namely, disagreement over what constitutes a terrorist and a freedom fighter in regards to occupied Arab territories. What we see as an Arab (Christian and Muslim) fighting to liberate his occupied land, US administrations labels as a terrorist. What we see as Israeli crimes against humanity, the US sees as not. However, drowning in a vicious cycle of dogmatic arguments over definitions diverts our attention to the root cause of the problem: illegal Israeli occupation and a lack of peace. When peace is achieved, and Israeli occupation of Arab land ends, the cause for resistance vanishes. This goal of just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is a cardinal national interest for Syria and the US -and one that is inconceivable without our cooperation.
We also share prime national interests in Iraq. We agree on the end goal: a unified, stable, and secure Iraq; we agree on the process: foreign troop withdrawal and a firm buttressing of Iraq’s unity and sovereignty. The ground, and frame, work are laid for trilateral cooperation on different matters, including borders. Such cooperation can facilitate US troop withdrawal and expedite Iraq’s progress.
Prudence and realism dictate the imperative of setting-aside our specific differences and setting our eyes on the larger picture. No one party can address the myriad issues facing our region, from achieving peace to bringing full security and stability to Iraq. It is only through a concerted and inclusive effort that we can further our mutual goals. This process should be grounded in mutual respect and understanding, as has been stressed by Presidents Assad and Obama. Syria’s position is unequivocal in rejecting a language of dictation. Those who came to Damascus with a list of demands and no reciprocity, returned empty-handed. Those who come with a vision for peace, stability, and cooperation will find a warm, embracing, welcome.
Our road ahead will not be paved solely by success. Doubters and parasites will persist in their efforts to undermine ours. But we must always remember, pursuing our respective interest dictates that we persevere. We have no choice -facts are simply “stubborn things.”
Author’s Bio: Ahmed Salkini is the Spokesperson of the Syrian Embassy in Washington and a political adviser to the Ambassador.
Kerry: Syria is committed to Mideast peace
By Middle East Online
Kerry: Obama wants to engage Syria as key peace player
US senator says Syria is essential player in bringing peace, stability to Mideast region.
DAMASCUS – President Barack Obama’s administration considers Syria a key player in Washington’s efforts to revive the stalled Middle East peace process, US Senator John Kerry said in Damascus on Thursday.
“Syria is an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region,” Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a speech after meeting President Bashar al-Assad. “Both the United States and Syria have a very deep interest… in having a very frank exchange on any differences (and) agreements that we have about the possibilities of peace in this region,” he said in the statement.
A summit of Arab leaders last weekend ruled out renewed Palestinian-Israeli peace talks unless the Jewish state halts all settlement building, particularly in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.
“There are things that the United States can do, there are things that Syria can do, there are things that Israel can do, Turkey can do, some are unilateral, some are multilateral,” Kerry said. “But all of us have to work together in order to seize real opportunities.” Obama’s administration has pursued a year-long campaign to engage Syria, a former US foe, and energise its thwarted push for a broad Arab-Israeli peace, particularly between Israel and the Palestinians.
Its decision in February to appoint the first US ambassador to Damascus in five years was “evidence that engagement with Syria is a priority at the highest levels of our government,” said the former US presidential candidate. Envoy Robert Ford is still awaiting US confirmation of his new post, but “he will be an excellent representative of the president’s policies and an outstanding envoy to the Syrian government,” Kerry said.
He also called on Syria to play a role to halt the supply of weapons to Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah. “We also remain deeply concerned about the flow of weapons in this area, through this area, to Hezbollah. That is something that must stop in order to promote regional stability and security,” Kerry said.
Contacts between Cairo and Damascus to secure Assad visit to Egypt…”
Al-Mesryoon (Thanks to MidEastwire.com)
by Omar al-Qalyubi
Al-Mesryoon has learned there were contacts at a high level currently ongoing between Cairo and Damascus in preparation for the first visit in over four years of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Egypt to wish President Hosni Mubarak well following his gallbladder surgery and to turn the page of tensions which affected the relations between the two commands due to the disputes over the Lebanese dossier. Diplomatic sources thus mentioned that President Al-Assad’s visit was expected next week in case the arrangements for it are completed and in case an agreement is reached over the dossiers which will be addressed during the anticipated meeting.
“They also added that there were preparations underway for a visit which will be conducted by President Mubarak to Damascus in the next few coming months, considering that this visit will constitute an announcement of the resumption of the relations between the two countries and the end of the stalemate which had so far affected them. The sources considered that the visit [of Al-Assad] will have a positive impact on several important dossiers, especially the ones related to the peace process and the Palestinian reconciliation, since Damascus’ influence over the Palestinian factions could be used to ensure the signing of the reconciliation which was massively obstructed after Fatah and Hamas had almost signed it at the end of last year.
Syria Plans $130 Billion in Investment by 2015, Syria News Says
By Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg) 2010-04-01
Syria plans $130 billion in investment from 2011 to 2015 to raise the country’s annual economic growth rate to 8 percent from 5.5 percent last year, Syria News reported. The private sector will contribute $77 billion to the program and the government will provide the rest, the news service said on its Web site.
The plan is based on a budget deficit of less than 3 percent of gross domestic product, a balance of payment deficit of less than 3 percent, an inflation rate of less than 3 percent and a rising economic growth rate, the news service said, citing Deputy Prime Minister Abdallah al-Dardari.
Paper hails purchase of two French planes by Syria
2010-04-01 translation by BBC MidEast
Al-Thawrah website on 29 March
by Ali Mahmud Jadid
Despite Unjust Sanctions Commercial Bank Breaks Price of International Banks’ Deals in London Market, Renews High Skills by Financing Syrian Planes] The Syrian Commercial Bank’s financing of Syrian Airways purchase of two planes carries many meanings of defiance. It also points to the correct visions of the bank, and the courage that it is able to achieve the impossible, or something similar…..
Druze leader takes road to Damascus
By Meris Lutz (Los Angeles Times) 2010-04-01
It may have been fashionable in 2007 to call the president of Syria “a snake, a butcher, a liar … and a criminal,” but it could make things awkward when you’re sitting across from him three years later.
Then again, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s meeting with Bashar al Assad on Wednesday – the first in six years – was really more of a reunion. The notoriously mercurial Jumblatt was a staunch ally of Syria before he rode the wave of anti-Syrian sentiment to the forefront of Lebanese politics, and then switched sides again when he felt the wind shift.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if privately Bashar was like ‘well played’ to Jumblatt,” said Harvard researcher and Lebanon expert Elias Muhanna. Jumblatt “always gets out ahead of everyone else, and I think [Assad] understands that, so it could very well be a frank and candid conversation.”
The meeting was the culmination of a two-year campaign by Jumblatt to get back in Assad’s good graces with the help of Syria’s ally in Lebanon, the militant Shiite group Hezbollah.
Earlier this month, Jumblatt, a former darling of neoconservatives in Washington, publicly apologized for his incendiary comments about the Syrian president, claiming he got swept up in the passion of the so-called Cedar Revolution that followed the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
The meeting produced the compulsory sound bites about Lebanon and Syria’s “historical” and “brotherly” relations, but analysts say it shows more about the cyclical nature of dynastic politics in this corner of the world.
After 2005, Jumblatt accused Syrian intelligence of being behind his father’s 1977 assassination. Now that he is preparing his son, Taymour, to take over, he may be returning to Damascus to smooth things over.
“Jumblatt wants to make sure that his son is received in Damascus and receives the benefits of that relationship,” Muhanna said.
From Syria’s perspective, Jumblatt’s visit is an affirmation of Assad’s power, as well as an opportunity to shore up support for Hezbollah in case members of the group are implicated in the investigation into Hariri’s killing, said Muhanna.
“Jumblatt knows that the image of him going back to Damascus is something Syria wants, for Bashar to show his own people that even his most virulent critics have come back and paid homage,” Muhanna said.
Jumblatt began realigning himself after the events of May 7, 2008, when Hezbollah fighters took over most of Beirut and the Druze stronghold of Aley. Soon after, he effectively withdrew from the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition. Since then, even Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the son of the slain prime minister and leader of the March 14 movement, have paid their respects in Damascus.
Jumblatt’s meeting with Assad coincided with another meeting in Lebanon between Saad Hariri and U.S. Sen. John Kerry. The former presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee emphasized U.S. support for a “free and independent” Lebanon before heading to Damascus late Wednesday to hold talks with Assad in an effort to secure Syria’s cooperation in peace talks.
Syria after the Iraqi elections: Now comes Lebanon’s turn
On April 1, (thanks to mideastwire.com)
Around one month ago, the Damascus visitors were coming back with stories and analyses that stirred the sarcasm of those waiting for them in the capital’s cafés or in the offices of its MPs. They were speaking about the primary features of Syrian ideas that would start with a sudden Lebanese development (the accusation of Lebanese officials of being Israeli agents is not far from that) and would end with a governmental change represented by replacing the two Lebanese Forces ministers with others from the previous opposition…
“The expectations that used to stir a laugh, quickly proved to be true. Indeed, clear Syrian messages started to arrive one after another to the two Presidents Michel Suleiman and Sa’ad al-Hariri along with Walid Junblatt. Damascus communicated with Al-Hariri via the regular channels, especially KSA. Al-Hariri started to understand. He understood how serious the Syrian-Saudi position is about taking one of their kind, practical steps – including governmental, political, media, and partisan steps – in order to improve his relation with the Syrian system.
“At the same time, Maj. Gen. Rustom Ghazali reconnected [the relation] that was severed between him and the General Director of the Internal Security Forces Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi on the one hand, and between himself and the Head of the information department Colonel Wissam al-Hassan on the other hand with all that these two men represent within the Sa’ad al-Hariri structure. Here, it can be stressed that the Syrian-Hariri relation has evolved in the last week of the Al-Hariri cabinet’s time in a way that is more extensive than the 90 days of this cabinet’s lifespan.
“As for president Michel Suleiman who did not want, ever since he became president, to open up a military line for his political relation with the Syrian command, he was hit by the clear messages carried by the former Minister Wiam Wahhab during his extensive media appearance. Suleiman quickly understood, especially after the visit of the Syrian ambassador in Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim to Baabda palace, the seriousness of Wahhab’s talk…
“Thus, tells a Syrian source, Syria overcame the need for a governmental change by making a serious grab for keys that it was supposed to grab a while ago…And after empowering the official relations between the two States and blocking the road to the Suleiman-Hariri hesitations in regard to the relation with Syria, and regardless of the two presidents position ofn some internal matters, the turn of the Syrian-Junblatt relation came and a clear message was delivered to the Mukhtara leader [saying that] his relation with Damascus goes exclusively through Haret Hreik [Hezbollah’s strong hold]…
“The Syrian maestro did not stop there. Harmony prevailed again in the relation of Omar Karami and former Minister Abdel-Rahim Murad… At the same time, Al-Marada Movement’s leader MP Suleiman Franjieh started to fix the problems that affected his relationship with General Michel Aoun lately… But why did Syria wake up now to the re-arrangement of its relations with the Lebanese…? No matter what the reasons are, Syria seems to be today more relaxed then ever in regards to the Lebanese context.” – Al-Akhbar Lebanon, Lebanon