Kerry’s Unusual Role in Mediating U.S.-Syria Relations

My new phone # in Damascus is 963-992473085.

Kerry’s Unusual Role in Mediating U.S.-Syria Relations
By David Ignatius | June 1, 2009 | Washington Post,

The long-stalled U.S. diplomatic engagement with Syria is moving forward — thanks to an unusual bit of mediation by Sen. John Kerry.

A mini-breakthrough in U.S.-Syria relations came Sunday in a telephone conversation between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, according to U.S. and Syrian sources. Moallem said that Syria would welcome a visit by U.S. Central Command officers to Damascus this month to discuss joint efforts to stabilize Iraq. In return, Clinton promised to develop a joint “road map” for improving bilateral relations between the two countries.

Kerry reportedly played a key role in breaking the logjam between the two countries, which had worsened after the Obama administration announced last month that it was renewing sanctions against Damascus under the Syria Accountability Act. The Syrians had been expecting that move, but they were upset by a presidential statement accompanying the renewal, which repeated harsh Bush administration language that said Syria posed an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.” The Syrians said that unless this sharp language was withdrawn and the bilateral relationship improved, they wouldn’t provide the security assistance that Centcom wanted.

Enter the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

According to Syrian diplomatic sources, Kerry and Syrian President Bashar Assad have been developing a relationship of “respect and friendship,” including a long private dinner between the two men and their wives at the Narenj restaurant in the old city of Damascus when Kerry was there in March.

Kerry is said to have called Assad twice over the past two weeks to explore ways to improve relations; at the same time, he was talking to the Obama White House and State Department. In these and other conversations, apparently, the gap between the two countries was narrowed. Kerry’s office had no comment today.

The result of this mediation was Sunday’s carefully scripted conversation between Clinton and Moallem. Clinton told her Syrian counterpart, “We will be prepared to discuss with you all issues related to Syrian-American relations,” according to one transcript of the conversation. The U.S. pledged to “focus our efforts on forming a new sort of relationship,” according to this transcript. There was no pledge about when the U.S. will send an ambassador back to Damascus; the ambassador was withdrawn after the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, an attack for which many Lebanese blamed Syria.

The road map toward better relations will be discussed when Sen. George Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy for the Middle East, visits Damascus, probably this week. He will be the most senior U.S. official to visit Syria since relations went into the deep freeze three four years ago.

The Syria opening is part of a larger effort toward engagement by the Obama administration in the Middle East. President Obama will take that message to the heart of the Arab world Thursday in a Cairo speech that will discuss America’s desire for better relations, including contact with longtime adversaries, such as Syria and Iran.

Kerry’s role in all this is intriguing for two reasons: First, it shows that the former Democratic presidential candidate is carving out a role for himself as a foreign-policy player — courageously taking on issues that are sensitive in political and policy terms. Second, it shows a fluid and creative foreign-policy process in the Obama administration, in which people outside the White House inner circle are able to get the president’s attention and push the envelope.

Comments (19)


1. why-discuss said:

Interview with OBAMA on the Middle East on NPR

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104797238&ft=1&f=2

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June 2nd, 2009, 1:46 am

 

2. Sasa said:

Am I the only one who finds it interesting that Bashar seems to consider Naranj his restaurant of choice. It’s also where he took Sarkozy last year: http://newsfromsyria.com/2008/09/04/presidents-chat-over-a-damascene-dinner/

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June 2nd, 2009, 8:51 am

 

3. Akbar Palace said:

Why-Discuss,

If I were Netanyahu, I would go on NPR and ask Obama how he intends to make peace with the Taliban and al-Queda.q:o)

Sometimes, you have to be honest.;)

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June 2nd, 2009, 11:22 am

 

4. nafdik said:

Akbar,

If I were Natanyahu, I would use the small window I have to make peace with all my neighbors.

The world is in transition, anti-Israel sentiment is very high all over the world except the US and hate for Israel is extremely high in all Muslim countries.

Combine a change to a multi-polar world with more democracy in Muslim countries and you have a very ugly scenario to deal with in the coming decades.

This is just a realist view of the situation irrespective of the justice of your position.

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June 2nd, 2009, 12:51 pm

 

5. Shai said:

Nafdik,

You are absolutely right, and my bet is that Bibi will come to understand this in the near future. As a friend of Israel’s recently said (Obama): “Good friends also have to be honest…” It is high time the U.S. is honest with itself, and with Israel.

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June 2nd, 2009, 12:57 pm

 

6. Shai said:

Lieberman ready to talk to Syria (without preconditions): “The foreign minister added that he ready “to pack his suitcase today” for talks with Syria provided that Damascus does not place preconditions on the negotiations.”

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1089819.html

Putting aside the unlikelihood of Syria agreeing to this, for internal Israeli purposes, this is actually good. If Israelis begin to notice political leaders ready to talk to our “Axis of Evil” neighbor, they will begin to wake up again, and reconsider their belligerent stance. In the 1990’s, we had a majority in favor of withdrawal from the Golan. It can happen again.

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June 2nd, 2009, 1:05 pm

 

7. nafdik said:

Here are my pessimistic predictions regarding this:

– Neither Israel nor the Syrian Regime have any interest in returning the Golan

– They both want to start the negotiations as it crates a few years of distraction and they can start asking the US to give them things in return

– The negotiations will go nowhere with Bashar claiming at any suitable moment that he can not abandon his Palestinian brethren and/or the Israelis claiming he has to stop supporting some phantom terrorists somewhere

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June 2nd, 2009, 1:32 pm

 

8. Akbar Palace said:

If I were Natanyahu, I would use the small window I have to make peace with all my neighbors.

Nafdik,

Suppose “all my neighbors” don’t want to make peace with Israel?

The world is in transition, anti-Israel sentiment is very high all over the world except the US and hate for Israel is extremely high in all Muslim countries.

You mean like in 1948? I don’t sense the “transition”. I sense “hate for Israel … in all Muslim countries” to be about the same as it was before Israel stepped over the Arab-only green line.

Combine a change to a multi-polar world with more democracy in Muslim countries and you have a very ugly scenario to deal with in the coming decades.

What democracy?

This is just a realist view of the situation irrespective of the justice of your position.

A realist view could be that peace is not attainable with Israel. Sorry, please don’t tell Obama I said that.

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June 2nd, 2009, 3:00 pm

 

9. nafdik said:

Akbar,

I agree with you the situation is very similar to the 1940s. Back then, Israel managed to create a new state and change the demographics of the region.

Now we are facing a similar era, changes will happen, they could be in favor of Israel or not.

Do you think the 1948 outcome was a foregone conclusion? Do you want to be in a double or nothing situation again?

A major change in the situation is that the new world creates new opportunities for everybody, and is much less predicatable. Vietnamese car makers could soon outstrip American ones.

If you remain the enemy of the Muslim world you are exposing yourself to a huge danger. Your fear of Iranian nukes should be a wake-up call.

The Israel you dream of is best preserved post-americana by making a deal with the Palestinians and the Arabs in general as soon as possible.

You scorn Muslim democracy, but ignore Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and even Iran.

Another forgotten danger to Israel is a strong Iraq that could emerge in the next decade, that might strike an alliance with Iran and/or Syria.

What you should understand is that this is not going to be a war waged by tanks and planes, but a geopolitical game where Russia, Europe and China for example will support an embargo on Isreal in order to appease relations with the Muslim block. the embargo will force a radical change in policy for Israel and might even force it to lose its Jewish identity.

Think South Africa rather than the Alamein.

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June 2nd, 2009, 3:27 pm

 

10. Shai said:

Nafdik,

“Do you want to be in a double or nothing situation again?”

Perfect! That’s precisely what I believe NO ONE in the region wants to try. And that also goes for Syria. I’ve heard that theory many times before, also by Israelis, that Assad doesn’t “really want” the Golan, because it weakens him. I don’t buy it for a second.

How could attaining Syrian territory lost twice in war to Israel be weakening the regime, and not strengthening it? Because suddenly Syria won’t be able to be ruled under “emergency laws”? Why? No Israeli territory is occupied by any foreign entity, we are ruling over others’ territory, and yet WE live under emergency laws! In any normal country, a military court cannot try non-military people. Not so in Israel. And, though it hasn’t happened yet, a military court can sentence people to death. In Israel, the Prime Minister and Defense Minister have far greater powers than their equivalent leaders in other Western nations. Almost without exception, our Parliament hears about major PM decisions long after they were taken. Not to mention that half the time, our PM’s nominated themselves to also Defense Minister (holding both positions at the same time), thus needing to “consult” only with themselves on super-crucial issues regarding Israel.

KSA seems to have no particular problem restricting freedom and withholding basic human rights from its citizens, without any territorial conflict with its neighbors. The Syrian government doesn’t need the Golan to remain in Israeli hands in order to survive. But a military coup could, one day, overthrow Assad precisely because neither he nor his father were able to get back the Golan to its rightful owner.

As for Israel, in the past our leaders were not strong enough to deliver the Golan. Barak got cold feet, fearing he’ll lose his seat. Olmert didn’t act quickly enough. Sharon before him only went as far as secretly allowing Alon Liel to talk to Syria (via Ibrahim Suleiman). But Bibi may be different (I hope). And he already has a track record, of offering the Golan to Hafez Assad in August 1998. Despite his rhetoric of today, or his rhetoric back in the 1990’s, there’s no doubt the thoughts have more than run across his mind. Now we’ll see if he is courageous enough, or not.

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June 2nd, 2009, 3:53 pm

 

11. Shai said:

Akbar,

“Suppose “all my neighbors” don’t want to make peace with Israel?”

You can repeat that mantra all day long, until you’re blue in the face, but it still doesn’t make it true. What neighbors don’t want peace? Jordan? Egypt? Lebanon?

Ah, Hezbollah doesn’t “recognize Israel” (funny, it certainly DOES when it talks to us about prisoner exchange). Does Hezbollah represent the entire Lebanese people? Syria doesn’t want peace? What other Arab nation, in all of our 60 year history, has ever almost-begged us to make peace, for so long? How many more times does Bashar Assad and his top government officials have to say “Peace with Israel is Syria’s Strategic Decision!”? Ah, but they’re arming Hezbollah, and remaining allied to Iran… What do you expect them to do, arm AIPAC, and be friends-of-the-Likud? Until the last i is dotted, and the last t is crossed, with that Pilot pen, Syria will not stop being our enemy and, by the way, Israel will not stop being hers! That is reality, even if you don’t like it. Even if enemies who talk about peace, don’t deliver it one nanosecond before it is signed.

But you go on repeating your little mantra “No one wants peace with us!” And, if you say it long enough, maybe our neighbors will believe it.

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June 2nd, 2009, 4:02 pm

 

12. Majid said:

Deleted by author

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June 2nd, 2009, 5:27 pm

 

13. majid said:

Deleted by author

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June 2nd, 2009, 5:36 pm

 

14. majid said:

Invitation Only

RE: AP’s ‘blessed conversion to Islam’. Please see here comments 97 to 103.

That’s a very good start AP. I suggest that you continue reading the Qur’an, because you’ll discover that it is full of treasures that even Muslims don’t know up till the present their full value. For example how do we understand the following two verses?

” (133 Or were you witnesses when death approached Ya`qub (Jacob) When he said unto his sons, “What will you worship after me?” They said, “We shall worship your AIlah (God ـ Allah) the Ilah (God) of your fathers, Ibrahim (Abraham), Isma`il (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), One IIlah (One God), and to Him we submit as Muslims”)

(134. That was a nation who has passed away. They shall receive the reward of what they earned and you of what you earn. And you will not be asked of what they used to do.)”

Muslims understand them on the basis that Islam is the ORIGINAL and ONLY TRUE Religion that existed since Creation. The word Jew in Arabic derives from the verb “hadou” which means those who were guided to the original true religion of Islam. And this is exactly what Jacob (Israel) is advising his sons about in his last will. It is clear the Qur’an refers to them as a nation which has passed away and you (new comers) will not be asked about what they earned. Does it make sense to you now?

Let’s look at these other verses:

”(1. Glorified be He Who took His servant for a Journey by Night from Al-Masjid Al-Haram to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa, the neighborhood whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him of Our Ayat (Signs). Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.)

(4. And We decreed for the Children of Israel in the Scripture: “Indeed you would do mischief in the land twice and you will become tyrants and extremely arrogant!”)

(5. So, when the promise came for the first of the two, We sent against you servants of Ours given to terrible warfare. They entered the very innermost parts of your homes. And it was a promise (completely) fulfilled.)

(6. Then We gave you a return of victory over them. And We helped you with wealth and children and made you more numerous in manpower.)

(7. (And We said): “If you do good, you do good for your own selves, and if you do evil (you do it) against yourselves.” Then, when the second promise came to pass, (We permitted your enemies) to disgrace your faces and to enter the Masjid as they had entered it before, and to destroy with utter destruction all that fell in their hands.)

(8. It may be that your Lord may show mercy unto you, but if you return (to sins), We shall return (to Our punishment). And We have made Hell a prison for the disbelievers.)”

And there are lot more passages in the Holy Qur’an that require careful attention. It is only the Mahdi (A.S.) who will be given the undisputed understanding of the KNOWLEDGE that was revealed by Allah to the ancients since the time of Creation who can resolve these issues. He (A.S.) will also be given the power to establish the reign of ultimate and absolute justice on all of earth after it has been plagued by an unprecedented level of evil and injustice wrought upon it particularly since the end of the nineteenth century when the evil ideology of zionism appeared and further caused the straying away of the Jews from the straight path of Islam contrary to Jacobs last will. He (A.S.) will prepare the world for the final Judgment, and in his time there will be only one relevant Book, namely the Qura’n from which you quoted those verses. So, I encourage you to continue reading that Book just in case you happen to live long enough and meet the Promised One.

That is why I told Norman that it is not our duty (Arabs and Muslims) to save the zionists, and that we should exercise patience until the Mahdi (A.S.) appears. In the meantime we cannot trade or discourse with them or indulge in any similar exchanges even under the guise of so-called peace. And that is why it is important to exercise patience for few years.

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June 2nd, 2009, 5:41 pm

 

15. Shai said:

Akbar,

Hevanta, Baruch? (Hebrew for “Got it, Joe?”)

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June 2nd, 2009, 5:43 pm

 

16. majid said:

Invitation Only

RE: AP’s ‘blessed conversion to Islam’. Please see here comments 97 to 103.

That’s a very good start AP. I suggest that you continue reading the Qur’an, because you’ll discover that it is full of treasures that even Muslims don’t know up till the present their full value. For example how do we understand the following two verses?

” (133 Or were you witnesses when death approached Ya`qub (Jacob) When he said unto his sons, “What will you worship after me?” They said, “We shall worship your AIlah (God ـ Allah) the Ilah (God) of your fathers, Ibrahim (Abraham), Isma`il (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), One IIlah (One God), and to Him we submit as Muslims”)

(134. That was a nation who has passed away. They shall receive the reward of what they earned and you of what you earn. And you will not be asked of what they used to do.)”

Muslims understand them on the basis that Islam is the ORIGINAL and ONLY TRUE Religion that existed since Creation. The word Jew in Arabic derives from the verb “hadou” which means those who were guided to the original true religion of Islam. And this is exactly what Jacob (Israel) is advising his sons about in his last will. It is clear the Qur’an refers to them as a nation which has passed away and you (new comers) will not be asked about what they earned. Does it make sense to you now?

Let’s look at these other verses:

”(1. Glorified be He Who took His servant for a Journey by Night from Al-Masjid Al-Haram to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa, the neighborhood whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him of Our Ayat (Signs). Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.)

(4. And We decreed for the Children of Israel in the Scripture: “Indeed you would do mischief in the land twice and you will become tyrants and extremely arrogant!”)

(5. So, when the promise came for the first of the two, We sent against you servants of Ours given to terrible warfare. They entered the very innermost parts of your homes. And it was a promise (completely) fulfilled.)

(6. Then We gave you a return of victory over them. And We helped you with wealth and children and made you more numerous in manpower.)</i?

(7. (And We said): “If you do good, you do good for your own selves, and if you do evil (you do it) against yourselves.” Then, when the second promise came to pass, (We permitted your enemies) to disgrace your faces and to enter the Masjid as they had entered it before, and to destroy with utter destruction all that fell in their hands.)

(8. It may be that your Lord may show mercy unto you, but if you return (to sins), We shall return (to Our punishment). And We have made Hell a prison for the disbelievers.)”

And there are lot more passages in the Holy Qur’an that require careful attention. It is only the Mahdi (A.S.) who will be given the undisputed understanding of the KNOWLEDGE that was revealed by Allah to the ancients since the time of Creation who can resolve these issues. He (A.S.) will also be given the power to establish the reign of ultimate and absolute justice on all of earth after it has been plagued by an unprecedented level of evil and injustice wrought upon it particularly since the end of the nineteenth century when the evil ideology of zionism appeared and further caused the straying away of the Jews from the straight path of Islam contrary to Jacob’s last will. He (A.S.) will prepare the world for the final Judgment, and in his time there will be only one relevant Book, namely the Qura’n from which you quoted those verses. So, I encourage you to continue reading that Book just in case you happen to live long enough and meet the Promised One.

That is why I told Norman that it is not our duty (Arabs and Muslims) to save the zionists, and that we should exercise patience until the Mahdi (A.S.) appears. In the meantime we cannot trade or discourse with them or indulge in any similar exchanges even under the guise of so-called peace. And that is why it is important to exercise patience for few years.

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June 2nd, 2009, 5:51 pm

 

17. t_desco said:

For the record, I still believe that Nizar Nayyuf’s article was written after the Spiegel article. Nizar Nayyuf’s track record is dodgy (“Saddam’s WMDs hidden in Syria”?). The reference to the spy networks gives it away, in my view: it is implausible at such an early date.

Climate change threatens Mideast stability: study
Tue Jun 2, 2009

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Climate change could spark “environmental wars” in the Middle East over already scarce water supplies and dissuade Israel from any pullout from occupied Arab land, an international report said on Tuesday. (…)

Regarding the Syria-Israel dispute, the report said Israeli concerns about “food security and reduced agricultural productivity could shift the strategic calculation on whether to withdraw” from the Golan Heights, occupied in a 1967 war.

“The expectation of coming environmental wars might imply that the way to deal with shrinking resources is to increase military control over them,” said the Danish-funded study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, an independent organization headquartered in Canada.

The Golan supplies 30 percent of the water for the Lake of Galilee, Israel’s main water reservoir.
(…)

Climate change will diminish water resources across the Middle East, the report said.

“In a region already considered the world’s most water scarce, climate models are predicting a hotter, drier and less predictable climate,” it said

“Higher temperature and less rainfall will reduce the flow of rivers and streams, slow the rate at which aquifers recharge, progressively raise sea levels and make the entire region more arid,” said the study, which focused on the Levant, the ancient land now comprising Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The report was released this week at the Danish Institute in Old Damascus, as part of activities before a major United Nations conference in Copenhagen in December that will discuss a new treaty to deal with climate.

The study raised the specter of water shortages and climate- induced crises hitting the economies of the Levant by 2050. (…)
Reuters

Syria Looks to Iraq for an Economic Boost

By JULIEN BARNES-DACEY

DAMASCUS — Syria, suffering from dwindling oil revenue and a sluggish, state-dominated market, is banking on an economic boost from an unlikely source: Iraq.

A recent thaw in the countries’ political relations is raising hopes in Damascus of an increase in trade.

Syrian Minister of Economy and Trade Amer Hosni Lutfi said during a recent trip to Iraq that he hopes to more than triple bilateral trade, now estimated at $800 million, far behind Syria’s biggest trade partners, China and Turkey, at $2 billion each.

Syrian officials also have said that a railway line from the coastal city of Tartous to Umm Qasr port in southern Iraq is opening this month. The railway promises a faster and cheaper route to the Mediterranean for regional goods typically shipped through the Suez Canal. (…)

Damascus says it thinks it can use its ports on the Mediterranean to build an important trade route between Iraq and Europe. Iraq’s population of 28 million promises a booming market for Syrian and other foreign goods.

Baghdad and Damascus already have agreed to reopen the Kirkuk-Banias oil pipeline, which extends from oil fields in northern Iraq to the Syrian port of Banias.

The two countries also have held discussions about building a natural-gas pipeline from Iraq’s Western Akkas fields to Syria, which could be an attractive transit point for gas-starved Arab and European markets.
WSJ

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June 2nd, 2009, 6:06 pm

 

18. Akbar Palace said:

If you remain the enemy of the Muslim world you are exposing yourself to a huge danger.

Nafdik,

This isn’t something entirely in Israel’s hands.

Your fear of Iranian nukes should be a wake-up call.

Our fear of Iranian nukes is only due to Iranian threats. Pakistan is a nuclear-weapons equipped Muslim nation and has been for years, however, because Pakistan hasn’t threatened Israel, there is no fear that Pakistani nukes should be a wake-up call.

The Israel you dream of is best preserved post-americana by making a deal with the Palestinians and the Arabs in general as soon as possible.

Israel has understood from the early 1990s that peace is the best long-term solution. This has succeeded with Egypt and Jordan, but has not yet succeeded with other countries. Again, I’m not sure this is entirely due to Israeli policies.

You scorn Muslim democracy, but ignore Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and even Iran.

What “muslim democracy” do I scorn? There is none. A democracy does not mean someone is elected and then an election is never held again. A democracy has term limits and laws and checks and balances. Be careful what you claim to be a democracy.

When the Nazi party won the largest parlimentary block in government in 1932, is doesn’t mean the Nazi party and their government was a democracy.

Another forgotten danger to Israel is a strong Iraq that could emerge in the next decade, that might strike an alliance with Iran and/or Syria.

A real democracy is less of a threat to Israel than a government where the president-for-life can do what he wants without answering to anyone.

What you should understand is that this is not going to be a war waged by tanks and planes, but a geopolitical game where Russia, Europe and China for example will support an embargo on Isreal in order to appease relations with the Muslim block.

I do not forsee Russia or China influencing the ME as much as you claim. Not if history is any indicator.

the embargo will force a radical change in policy for Israel and might even force it to lose its Jewish identity.

Israel’s Jewish identity is really an internal issue. But I don’t think it is a big issue right now, and certainly not a life-or-death issue.

Think South Africa rather than the Alamein.

Of course I’m used to hearing comarisons between Israel and South Africa, however, that’s a straw man that has no basis in reality.

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June 3rd, 2009, 2:51 am

 

19. Akbar Palace said:

Majid,

Thanks for the additional information from the Koran.

However, let’s not lose the basis of our discussion.

You asked:

Who invited them over?

I merely pointed to a few sections of the Koran to, perhaps, “point you in the right direction”.;)

Have a good evening,

AP

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June 3rd, 2009, 2:56 am

 

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