Posted by Joshua on Sunday, April 26th, 2009
Israel FM hits out at Iran, Syria(AFP)
24 April 2009
JERUSALEM – Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview published Friday Iran is a key obstacle to resolving the Middle East conflict and spoke out against resuming indirect talks with Syria.
It would be impossible, Lieberman told the English-language Jerusalem Post, ‘to resolve any problem in our region without resolving the Iranian problem.’
The biggest obstacle to any comprehensive solution, the right-wing minister said, ‘is not Israel, it is not the Palestinians. It’s the Iranians.’
The daily, which did not publish the full interview, also said Lieberman cited Syria’s deepening ties with Iran-Israel’s archfoe-and added that he saw no point in resuming the indirect talks with Damascus conducted by the last government.
‘We don’t see any good will come the Syrian side. Only the threats like: ‘If you’re not ready to talk, we’ll retake the Golan by military action’,’ Lieberman said…..
….The Jerusalem Post said Lieberman would not say whether he ruled out or accepted the concept of a Palestinian state.
He said the new government, which took office on March 31, would complete its foreign policy review over the next two weeks and announce it when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets US President Barack Obama at the White House in May.
“…Regarding Israel’s borders, Netanyahu says he plans on keeping 50% of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley. The prime minister also says he is willing to adopt the two-state solution but demands restrictions be imposed upon any future Palestinian state. Among other things his government is demanding control of the Palestinian state’s airspace as well as its border crossings, and the power to limit its relations with countries such as Iran.
Regarding relations with Syria, Netanyahu is expected to inform the US president that Israel will not cede the Golan Heights. “Syria has armed itself, and its armament is endangering Israel’s security,” a Jerusalem official said. “However the balance of power has been maintained thanks to the IDF’s prowess and our control of the Golan.”…
Progress on establishing a Palestinian state must go “hand-in-hand” with efforts to stem Iranian influence in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday, implicitly rejecting the emerging position of the new Israeli government.
(By Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post)
Daniel Kurtzer: I would be a little bit cautious regarding what seems to be the new vogue in peace-process thinking that substitutes the traditional thinking about “land for peace” with the idea of “land for strategic realignment.” The situation in Region ‘Looks Pretty Dreary’.
Yad Vashem has fired an instructor who compared the trauma of Jewish Holocaust survivors with the trauma experienced by the Palestinian people in Israel’s War of Independence…. “Yad Vashem talks about the Holocaust survivors’ arrival in Israel and about creating a refuge here for the world’s Jews. I said there were people who lived on this land and mentioned that there are other traumas that provide other nations with motivation,” Shapira said. …
Syria reaches out to ‘friend’ Iraq by Sami Moubayed. Asia Times Online
LOS ANGELES, Apr. 24 — Iraq and Syria, following broad-ranging talks between Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and his Syrian counterpart Mohammed Naji Otri, have agreed on a new plan to repair the bomb-damaged Kirkuk-Banias oil pipeline.
“Discussions led to a strategic agreement in the areas of oil, gas, power, and trade,” said Al-Maliki, adding, “The two sides also reached agreement on repairing the pipeline across Syria.” “We have a timeline set for work on the pipeline, which will expand our oil export options. Our oil export volumes so far have been unacceptable,” said Iraqi Deputy Premier for Economic Affairs Barham Ahmed Saleh.
At the time, Saleh also said Iraq had invited Russia’s Stroytransgaz to submit an offer to reactivate the line. “We will discuss with Stroytransgaz what they come up with,” said Saleh, adding, “We are clear and serious about this project.”
Stroytransgaz eventually signed a protocol with Iraq to reactivate the line, but Iraqi officials recently said the work had not been undertaken.
“The Russian company failed to do the job and now we are seeking other foreign firms to evaluate the damage and rebuild the pipeline,” said a spokesman for the Iraqi oil ministry on Apr. 21.
Iraq is seeking to upgrade and expand all of its oil export infrastructure in order for it to handle projected output increases.
Under a plan announced in March, current Iraqi production of 2.4 million b/d would be increased to 2.9 million b/d by yearend 2009 and to 6-8 million b/d by 2013.
Earlier this month, a senior Iraqi official said his country was seeking to increase its oil exports through the construction of two pipelines to Jordan (OGJ Online, Apr. 17, 2009).
European delegations flocking to Damascus have listened to what the Syrians had to say, but seemed less than totally satisfied, reports Bassel Oudat from Damascus
European and American delegations have held high-level talks with Bashar Al-Assad and members of the Syrian government over the past two weeks. First to arrive was a British delegation led by Bill Rammell, minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs. Then a US congressional delegation led by Democratic representative Stephen Lynch showed up. Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini followed. As expected, the talks focussed on Syria’s relations with Lebanon, Iran, as well as future talks with Israel.
The visitors voiced cautious optimism about Syria’s foreign policy. The Italian foreign minister said that Syria is a country with certain clout in the Middle East as well as a considerable political, social and cultural role. He praised Damascus for opening up to dialogue with the outside world and urged it to help consolidate stability and security in the region.
The British minister said that he sensed a positive change on Syria’s part but added that his government still disagrees with Damascus on certain issues. He added that the UK is interested in maintaining good ties with the Syrian government and in keeping the dialogue going.
British Foreign Office Spokesman John Wilkes said that the talks were held in an atmosphere of “goodwill” and that the UK was interested in Syria’s point of view.
Mostly, the European delegations seemed interested in finding out how far the Syrians were ready to help disentangle regional problems. And their tone mostly reflected that of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who advises dialogue rather than isolation and threats.
Europe seems to be pleased with the flexibility Syria has shown on more than one front. Damascus has initiated indirect talks with Israel, monitored closely its borders, and talked to the Iraqi government, and generally treated Lebanon with respect. Europe would like to see Damascus do more; for example, distance itself from Iran and rein in militant Palestinian and Lebanese groups. …..
Damascus seems to be getting the message. It has, for example, brought down the pitch of its rhetoric to a point close to that of moderate Arab countries. But as Europe asks for more, Damascus may not be in a hurry to oblige. Before giving up their bargaining chips, the Syrians want to make sure of what they’ll be getting in return.
JIhad Makdisi, Spokesman of the Syrian Embassy in London, explains that an official US diplomatic presence at the National Day Celebrations is good news for the normalization of relations between the two countries that have been at dagers’ drawn ever since the US decided to invade Iraq and transform the Middle East some 8 years ago. Also, Abdelnour pulishes photos of the Washington reception for National Day.
وابلغ جهاد مقدسي المتحدث بإسم السفارة السورية بلندن يونايتدبرس انترناشنال أن حضور دبلوماسية أمريكية حفل الإستقبال الذي اجرته السفارة السورية بلندن بمناسبة عيد الجلاء لنقل تهانيها للحكومة السورية “أمر طبيعي و مرحب به، وإن كان يعبر عن شيء فإنما يعبّر عن أن العلاقات مع الولايات المتحدة بدأت تعود إلى طبيعتها، وكما هو معروف فقد شارك جيفري فيلتمان (مساعد وزيرة الخارجية الأمريكية لشؤون الشرق الأوسط) في الاحتفال الذي دعت إليه سفارتنا في واشنطن، كما يُعد أيضاً تجسيداً لما أعلنه الرئيس الأمريكي باراك أوباما بالإنخراط في الدبلوماسية عوضاً عن شن الحروب و خصوصاً مع دولة مهمة و أساسية في معادلة الشرق الأوسط مثل سورية”.
“The leaders in the Middle East, they want to be pushed by this big bear behind their backs to do things, so that they can say to whatever opposition they face in their own governments, ‘The big bear made me do it’,” he said…
“Although we most appreciate some of the statements he made, nothing was accomplished. The U.S. simply has not pushed enough,” the prince said.
He said he was hopeful that Obama is going in the right direction, but warned that all of his beautiful speeches would come to nothing unless he acted on them, and quickly.
“We are holding our breath and waiting. But I think President Obama has exhausted the lead time for things to be done,” he added. “I hope that by the middle of summer if not sooner we will see something happen on the ground.”
….”Bush had turned his back to peace in the Middle East and almost abandoned all that Clinton had done. The Crown Prince sent him a letter stating that we were coming to a crossroads and either we go together in the road that we choose or we go our separate ways,” he said.
Eventually, they came together and established what Prince Turki described as a preferable institutional dialogue, rather than being subject to the “whim and will” of two heads of state.
He said this more diffused approach has served well as the two nations tackle sensitive subjects like Palestine, Lebanon, Iran “and all the other hot spots.”
He went on to outline some specific advice for several of these contentious areas. In regards to Lebanon, Prince Turki said Obama should ask Israel to withdraw immediately from Shebaa Farms, arguing that doing so would also remove Hezbollah’s excuse to maintain armed conflict in the area…
He argued that American use of pilotless aircraft in Pakistan should be stopped, as it only galvanizes anti-terrorist sentiments there. “People blame Pakistan for the Taliban, but they forget that Pakistan is a victim of those same terrorists,” he said.
For Syria, where leaders have indicated a willingness to talk, he urged Obama to get on with it.
“Go ahead and talk. You don’t need a midwife to bring you together.”
He said Obama seemed to be following the right policy in Afghanistan by going after terrorists there, but he urged him to be even more aggressive in soliciting support from other nations around the world, and to pull out as soon as victory was achieved.
And in Iraq, he said it is vital that a U.N. Security Council resolution be passed to guarantee its territorial stability before total troop withdrawal, to prevent civil wars from breaking out and sucking the entire Arab world into a conflict it doesn’t want.
He also had some advice for Hamas: Follow the examples of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., who used civil disobedience to achieve their objectives.
“You are choosing the wrong weapons,” he said. “How can you challenge the Israeli might with a few rockets and suicide bombs? Challenge them on humanitarian grounds, make them out to be the bullies that they are. That’s how you win.”
Washington’s Take: “Michel Sleiman wants a ‘stalemate’ in Lebanon’s Elections …” Thanks to FLC
Saturday, April 25, 2009
1. Elections 2009. The view from Washington is that while the Administration wants March 14 to win, they think Michel Sleiman wants a stalemate, with independent candidates holding the balance. The best informed US officials have noted the absence of violence, so far. They believe that is because both sides expect to win. Should either side [especially the Opposition] feels it is going to lose, Washington Officialdom believes that violence will erupt prior to the election.
2. There also has developed something of a split between the US and France with regard to Lebanon. With Chirac gone, the “tilt” towards Hariri has gone as well. US officials say the French would like to see the “balance” created by Doha to be continued and enhanced. They, however, are quietly pleased with themselves that they have been able to keep the tilt towards the government despite the change in Administrations in Washington.
3. Israel. Not much importance is given to Bibi Natenyahu’s call for the Arabs to accept a Jewish state. It’s like his latest idea that nothing can be done on the Palestinian issue until Iran is solved. It’s Bibi being too clever by half. He will back down on both, especially if, as expected in Washington, the Administration will play it just a little bit tough.
4. Lieberman, is a very important player [unless and until he is indicted]. He is a member of the inner Cabinet of 5 (considering the full Cabinet has over 30 members, the largest in Israeli history). Barak is also one of the five and the Administration consider it to be an excellent political pairing with Bibi for a US audience.
5. Syria. Inside the beltway, people in the know believe that both, Bibi and Bashar are playing games. Each wants to use the prospect of progress to gain advantage with the US: Bashar to unravel the sanctions & isolation regimen, and Bibi avoids pressure on the Palestinian front.(…)
Lebanon – Bucking the trend: A surprising economic success amid the usual political gridlock.
Apr 23rd 2009
….Lebanon’s GDP grew during 2008, not at an annual rate of 7.5%, it seems, but at 9% or better.
Yet even that trend-bucking number looks modest compared to other milestones scored by this small, almost comically turbulent country. Last year the value of deposits in Lebanese commercial banks rose by 15% to an impressive $94 billion, equal to 327% of GDP. Industrial exports surged 24%. Tax revenues, tourist arrivals, banking profits and the number of construction permits all soared by a third or more. A giant 46% leap in net capital inflows helped Lebanon post a record $3.5 billion surplus in its balance of payments, and boosted the Banque du Liban’s own reserves to a cosy $22 billion, nearly double its holdings a year ago.
Nor does this upswing show much sign of slowing. Sales of new cars are up by 19%, and the number of tourists arriving in the country in the first three months of this year increased by 50% compared with the same period last year.
Lebanon: The head of the Nasserite Popular Organization MP Osama Saad accused Saudi Arabia of “interference in the electoral process by paying larges sums of money and in exerting pressure” in favor of his opponent Prime Minister Fouad Saniora in Sidon. … He added, “The battle for Sidon sums up the electoral battle for Lebanon, the country must remain at the heart of the conflict with the Israeli enemy and not neutral, Lebanon should not slip into the American axis because we all saw what happened to those that placed their confidence on U.S. policies in the region.”
Security forces arrested on Saturday a cell linked to the Israeli Mossad in southern Lebanon, Future News TV reported. The TV station said police arrested three members of the cell during raids in Jezzine, Nabatiyeh and Sidon.
Voice of Lebanon radio said, however, that security forces arrested a suspect named Ali Mantash in Nabatiyeh and a Palestinian whose family name is Awad in Sidon. It added that authorities were still looking for the third suspect.
A source also told Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) that one of those arrested is Ibrahim Awad, the cousin of Abdul Rahman Awad, the successor of Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker Abssi.
Police lately uncovered an Israel spy network dubbed “al-Alam cell.”
Former security services officer Brigadier General Adib al-Alam, his wife Hayat Saloumi and nephew Joseph Semaan al-Alam — also a security official – were charged on Thursday with spying for Israel.
They are accused of informing Israel about Lebanese and Syrian military and civilian sites with the aim of facilitating Israeli attacks. The retired general told interrogators he had worked for Israel for more than 10 years and regularly met with his Israeli contacts at European destinations.
Armenians Side with Hizbullah The Guardian
“….This small community of barely 150,000 (Armenians) look set to abandon its traditional neutrality and back the Hezbollah-led opposition…. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt have tried to whip up hostility in recent years by presenting Hezbollah as part of a wider Iranian-led Shia threat to Sunnis in the region, while Iran and Syria have made little effort to dispel such accusations…”