Posted by Joshua on Saturday, February 6th, 2010
BACK TO DAMASCUS?
by FREDERICK DEKNATEL in The Nation”
February 5, 2010
Washington has nominated Robert Ford, a career Foreign Service officer, as its ambassador to Syria, a post that has been vacant since the United States withdrew its envoy in 2005 to protest alleged Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. (Syria denied any involvement.)
Ford, currently deputy ambassador to Iraq, was ambassador to Algeria from 2006 to 2008. He ran a Coalition Provisional Authority office in Najaf in 2003, and from 2004 to 2006 he was a political officer at the US Embassy in Baghdad, where he helped draft Iraq’s new Constitution, establish the transitional government and oversee elections in 2005.
The appointment of a career officer who speaks Arabic represents a shift for Obama, who has often chosen well-heeled friends and contributors for ambassadorial posts. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, as of November twenty-four nominees were high-profile campaign “bundlers” who corralled more than $10 million for Obama. About half of all ninety-nine nominees either donated to Obama, other Democratic candidates or the Democratic Party.
Sending Ford to Damascus is part of the administration’s effort to back up Obama’s fleeting Cairo oratory. The London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted an unnamed American official saying, “Washington wants to help in launching direct peace negotiations between Syria and Israel in the next few months.” But Joshua Landis, a regional expert who runs the popular Syria Comment blog, is not so sure. “The Syrians I have spoken to are skeptical that [negotiations] can lead to anything but frustration,” he said. “Netanyahu is not giving any ground to the Palestinians and there’s no reason to expect him to give ground to the Syrians.”
Reopening the ambassador’s residence is a step, not a solution. After all, last year Obama renewed harsh economic sanctions on Syria that were imposed by George W. Bush. And Syria holds the dubious distinction of being Washington’s oldest designated state sponsor of terrorism–since 1979.
Washington has called on Israel and Syria to curb recent tensions that might make it more difficult to resume stalled peace negotiations, the London-based A-Sharq Al-Awsat reported on Friday.
State Department sources told the Arabic-language daily that the U.S. was determined to see Israel re-enter the peace process, both on the Palestinian and Syrian track.
The sources said that the new U.S. envoy to Syria was dealing with a number of issues challenging the resumption of talks, and that Washington was making efforts to see the obstacles overcome.
A top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel wants to start talks that would culminate with a permanent peace agreement with Syria, but would continue to react against any threats to its safety.
Nir Hefetz, head of the National Information Directorate in the prime minister’s bureau, said after a meeting with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that the two wished to emphasize their commitment to peace with Israel’s neighbor to the north.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Friday defended his controversial comments warning Syria not to attack Israel, saying that grave issues in the Middle East cannot go without response. Lieberman on Thursday said “Assad should know that if he attacks, he will not only lose the war. Neither he nor his family will remain in power.” His remarks came after Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday told Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos that Israel was pushing the Middle East toward a new war.
Lieberman’s comments drew harsh criticism on Thursday from a range of Knesset members, some of whom urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rein him in or dismiss him. However, the Foreign Minister dismissed the criticism on Friday, saying, “I don’t work for the media or for public opinion.”
“My response, which I made in order to clarify that the situation [with Syria] is unbearable, was immediately met with a hysterical reaction in Israel of ‘how dare we anger the nobleman,'” Lieberman said on Friday in an interview with Channel 2 news. He went on to say that he finds it unfortunate the Israeli left has adopted this reactionary habit and added, “I think that in the Middle East, we cannot let grave things go without a response.”
Lieberman also denied that behind-the-scenes meetings have been taking place between Israeli and Syrian officials.
Walid Jumblatt vows solidarity with Syria in the face of what he calls ‘a frenzied Israeli attitude.’
“Amid the Israeli madness and radical threats, I tell the Syrian people and leadership that we are with you above all else,” he said in a statement issued by the PSP and quoted by pan-Arab A-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, the Lebanese portal Naharnet reported on Friday.
He said, “We took our decision a long time ago on who is the enemy and who is the friend … Syria is our strategic depth.”
China throws kink into U.S.-led push for sanctions on Iran
(By Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post)
China on Thursday threw a roadblock in the path of a U.S.-led push for sanctions against Iran, saying that it is important to continue negotiations as long as Iran appears willing to consider a deal to give up some of its enriched uranium.
“To talk about sanctions at the moment will complicate the situation and might stand in the way of finding a diplomatic solution,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said at a conference in Paris.
After months of spurning the proposed deal, which would provide Iran with fuel for a medical reactor, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad showed a suddenly renewed interest in it this week just as France, a strong advocate of sanctions, assumed the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council. French Prime Minister François Fillon said Wednesday that he would ask the United Nations to adopt a resolution imposing “strong sanctions” against Iran because of its nuclear program.
Lebanese fear stall in tribunal on Hariri slaying
By BASSEM MROUE
The Associated Press
Saturday, February 6,
The head of the international tribunal on the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister sought to reassure Lebanese this week that the investigation is on track, but there are growing concerns here that work is languishing in the case…..