Posted by Joshua on Thursday, November 12th, 2009
The last time Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu found himself differing with a US president amid faltering talks with Palestinians, he tacked towards Syria. Opening up discreet talks with Damascus, he positioned himself as a would-be peacemaker …
Peres to Assad: Engage Israel in immediate, direct peace talks
By Shuki Sadeh, Haaretz Correspondent and The Associated Press, 10/11/2009
President Shimon Peres on Tuesday urged Syrian President Assad to engage in direct peace talks with Israel without delay.
Netanyahu to Sarkozy: Israel ready for Syria talks without preconditions
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel would be prepared to hold immediate peace negotiations with Syria, as long as the talks were held without preconditions.
Netanyahu made the remarks in response to a question from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with whom he met for more than an hour and a half in Paris on Wednesday. Their talks focused on reviving Middle East peace efforts and Iran’s contenious nuclear program.
After the meeting, the two shook hands but did not speak to reporters……
Two days after Netanyahu’s visit, Assad will also be in Paris for talks with Sarkozy. French officials have said the two meetings are not linked, seeking to kill off any speculation that France might try to act as middleman between the two nations.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Tuesday ahead of Netanyahu’s visit that France fears that Israel no longer desires a Middle East peace deal. He also said that Paris remained deeply opposed to settlement building in the West Bank.
Speaking on France Inter radio, Kouchner made clear he was not expecting any swift break through in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
“What really hurts me, and this shocks us, is that before there used to be a great peace movement in Israel. There was a left that made itself heard and a real desire for peace,” Kouchner said.
“It seems to me, and I hope that I am completely wrong, that this desire has completely vanished, as though people no longer believe in it,” he added.
Hezbollah Leader Lashes Out At Obama
2009-11-11, By ZEINA KARAM
Beirut, Lebanon (AP) — Hezbollah’s leader on Wednesday accused President Barack Obama of absolute bias in favor of Israel and disregard for the dignity of Arabs and Muslims.
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said Obama has gone even farther in his military support for the Jewish state than his predecessor, George W. Bush — who was reviled in much of the Arab world for his support of Israel and war on Iraq.
The remarks were Nasrallah’s strongest criticism yet of the American president since Obama took office almost a year ago.
Nasrallah said Obama’s earlier statements calling on Israel to freeze settlement building and then going back on that demand was a “tactic” agreed on by both Israel and the U.S……
Beneath Lebanon’s New Political Deal, a Fear of Violence
By Andrew Lee Butters / Beirut Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009, Time
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visits the grave of his father, assassinated former PM Rafiq Hariri, in Beirut on Nov. 9, 2009
It’s been an almost endless summer in Lebanon, with beach weather and relative political harmony continuing well into November. The only thing marring what could have been a perfect year for a country more accustomed to serving as a battleground in regional power struggles was the fact that Lebanon has had no government since parliamentary elections in June. That was until Monday, when the majority U.S.-backed political bloc and its rivals in the Syria- and Iran-backed minority coalition finally agreed on a new power-sharing Cabinet. But while the deal ends the three-year political crisis that brought the country to the brink of civil war, it doesn’t address the question underlying the dispute: Should Lebanon be a Westward-looking business-oriented tourist playground, or a frontline bastion of resistance to Israel?
Although the Western path edged out the militant posture of Hizballah at the polls in June, Lebanon’s weak political system, structured according to sect, and Hizballah’s status as one of the world’s most dangerous nonstate armies, guarantees that the Shi’ite militia will remain a force to be reckoned with in Lebanese politics. (See pictures of the youth of Hizballah.)
Ever since it survived a 33-day onslaught by Israel in the summer of 2006, Hizballah has accused the American- and Saudi-backed ruling coalition of doing Israel’s work by seeking to disarm the organization’s armed wing. (The argument by its rivals is that no state can tolerate the existence of private armies independent of the sovereign government.) After the issue provoked more than a year of massive demonstrations and sit-ins in central Beirut, Hizballah tried to settle matters the old-fashioned way in May 2008 by storming pro-government positions in West Beirut. But while its highly trained fighters easily overran the government supporters, the move alienated many Lebanese, and a democratic victory — which would have given Hizballah’s military wing all the political cover it desired — proved to be elusive. While Hizballah and its allies easily carried the Shi’ite vote, the Christian ally it would have needed to form a government was soundly defeated in that community’s polls.
Although it accepted defeat in its effort to win control of the government at the ballot box, Hizballah has since maneuvered behind the scenes to rig the composition of the Cabinet in its favor. First it demanded veto power over all decisions, but eventually it accepted a compromise formula that left the ruling coalition without a large enough majority to make big decisions on its own. Still not content with that, the opposition pushed for control of Lebanon’s telecommunications system, which would give Hizballah added operational security from Israeli intelligence — but could also help it hamper the activities of the U.N. tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. That tribunal has implicated Syrian officials in the killing, and much of its evidence comes from telephone records. Though Hizballah has denied wanting to derail the investigation, such pressure on its patron could disrupt the flow of weapons over the Syrian border to the Shi’ite group’s arsenal. (Read a brief history of Hizballah.)
Saad Hariri, son of the murdered former Prime Minister and leader of the ruling coalition, initially balked at Hizballah’s terms, but eventually had no choice but to give in. Lebanon’s longstanding deadly rivalries and the ever present threat of violence have made Lebanese politicians wary of acting unilaterally, which is why Hariri invited Hizballah and its allies into the Cabinet in the first place. And Hariri is increasingly isolated, with none of his allies being prepared to confront Hizballah head-on given the experience of the May 2008 mini–civil war.
While the Bush Administration regarded the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon in 2005 — as a result of international pressure and Lebanese street protests — as one of its biggest successes in the Middle East, the new Obama Administration has been less aggressive in its backing for the pro-U.S. Lebanese government. Lebanese media also suggest that Saudi Arabia was dismayed that Hariri’s Future movement, which had been building a militia with Saudi money, was so easily routed by Hizballah in the May 2008 street fights. Last month, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah traveled to Damascus for a state visit with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in part to bury the hatchet over Lebanon. Even Hariri’s coalition is breaking apart. Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze community and one of the architects of the anti-Syrian movement (he once told a Washington audience that America should send car bombs to Damascus), has seen which way the wind is blowing and transformed himself into an ardent Syria-phile.
But the government’s caving in to Hizballah and Syria will have its consequences: most importantly it’s a message to those in Lebanon — and the wider Middle East — who put their trust in the U.S. and political reform that guns are still more powerful than votes. Watching the Syrian-backed opposition hamstring the investigation into his father’s murder will have been a bitter pill for Hariri and his followers to swallow. When the time comes to settle scores, they may be more likely to choose bullets rather than ballots to do the job.
وختم عطري حديثه بالقول: إن الدولة تحملت دعماً مقداره 720 مليار ل يرة سورية خلال ست سنوات، كان يمكن أن نستفيد منها لصالح التنمية..
؟ كم محطة كهرباء وكم مشروع ري وكم طريقاً كان يمكن أن نقيم بهذه ا لمبالغ التي ذهبت على الدعم لغير مستحقيه وللدول المجاورة تهريباً
The previous Arabic quote: Syria’s Prime Minister Utri, ended a talk by saying that the government has spent syp 720 billion over 6 years in subsidies for various goods and industries. This equals USD 2.6 billion a year in subsidies, which is over 5% of the country’s GDP. [Thanks Ehsani]
According to findings by the World Bank, developing countries such as Syria should be dedicating around 10% of GDP towards infrastructure spending should they wish to fully capitalise on, and keep pace with, their growth potential. Abdullah Dardari, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, recently told OBG, “We estimate the need to spend a massive $50bn on infrastructure from now until 2015…. On the financing side, while Syria has seen the arrival of 11 private banks since the sector was liberalised in 2001, they lack the balance sheets and capital to fund mega projects….
Iranian government’s upcoming visit to Brazil. Gaining Brazilian support would lend credibility to Iran’s government, something that Israel wants to avoid, analysts say. Israel views Iran as a major strategic threat, fearing it is developing a nuclear weapon and noting its development of long-range ballistic missiles.
[Landis Comment:] Brazil has developed enrichment capacity exeeding Iran’s, with less UN oversite. It is worried that the US will set new precidents restricting the enrichment abilities of countries which have nuclear programs. Any new precidents established for Iran would hinder Brazil’s enrichment efforts. Hilary Clinton said this about Iran following the rigged elections this summer:
….you have rights and responsibilities. You have a right to pursue the peaceful use of civil nuclear power. You do not have a right to obtain a nuclear weapon. You do not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessing cycle under your control.
Japan and South Korea are countries that have developed enrichment capacity just short of weaponization. They can be hurt by Washington’s Iran policy if it establishes new precidents. Clinton’s language quoted above must have had them scratching their heads.
“Syrian experts criticize the partnership agreement with the EU …” Translation by mideastwire.com
On November 9, the London-based Saudi-owned Al-Hayat daily carried in its paper edition the following article by a correspondent in Damascus Nourreddin Al-Athar: “Syrian economic experts are studying the partnership agreement with the European Union and its compatibility with Syrian national interests after Damascus declared it preferred cooperation with the European Union over partnership for the time being.
“Damascus had signed the first draft of the agreement in 2004, before the European Union decided to freeze the accord in 2005. Negotiations were then resumed in December 2008 and resulted in an agreement to sign the accord on the 26 of October 2009, but Syria requested a delay in order to review all its sections. It is important to note that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad recently announced that his country was giving priority to cooperation rather than partnership with the EU… The Syrian change of heart came after the important transformations seen at the level of Syrian economy during the last five years, since many of the partnership requirements were already functioning in Syria and many other reforms and legislation had been formulated by the government…
“Syrian economic experts considered that the requested tax exemptions for European products will lead to an unfair competition with local, national products, will make it impossible for new industries to develop and grow and will lead to the loss by the Syrian treasury of important sources of revenue which will in turn increase the state deficit. The experts told Al-Hayat that they had warned the government against catastrophic results affecting Syrian economy if the partnership agreement were to be signed. Mounir Al-Hamash, a Syrian [non-governmental] economic analyst, thus stated to Al-Hayat: “It is in Syria’s best interest not to sign the partnership agreement because if it does, the relationship will be an unequal one. We have a giant that includes twenty seven nations capable of imposing all its demands and conditions on another small country, so how is that fair? The result will be the destruction of the Syrian economy and the failure of our national industries and prod ucts. This will drive many industrial plants to simply declare bankruptcy and close their doors. Honestly, I do not see any positive outcome for us from this entire partnership process.”
“Al-Hamash added saying: “In case we do sign the agreement, our products will face fierce competition not only from European products but also from Chinese and Malaysian products, since this partnership will force us to open up the importation of foreign products… Moreover, it will not only impose on us the exportation figures, but also very harsh conditions in regard to the quality of the products we can export to the EU. And I do not think that these conditions are even present in our agricultural products. In order for us to meet European standards, we will need a lot of time and many years…” In the meantime, while the European Commission considered that it was in Syria’s best interest as well as in the interest of Europe to sign the partnership agreement, Syrian economist Samir Saifan considered that the agreement will make it impossible for the Syrian economy to develop and grow and will render the Syrian market dependent on European exports.” – Al-Hayat, United K ingdom
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt adopting baby #7 from Syria
November 11, 2009 10:29 AM EST
views: 37 | comments: 2
According to various reports, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will be adopting another baby. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has confirmed that the celebrity couple is in the process of filing papers for a girl from Syria. This makes number seven for Brangelina; the baby will join their three biological and three adopted kids.
RPT-Zain cuts sales forecast; talked to Syriatel
Mon Nov 9, 2009 8:45am EST
BEIRUT, Nov 9 (Reuters) – International mobile operator Zain (ZAIN.KW) expects the global financial crisis and currency market turmoil to cut $1 billion from its forecast revenues of $9 billion this year, the company’s chief executive told Reuters on Monday.
Saad al-Barrak also disclosed that Zain had held talks to buy Syriatel, the top mobile company in Syria, which is under U.S. sanctions, but the talks have been “postponed” for reasons he did not reveal.
Barrak, who is attending an International Telecommunication Union conference in the Lebanese capital, said Zain’s revenues would reach $8 billion this year, compared with a $9 billion forecast and actual 2008 revenues of $7 billion.
“The financial crisis has changed the consumption patterns… exchange rate differences have also been a main factor,” Barrak said.
He said Zain, which is listed on the Kuwaiti bourse, would make a statement with profit figures in several days. (Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Hans Peters)
Al-Assad’s Surprising Advice
10/11/2009, By Tariq Alhomayed
The Syrian President surprised both Turkish and Arab public opinion when he advised Turkey on the importance of cultivating good relations with Israel, as this would allow Turkey to perform the role of mediator between Damascus and Tel Aviv. [Syrian] President Bashar al-Assad made this comment whilst answering a question put to him by the Turkish “Hurriyet” newspaper on whether he approved of Islamic countries having bad relations with Europe and Israel, or whether [Islamic] countries should cultivate good relations with Europe and coexist with Israel.
Assad’s answer was that “if Turkey wishes to help us on the subject of Israel then it must have good relations with this country” adding “otherwise how else can it [Turkey] play a role in the peace process?”
What the Syrian President said is completely true, and the popularity that Turkey has gained as a result of the straining of its relations with Israel is not useful, especially if Ankara wishes to have a role in the peace process and the region’s issues. Of course such issues also include Iran, and this is particularly important as the most recent statements from Turkey made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the Iranian nuclear file revealed a flexibility contrary to that of the Western or Arab position. This surprised many people, and raised concerns over Turkey’s position [towards Iran]. Turkey no longer appears to be holding the middle ground, but exists on one extreme after it came out appearing to defend Iran. It is true that while Arab countries have not publicly objected to the Turkish statements [defending Iran] they remain doubtful about Ankara’s sincerity and the helpfulness of Turkey becoming involved in regional issues.
Therefore Turkey’s position towards Israel, whether its protest on what took place in Gaza or Israel’s intransigence on the peace process, does not mean that the Turks should join the ranks of the frustrated. There is no frustration in politics, only hard work and interests which can be influenced; this is not something that is made more feasible by boycott or chasing after popularity.
A Syrian man is awaiting a detention hearing in Vancouver after he was caught crossing the U.S.-Canada border with nearly $1 million in gold and several items that could link him to a listed terrorist organization. When Khaled Nawaya, 35, pulled up …
Influence of Egypt and Saudi Arabia Fades
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN, November 10, 2009, New York Times
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Even before Mahmoud Abbas announced that he would not seek re-election as the Palestinian president, throwing the Palestinian Authority into chaos, America’s closest Arab allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, had begun to despair over Washington’s Middle East missteps, government officials and political experts said.
Many Arab leaders were unhappy with remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Israel.
With Israel having rebuffed American calls to freeze settlement-building, and with the prospects for substantive peace talks fading, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are increasingly viewed in the region as diminished actors whose influence is on the wane, political experts say.
They have been challenged by Iran, opposed by much smaller Arab neighbors, mocked by Syria and defied by influential nonstate groups like Hamas and Hezbollah…..