Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, February 18th, 2009
On Thursday Feb 19th I will be speaking at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs on “Syria and its Neighbors: What Lies Ahead” which is co-sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is asking the same Question that Bashar al-Asad asked yesterday in his interview with the Guardian. He said his country is waiting for the U.S. to show “signs of real change” under the Obama administration, calling it “a necessity” for improving relations between the two countries.“Is the outlook of the U.S. renewed?” Ahmadinejad said in an interview with Iranian state television broadcast late today. “Is it willing to respect the nation? Is bullying going to disappear?”
Jeffrey Feltman is likely to become Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, sources say. Feltman, a former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon said to be well liked by colleagues in the bureau, declined to comment. This appointment will be cheered by the March 14 coalition of Saad Hariri and booed by the March 8 coalition and Syria. Feltman was a vociferous and hard working supporter of Hariri’s and Bush’s Lebanon policy. Although George Mitchell has been appointed as the president’s special envoy to the Middle East gave Syria considerable reason for optimism about a changed Obama policy, the appointments of Feltman, Levey suggest there will be no smooth sailing for Syria.
Dennis Ross’ Chairmanship of an Israeli Government funded think tank seems to have torpedoed his appointment to the Iran Envoy Job, because it raised questions about his being a foreign agent. All the same, the State Department and White House wanted him on the job, which suggests that there are not many people within the White House who are actually pushing for change in the way the US does business in the region. Perhaps this is why both Iran and Syria are complaining about the lack of “real change?”
Qifa Nabki on Nasrallah’s speech and what Hizbullah’s leader had to say about Lebanon’s upcoming parliamentary elections:
One of the most interesting parts of the speech, from my perspective, came toward the end, when Nasrallah discussed the upcoming elections. He said (and I paraphrase): Lebanon is not Switzerland. We are not a nation of political parties. We are a nation of sects, and even those parties established on the basis of a political identity are de facto sectarian parties because their constituents come primarily from one sect (i.e. like the PSP and the FPM). Perhaps, one day, Lebanon will have evolved to the point where its parties are purely political; in that scenario, it would be possible for a party or coalition to rule in a dominant manner after winning an election in a decisive fashion. However, we are not at that stage yet, and therefore, a ruling coalition must govern through a process of consensus, respecting the concerns of its opposition.
He continued: This is why we are telling you from now, that should our coalition win a majority in the upcoming elections, we will be prepared to form a national unity government with the other side, granting them a blocking veto. We do this in the spirit of consensus, and in the spirit of confronting together the many economic, political, and security-related challenges that face our nation.
Nasrallah then threw down the gauntlet, saying: If the other side rejects our offer and chooses to boycott the new government, our coalition will not hesitate to rule on its own (while respecting the interests of the nation.) In making this point, Nasrallah was sending a very clear message to those on the March 14th side who had been publicly contemplating boycotting the government in the event of a March 8th win. In all cases, Nasrallah mused, Hizbullah is not even that interested in getting involved in the cabinet, and would be happy if its allies in the opposition were to occupy its share of seats, leaving the Hizb to manage the resistance.
Translation? Hizbullah would like to avoid a Hamas-style coming out party at all costs, in the event of a March 8th win. They would like, more than anything else, to go back to the old arrangement: we’ll mind our business if you mind yours.
Project on Middle East Democracy’s Weekly Wire writes:
On Thursday (2/12), the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia of the House Foreign Affairs Committee met for a hearing titled Michele Dunne, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Danielle Pletka, Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
After the witnesses presented testimony, members of the committee asked questions. In one exchange, Rep. Burton (R-IN) asked whether the U.S. should consider influencing Hamas through engagement with Syria. Makovsky and Pletka disagreed on this front, with Makovsky arguing for it’s worth and Pletka stating that we should not “engage in this fantasy.” Another question also focused on Syria’s potential role. Rep. Ellison (D-MN) mentioned potential Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s opposition to two states. Makovsky expressed that Netanyahu may provide for some surprises, citing the fact that he met with Arafat and that meeting with Syria is not out of the realm of possibility.
… Some argued that getting off to a good start with Saudi Arabia should be a first priority for the new administration, while others claimed “the key to the future of the Middle East” is improved relations with Syria.
Ismail ‘Amr, chairman of the Syrian Kurdish party Social Democratic Unionists, has revealed that thousands of Kurds have found themselves out of work after the Syrian security apparatuses ordered owners of companies and commercial enterprises not to employ anyone without Syrian citizenship unless they have given permission. (Source: qudspress.com, February 17, 2009)
Syria reportedly stepping up production of chemical weapons
By Yossi Melman, Haaretz
Syria has stepped up production of its chemical weapons recently, according to a lengthy article featured in the latest edition of Jane’s defense news Web site.
Photos shown on the Web site of a DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-1 satellite between 2005-2008 illustrate defining features of a chemical weapons facility.
According to the article, the Al Safir facility in northwest Syria shows “significant levels of construction,” including a production plant and an adjacent missile base.