Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, June 4th, 2008
Diplomats: 3 suspect Syrian nuke sites off limits
By GEORGE JAHN – AP
VIENNA, Austria (AP) — Syria has told fellow Arab countries that it will not permit an International Atomic Energy Agency probe to extend beyond a site bombed by Israel, despite agency interest in three other suspect locations, diplomats told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The agency's main focus during its planned June 22-24 visit to Syria is a building in the country's remote eastern desert that was destroyed by Israeli jets in September.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei announced Monday that Damascus has agreed to an agency check of U.S. assertions that target was a plutonium-producing reactor that was near completion, and thus at the stage where it could generate the fissile material for nuclear arms.
The U.N. agency is also interested in following up on information that Syria may have three other undeclared atomic facilities. Diplomats and a nuclear expert told the AP on Monday that at least one of the sites may have equipment that can reprocess nuclear material into the fissile core of warheads….
The diplomats said Syrian atomic energy chief Ibrahim Othman told the Arab delegates his country could not open secret military sites to outside perusal as long as Syria and Israel remained technically in a state of war….
Olmert Tells AIPAC Peace With Syria Could Transform Middle East
2008-06-03 20:59 (New York)
By Jonathan Ferziger
June 3 (Bloomberg) — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told American Jewish leaders he hopes renewed contacts with Syria will lead to peace talks that could transform the Middle East.
Olmert spoke late today at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, a pro-Israel lobby. He said he expects to conclude a peace agreement with the Palestinians this year and called for tougher international sanctions against Iran to stop its development of nuclear weapons.
Economist Intelligence Unit
03 Jun 2008 (T13:20) COUNTRY VIEW
OUTLOOK FOR 2008-09
* The president, Bashar al-Assad, is expected to remain in power in 2008-09. He will continue to rely on the strength and loyalty of the security services, which will keep opposition forces weak and ineffective.
* The start of talks with Israel and a reduction, at least temporarily, in tensions in Lebanon may give Mr. Assad the opportunity to reduce Syria's political isolation, but he is unlikely to end its strategic alliance with Iran.
* Economic policy in 2008 will be dominated by conflicting views on how to respond to high global oil and commodity prices in the context of a growing fiscal deficit.
* Syrian oil output will fall over the outlook period, which will reduce export volumes and government spending and thereby curb economic growth.
* The Syrian pound is forecast to appreciate against the US dollar this year (largely because of dollar weakness), but to depreciate in 2009, as the Central Bank of Syria responds to concerns about export competitiveness.
* The current-account surplus is expected to remain large in 2008, at around 2.6% of GDP (US$1.4bn), before narrowing in 2009 to 1.8% owing to falling oil export volumes.
DOMESTIC POLITICS: There is little prospect of any serious challenge to the president in 2008-09, and substantive political reforms are unlikely. Mr Assad's control of the country is supported by key elements in the security services and by the ruling Baath party. The core of the elite is drawn from Mr Assad's minority Alawi sect, and is acutely conscious that to move against him would risk endangering the Alawi hold on power.
Since assuming power following the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000, Mr Assad has stepped up repression of local opposition groups and activists, and has appointed his own close allies to key posts. This has increased his control, albeit at the cost of narrowing his power base.
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: The agreement among Lebanese factions to appoint a president and the announcement of indirect Syrian-Israeli talks in Istanbul, Turkey, offer some opportunity to address Syria's continuing international and regional isolation. Nonetheless, Mr Assad's sporadic efforts to improve Syria's diplomatic links–particularly with the regional heavyweights, Egypt and Saudi Arabia–are likely to face ongoing problems over his stance on Lebanon, long seen by Syria as within its sphere of influence, and the UN investigation into the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri. The regional isolation was demonstrated clearly in March 2008 when half of the heads of state invited to the first ever Arab League summit to be held in the Syrian capital, Damascus, did not attend.
POLICY TRENDS: An economic debate continues between the government's more fiscally prudent elements, led by the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Abdullah al-Dardari, and those factions that are concerned about the impact of rising prices on disposable incomes. Reductions in fuel subsidies, implemented in early May 2008 have not resolved this debate, because increased world oil prices and a 25% rise in public-sector salaries have
offset the fiscal benefits. Furthermore, the proposed introduction of a value-added tax has been delayed until 2009. In 2009 the policy debate will turn to the need to diversify the economy and encourage investment.
INTERNATIONAL ASSUMPTIONS: World GDP growth is expected to average 3.7% in 2008-09 (at purchasing power parity exchange rates), down from an estimated 4.8% in 2007, largely as a result of a sharp slowdown in the US economy in 2008. The Economist Intelligence Unit has substantially revised its oil price projections, as buoyant demand in emerging markets will offset the projected slowdown in the OECD. We now forecast that the price of the
benchmark dated Brent Blend will average around US$106.5/barrel over the outlook period. We have also raised our forecasts for food prices in 2008 and are expecting an increase of 40%, although prices will ease slightly in 2009.
ECONOMIC GROWTH: Although Syria maintains that growth in 2007 was 6.5%, we have revised our estimate down to 4.3% because investment growth and exports were not as strong as previously thought; the IMF is even more downbeat, estimating 3.9%. We expect the Syrian economy to slow further to an annual average of 3.9% over the outlook period, largely owing to falling oil output. The agricultural sector is also expected to remain depressed this year, after another poor harvest. These negative trends will be only partly offset by continued expansion in the services sector, boosted by solid growth in tourism and demand for goods and services, in part from the large Iraqi refugee population.
INFLATION: We expect inflation to continue to rise in 2008–to an average of around 16.8%–owing to significant reductions in fuel subsidies in March and May and to a 25% increase in government salaries and pensions. However, it is possible that the shock caused by these sudden changes could drive inflation even higher than our current forecast. In 2009 flat oil prices and a slight easing in non-oil commodity prices will help to bring down inflation, to around 10.2%, and any significant return of Iraqi nationals to Iraq could lower it even further by reducing demand pressures. Although official full-year inflation data are not yet available for 2007, an annual average of at least 12.2% (up from 10% in 2006) seems plausible based on current information.
The official consumer price index (CPI) is only currently available for the first three quarters of 2007 and apparently shows flat prices over that period. However, this does not seem to mesh with regional trends, anecdotal reports of price increases and some recent statements by Syrian officials (for example that food price inflation in 2007 was 26%). This is why our estimate for inflation in 2007 is likely to diverge from the official data, unless they show a dramatic increase in CPI for the final quarter of 2007.
EXCHANGE RATES: A new exchange-rate regime–a peg to a basket of currencies based on the IMF's special drawing rights–has been in place since October 2007, resulting in a marked appreciation of the pound against the dollar. Despite the change, however, the authorities are expected to keep close control of the currency, placing a high priority on exchange-rate stability. The dominant position of the state-owned banks and the Central Bank's control over foreign-currency transactions (even as some laws are relaxed) mean that the regime is well placed to protect the value of the pound. As a result, we forecast that the pound will appreciate further against the weak dollar in 2008. Next year, by contrast, we expect a modest depreciation, owing to concerns about the competitiveness of Syria's non-oil exports (and some strengthening of the dollar against the
EXTERNAL SECTOR: We expect Syria's merchandise export earnings to rise in 2008, owing to the sharp increase in average oil prices, which will offset the negative impact of falling oil production and reduced wheat exports owing to a poor harvest. Non-oil exports are continuing to benefit from strong regional demand and the relaxation of foreign-exchange controls, which has led to more exports being officially recorded. Import spending growth will remain strong over the outlook period, partly because of the ongoing process of tariff liberalisation, but also because of healthy demand for capital goods related to some large infrastructure and construction projects. As a result, the trade account surplus will narrow over the outlook period from about US$1bn (2% of GDP) in 2008 to US$0.7bn next year.
-0- Jun/03/2008 21:17 GMT
Youth held for past year because of comments posted online
Reporters without Borders
Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the detention of Kareem Arbaji, a young business consultant, for the past 12 months because of comments he posted on the online discussion forum Akhawia (www.akhawia.net/). The arrest of Arabji, who is due to appear in court on 8 June, has only now been drawn to the organisation's attention.
"Arbaji's arrest means that a total of three cyber-dissidents are being held in Syria," Reporters Without Borders said. "His detention for the past year is further evidence of the government's systematic repression of online freedom. He was arrested on 7 June 2007, but that was not the first time he was summoned for questioning about his online activities. We call on the authorities to stop hounding Internet users."
Aged 31 and a graduate in accountancy from Damascus University, he was managing a business consultancy when he was arrested in the utmost secrecy on 7 June 2007. He is currently being held in a military prison in Saydnaya, north of the capital.
During a hearing on 20 March, he was charged with spreading false information under article 286 of the criminal code, which punishes "any person who disseminates information considered false or exaggerated and which is liable to undermine national morale."
Two other cyber-dissidents are currently being held in Syria on the same charge. They are writer and poet Firas Saad, who was arrested in November 2006 for criticising the government on the website Al Hiwar Al Moutamaden, which means "Modern Discussion," and blogger Tariq Biassi, 22, who was arrested in July 2007 because of an online comment very critical of the government.
Participants in the Akhawia (www.akhawia.net/) discussion forum often criticise the authorities. The government systematically filters opposition websites and Akhawia is on its blacklist. Another 100 websites were blocked in December 2007. Under regulations that took effect in July 2007, website owners are required to keep the personal data of everyone who posts articles and comments on their sites.
Landis comment: The Lebanese are kissing and making up. As Qifa Nabki observed, It is not surprising that Junblat is first off the block in the reconciliation department. I was told by good Syrian sources that Amal fighters were prepared to wipe out Junblat's military base in a march on the Jabal to set the ground for an Arslan take over of the Druze Mountain had not Junblat head them off at the pass by declaring defeat and pleading for mercy for his people the day after Hizbullah took West Beirut.
Lebanese Shiites don't want Iranian-style regime – Qabalan
Daily Star, 3 June 2008
The vice president of the Higher Shiite Council, Sheikh Abdel- Amir Qabalan, said on Monday that Lebanese Shiites were not in favor of Iran-style "rule of the jurisprudent."
"Shiites don't want to change the regime in Lebanon, and we also don't favor a rule of the jurisprudent in Lebanon," Qabalan said. "We hide nothing from the Lebanese, we love Iran, but the rule of the jurisprudent cannot be applied in Lebanon."
Meanwhile, Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani called for a "new start" in Lebanon, which can be achieved by "erasing the painful scars and failures of the past"
Amal, PSP ink joint statement calling for reconciliation
By Anthony Elghossain (Thanks QN)
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Amal, PSP ink joint statement calling for reconciliation
BEIRUT: Officials from the Amal movement and the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) met Tuesday in Parliament and issued a joint statement calling for broader reconciliation in Lebanon. Alongside other party officials, Amal MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ali Bazzi and PSP MPs Akram Chehayeb and Wael Abu Faour attended the meeting, which concluded with the declaration of a four-point statement.
Israel Court Condemns Student Ban
BBC, June 3, 2008
The Israeli Supreme Court has called on the government to reconsider its almost total ban on Palestinian students leaving the Gaza Strip to study abroad.
En Syrie, Bachar el-Assad redistribue le pouvoir
03/06/2008 | Mise à jour : 21:43 |Le Figaro
En écartant son beau-frère, le général Assef Shawkat, l'homme fort de Damas envoie un signal à la communauté internationale.
Dans la plus grande discrétion, le pouvoir vient d'être redistribué entre les membres du directoire familial qui gouverne la Syrie d'une main de fer. La principale victime de ce jeu de chaises musicales est le beau-frère du président Bachar el-Assad, le tout puissant Assef Shawkat, patron des Renseignements militaires, qui est soupçonné par la communauté internationale d'avoir trempé dans l'assassinat de l'ancien premier ministre libanais, Rafic Hariri, en 2005.
«Assef a été mis en quarantaine près de Lattaquieh», révèle un connaisseur du système syrien. Celui qui avec l'aval de Bachar , avait placé ses hommes à la tête des autres services de sécurité «paie pour deux échecs». Le premier concerne le bombardement israélien du site nucléaire syrien, le 6 septembre, près de Deir Ez-Zor (Nord-Est), rendu possible grâce à des photographies, prises au sol, par des Kurdes, qui auraient travaillé pour le Mossad israélien. «Des gens se sont approchés du site, poursuit l'expert, or c'est le service de Shawkat qui était responsable de sa protection». Première conséquence de cette faille, le poids des Renseignements militaires dans l'appareil sécuritaire a décliné au profit des Renseignements généraux du général Ali Mamlouk : «Ce sont des gens plus présentables, pour avoir commis moins de basses œuvres hors de la Syrie», ajoute la source. Le président syrien a également décidé d'«encadrer» son beau-frère en le flanquant d'un numéro 2, Ali Younès, qui lui rend compte directement…..
By Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Editor in Chief
Published: June 02, 2008, Gulf News
Opening an embassy needs good relations between the two countries and we were forced to put off this step as relations with Lebanon deteriorated in the past few years, says Bashar Al Assad, Syrian President…..