Posted by Joshua on Thursday, July 2nd, 2009
Reports emerge of Syrian-Saudi summit
Detente between Damascus, Riyadh could include Hariri – reports
By Nicholas Kimbrell, Daily Star
Thursday, July 02, 2009
BEIRUT: Days after officials in Washington announced that a US ambassador would soon be sent to Syria, reports have emerged of an upcoming Syrian-Saudi Arabian summit to be held in Damascus that could include Lebanon. Conventional wisdom holds that any improvement in Syrian-Saudi ties generally contributes to increased stability in Lebanon, and according to experts on Levantine politics, Lebanon may already be benefiting from those nations’ thawing ties and a revamped US policy in the region.
“Any relief or stabilization in the Syrian-Saudi relationship will be positively reflected in the Lebanese political life,” Chafik Masri, an international law professor at the American University of Beirut, told The Daily Star Wednesday.
“The tension between Syria and the regional competitors and the international players now has some relief,” he added.
On Sunday, Saudi Prince Abdel-Aziz bin Abdullah and Information Minister Abdel-Aziz Khoja, a former ambassador to Beirut, visited Syrian President Bashar Assad, and regional media have report widely on a likely meeting between Assad and Saudi King Abdullah on July 16.
According to a number of sources cited in the pan-Arab press, that summit, an indication of dŽtente between Damascus and Riyadh, could also include Premier-designate Saad Hariri.
Syrian-Saudi relations appeared to publically improve following summits in Kuwait and Doha in January and March of this year, following Israel’s three-week bombardment of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. In the wake of those summits Lebanon witnessed a relatively calm election campaigning season and peaceful parliamentary elections.
Following the elections, won handily by the March 14 coalition, Hariri, the leader of that coalition and the Future Movement was quickly tapped for the premiership and charged with forming a government.
Masri said the easing of regional tensions had given Lebanon more “flexibility” and “room for compromise” to build a new government. Ahead of the Syrian-Saudi summit, he added, many believe that a cabinet will be formed, Hariri will be invited to the Damascus meeting and the US will resume full diplomatic ties with Syria.
The US recalled its ambassador from Syria in 2005 after the assassination of Hariri’s father, Rafik Hariri, a former premier himself. His murder was widely blamed on Syria, although Damascus has denied any involvement.
Syria expert Joshua Landis, co-director of Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the founder of the popular Syria Comment Web site and newsletter, said the current movement in the region and its effects on Lebanon had a historical precedent.
“If we look at the 1990s as model … Saudi Arabia and Syria worked hand in glove and you got the flowering of Lebanon, under Hariri oversight with a Syrian security presence … There was an understanding. America, of course, was a part of this,” he said.
But this “triangular entente” collapsed under former US President George W. Bush, who tried “to pull Lebanon out of the Syrian sphere of influence,” he noted. “What we are seeing is the re-establishment, under [US President Barack] Obama of the triangular entente of the 1990s.” According to Landis, in the past, Syria used Lebanon as a tool or instrument to push various interests. The Bush administration, he said, tried to reverse that method and use Lebanon against Syria, with no success.
Now Syria may be more interested in the broader ramifications of Obama’s regional peace strategy.
“Syria wants to move ahead and get beyond Lebanon. So it needs to neutralize Lebanon, put Lebanon in the freezer,” Landis said, adding that in this sense Damascus wants to maintain the status quo and was satisfied with Lebanon’s election results.
The country wants to play an integral role in the Obama administration’s comprehensive Middle East peace strategy, Landis noted, and needs Saudi Arabia as a partner. “From a Syrian point of view, it’s very important that the Saudi Arabians and Syrians come together,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia needs Syria too,” Landis added. “The only strategy against Iran is one of Arab unity.”
What Lebanon’s position is in a broader push for regional peace is not entirely clear. The resumption of US-Syrian and Syrian-Saudi ties are expected to help bridge Lebanon’s internal divisions, but the country’s security could still be manipulated by foreign influences.
Without substantive action, that satisfies Syria and Saudi Arabia and is accepted by Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, “all of this is going to be like band-aids,” Landis said.
Moreover, the rapprochement between regional powers can contribute to stability and security in Lebanon but it can’t ensure it.
Former Ambassador Abdullah Bou Habib, the executive director of the Issam Fares Center for Lebanon, noted that despite current geo-political trends, the burden of political and sectarian divisiveness ultimately rests with the Lebanese.
“There is no doubt that any agreement between Syria and Saudi Arabia would close much of the gap between the Lebanese,” he said. “But it does not close it completely.”
United Nations: Ensuring quality education among challenges for Syria
2009-06-30 20:53:50.169 GMT
Syria has made advances in achieving globally agreed development targets related to women and children, but still faces challenges in ensuring quality education, according to the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “Syria is …
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak huddled for four hours yesterday with former senator George J. Mitchell, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Middle East peace, seeking to resolve an impasse between their two governments over the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. ….
President Obama has demanded that Israel fulfill a commitment in the 2003 “road map” peace plan for a full settlement freeze, including a halt to expansion to accommodate “natural growth.” The Israeli government has responded with a series of counterproposals, including a temporary freeze with caveats, none of which the administration has accepted.
“We have not changed our position at all,” a senior administration official said yesterday after the Barak-Mitchell meeting. “Nor has the president authorized any negotiating room.”
An Israeli official who accompanied Barak to the meeting in New York characterized the talks as positive. He said a meeting between Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which was canceled last week, will probably take place this month. ….
U.S. Targets Firms Tied To N. Korea Arms Trade
By Glenn Kessler, Wash Post
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
The Obama administration yesterday began a campaign to curtail North Korea’s ability to finance its trade in missiles and nuclear materials, with the Treasury and State Departments announcing actions against two North Korean companies, including one allegedly connected to the building of a nuclear reactor in Syria.
Administration officials said they are determined to ramp up pressure on the North Korean government in response to a series of missile tests and the detonation of a nuclear device — its second — this year. The playbook is drawn from similar efforts in the Bush administration — and largely directed by the same person, Stuart Levey, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence — that were abandoned by President George W. Bush in late 2006 in an effort to win North Korea’s cooperation through diplomacy.
Anxious Oil Giants Pass on Iraq
BAGHDAD, June 29 — Iraq’s effort to woo foreign energy companies to help resurrect its ailing oil fields fell flat Tuesday, as most companies balked at the financial terms offered by the government despite the lure of the country’s vast reserves. …
During a day-long live auction for eight 20-year service contracts, the Iraqi Oil Ministry was able to nail down just one deal — for the giant Rumaila field in southern Iraq. The Iraqi Oil Ministry reached an agreement with British Petroleum and China National Petroleum Corp. only after BP and CNPC accepted a much lower fee than they originally sought in return for raising the field’s output beyond current levels. Rumaila, Iraq’s biggest oil field, has an estimated 17 billion barrels of oil reserves, an amount equivalent to more than half the reserves of the entire United States. …
In the current bidding round, Iraq said it would reimburse companies for costs and pay them a per-barrel fee for increases in production from the country’s abundant but long-neglected fields. But it did not offer the companies an ownership stake in the crude, which would have been a more attractive type of contract. It also demanded nearly $3 billion in “signing bonus” loans for the six oil fields, which are active but underproducing, and two largely undeveloped gas fields.
BP and China’s national oil company submitted a joint bid to raise output at Rumaila from about 1 million barrels a day to 2.85 million barrels a day for a $3.99-per-barrel fee. The ministry said it would pay a maximum of $2 a barrel. In the end, the companies agreed to that price. “We’re pleased with the process so far and look forward to concluding the contract in due course,” said BP spokesman Toby Odone. …
La chaîne France 5 : le Président ASSAD a fait de la Syrie le point d’équilibre du Moyen-Orient (Tichrine du 24 juin) Thanks Syria Report
“Les opinions ici mentionnées, reprises de la presse syrienne, n’engagent que leurs auteurs et non pas le groupe sénatorial France-Syrie, ni le Sénat.”
La chaîne de télévision française France 5 a affirmé que le président Bachar AL-ASSAD a réussi à transformer la Syrie en point d’équilibre du Moyen-Orient. La chaîne a diffusé un documentaire de 50 minutes consacré au Président ASSAD et réalisé par les journalistes Christian MALAR et Bernard VAILLOT. La chaîne a qualifié de « sage, nationale et courageuse » la politique du Président ASSAD, soulignant les réformes qu’a connues la Syrie sous sa direction et les efforts qu’il déploie pour garantir la prospérité économique à son peuple.
« Le Président ASSAD a pu surmonter les tentatives de pression et de blocus visant à ébranler la stabilité politique, économique et sociale en Syrie » a affirmé la chaîne, tout en ajoutant qu’il a placé la Syrie au centre des évolutions politiques au Moyen-Orient. Le programme a également évoqué la volonté sérieuse de la Syrie d’établir une paix juste dans la région tout en s’attachant à ses principes patriotiques et à sa dignité nationale. Le programme a été suivi par un nombre important de Français résidant en Syrie et par la communauté syrienne à Paris.
Damascus Stock Exchange to Increase Trading Days, Chief Says
2009-07-0, By Nadim Issa
July 1 (Bloomberg) — The Damascus Securities Exchange will add another trading day later this month to increase the volume of transactions, said the exchange’s Chief Executive Officer Mohamad Al-Jleilati. “In 15 days from now we will have three trading days instead of two to increase volume,” Al-Jleilati said today in a telephone interview from Damascus.
Volumes traded have risen to 36.3 million Syrian pounds ($790,000) on June 29 from 11.4 million Syrian pounds on June 22, according to the daily bulletin on the exchange’s Web site. “The reason for the increased volume is the heavy activity on two stocks — Bank of Syria & Overseas and Arab Bank-Syria because investors are cashing in,” Al-Jleilati said. “These investors want to use the money to participate in the initial public offerings of Qatar National Bank-Syria and the rights issue to increase Bank Audi-Syria’s capital.” Bank Audi-Syria’s share offering started on June 24 and QNB-Syria’s is expected to offer shares on July 12. The exchange will open on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday each week instead of Monday and Thursday previously, said Al- Jleilati.
Salah Kaftaru arrested ….
* اعتقال صلاح كفتارو بناء على اتهامات تتصل بعمل مجمع كفتارو الإسلامي
ذكرت مصادر صحفية في سورية أن السلطات اعتقلت صلاح كفتارو، مدير مجمع كفتارو الإسلامي ونجل مفتي الجمهورية الراحل، بناء على اتهامات تتصل بعمل المجمع وتمويله.
It is perhaps ironic that Nouri Al-Maliki chose the U.S.-funded satellite television channel Al-Hurra on which to denounce the current political system based on consensus democracy which has catapulted him to the top. Al-Maliki said that a consensus was necessary in the early stages of transition to democracy after the fall of the Saddam region, but that if the rule by consensus should persist, it will turn into a disaster. He said “Democracy means the rule by the majority and the idea of consensus democracy is not compatible with [true] democracy and, in fact, contradicts it.”(3) He called for limiting the force of agreements that guarantee certain positions to the Kurds (the presidency of the republic), to the Sunnis (the presidency of parliament),(4) and, of course, to the Shia (the premiership). It is a system of power sharing commonly referred to in Iraq as has-hasah which, when taken to extremes, has meant that every single position in government, from the president of the republic to the office messenger, is distributed along the power-sharing principle according to a numerical formula based on a census taken decades ago.(5) This formula for distributing government positions could drastically change if the preparations for census to be conducted next year proceed on schedule.
Al-Maliki said that after the next round of national elections he “will call to put an end to the consensus.” His critics quickly claimed that a strict majority rule means a rule by the Shi’a.