Posted by Joshua on Friday, July 17th, 2009
Qifa Nabki writes: This is how I think Saad is going to move, within the next couple of weeks, provided Hizbullah (and Syria) sign off.
Saudis Step Up Efforts to Repair Syria Ties
By MARGARET COKER
Saudi Arabia is accelerating its effort to lure Syria from Iranian influence, Saudi officials said, a move they hope will improve chances for a renewed peace initiative in the region.
Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s largest economy and the world’s biggest oil exporter, is offering economic incentives to Syria, including the promise of increased investment in Syria’s moribund economy. It has also moved aggressively to repair the nations’ strained diplomatic ties.
Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Assad
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Saudi King Abdullah, right, welcomes Syrian President Bashar Assad on a visit to Riyadh in March. Saudi Arabia has been working to repair strained diplomatic ties with Damascus.
Riyadh’s efforts come alongside a more public push by the Obama administration to improve U.S. ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
A detente could have significant repercussions for the region. Washington is hoping to engage Syria in a new round of peace talks with Israel. Both the Obama administration and its Arab allies want to diminish the influence Iran-backed groups Hezbollah and Hamas have over regional affairs. Syria wields influence over these militant organizations, classified by Washington as terrorist groups.
Syria’s relationship with Iran, which dates back to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, has always involved a measure of convenience and pragmatism. Mr. Assad’s father, former President Hafez Assad, broke from fellow Arab leaders and supported Tehran in that war because of his vehement opposition to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
Saudi-Syrian ties soured after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a close Saudi ally. Many inside and outside Lebanon blamed Syria, but Damascus has denied any complicity.
Just over a year ago, relations between the two were so strained that Saudi King Abdullah al Saud boycotted an Arab League summit in Damascus. Earlier this month, however, the king named a new ambassador to Syria, after a yearlong absence. Saudi diplomats say King Abdullah is also considering a bilateral summit this summer in Damascus with Mr. Assad.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has accused Syria of meddling in Iraq and in Lebanese affairs after Damascus ended its long occupation of the country, shortly after the Hariri assassination. The U.S. has slapped tough economic sanctions on Syria.
But by late last year, Mr. Assad appeared to have orchestrated a diplomatic makeover. Western powers applauded him for helping to broker a peace deal between political parties in Lebanon in 2008. Then, Mr. Assad agreed to indirect peace talks with Israel — though those talks broke down early this year after Israel’s assault on Gaza.
Late last year, Saudi Arabia began shuttle diplomacy that has included visits between intelligence chiefs and top decision makers in both Riyadh and Damascus.
“We are reminding [the Syrians] of the natural links that we share,” said a Saudi royal adviser. “We have presented a way for them to get out of the hole that they have dug for themselves” with their alliance with Iran, the adviser said.
During the oil boom of the past few years, cash-flush Gulf states like Saudi Arabia showered Syria, whose own oil output has dwindled, and other poorer Arab neighbors with investments.
In 2006, Saudi Arabian businesses were the largest foreign investors in Syria, injecting €645 million, or about $910 million, according to European Union statistics. But as relations soured, investment dropped. In 2007, Saudi investment in Syria was just €10 million.
Government statistics are difficult to come by, but anecdotal evidence suggests investment is headed back up again. A Saudi construction firm this month announced the opening of a $110 million industrial park in Syria. Saudi tourists are filling Damascus cafes and hotels, giving a needed boost to the country’s services and real-estate sectors.
The biggest potential beneficiary of the warmer ties is Lebanon, which has long served as a proxy battleground for bigger regional powers. Last month, a coalition of Western-leaning politicians, backed by Saudi Arabia, beat back an opposition slate led by Hezbollah and backed by Iran and Syria, in parliamentary elections.
Lebanese Prime Minister-elect Saad Hariri, from the Saudi-backed front, sat down Wednesday with parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, a leader seen as close to Syria. At the end of their meeting in Beirut, Mr. Berri declared that a Lebanese government should be formed by the end of the month, the clearest sign yet that political patrons in Riyadh and Damascus are getting along.
The Saudi royal adviser said the planned bilateral meeting between King Abdullah and Mr. Assad will seek to cement the two leaders’ cooperation in forming the Lebanese government.
—Julien Barnes-Dacey and Nada Raad contributed to this article.
According to Levant News, Syria and Israel will carry out unofficial talks in Greece next week.
مباحثات سورية إسرائيلية في أثينا برعاية يونانية
وأمريكية الأسبوع القادم
يعقد مسؤولون سوريون وباحثون مقربون من الحكومة السورية؛ مباحثات “غير رسمية” مع إسرائيليين، وذلك خلال مؤتمر ينعقد في اليونان الأسبوع القادم.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said relations with Syria are getting out of the “deep freeze” that has prevailed since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a massive Beirut bombing.
“The current relationship with Syria is promising, yet it faces problems. It is promising on the one hand because there are a lot of areas where the U.S. and Syria can work together in order to achieve objectives of common interests,” Feltman said in an interview with pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, published on Thursday.
“However, some of the key issues that have contributed to the freezing of relations continue to pose problems,” Feltman explained. “We simply do not agree with Syria on the nature of Hizbullah, be it (Hizbullah) a positive or a negative impact on the security of the region.”
He said that while Syria defends Hizbullah, Washington still considers the Shiite party a terrorist organization.
“This is a very serious matter. We have different views on this issue,” Feltman added.
Lebanese Druze leader calls for opening new page with Syria49.758 GMT
BEIRUT, Jul 16, 2009 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — Lebanese Druze majority leader Walid Joumblat said that the political and geographical fate of Lebanon lies in the hands of Syria, his remarks were published in an interview with local daily Nahar Al-Shabab annex Thursday.
In a significant turn around of his previous political stands, Joumblat called for opening a new page with Syria, hinting to the possibility of visiting Damascus soon.
“The Syrian army withdrew from Lebanon ending 30 years of military presence, so why do we always have to refer to the past,” Joumblat said.
Jumblatt warns of Israeli ‘extremism’ after surprise meeting with Nasrallah
Daily Star, Saturday, June 20, 2009
Jumblatt warns of Israeli ‘extremism’ after surprise meeting with Nasrallah
BEIRUT: A surprise reconciliation between the leaders of Hizbullah and the Progressive Socialist Party was followed on Friday by Walid Jumblatt’s re-directing his rhetoric south, to Palestine, and warning of the “absolute extremism” of the Israeli government. “I call on all of our people in Palestine to reject sectarian and non-sectarian violence and cling to their Arabism and Palestinian national project, to confront Zionist projects that promise to be more dangerous and fiercer in the coming phase,” Jumblatt said in a statement.
The PSP leader said the Israeli government had no interest in a peace settlement and “insisted on absolute extremism” in its current policies.
Jumblatt, or the burden of reinvention
Michael Young, Thursday, July 16, 2009
When Walid Jumblatt visited Hassan Nasrallah recently in a catacomb of Beirut’s southern suburbs, he took with him two books, Tariq Ali’s “The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power” and Ahmed Rashid’s “Descent into Chaos,” about America’s failure at nation-building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central
Jewish Leaders Give Obama No Push-Back on Settlement Freeze
By Nathan Guttman, Forward
As Jewish leaders left their July 13 meeting with President Obama, it was clear that despite some misgivings, the bulk of the organized Jewish community is in full support of his peace efforts, including his policy on settlements…..
Commentary: Syria receptive to U.S. advances
By Mohamed H. Hamdan | The Institute for War & Peace Reporting
DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian analysts and officials are applauding Washington’s decision to send an ambassador to Damascus after a four-year absence.
The move, these observers say, reflects awareness by the new American administration of the important role Syria plays in bringing peace and stability to the Middle East.
Washington withdrew Ambassador Margaret Scobey from Damascus in February 2005 to express its “profound outrage” over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria was widely believed to be behind the killing.
The U.S. embassy has remained open since then, but headed by a charge d’affaires. Syria retained its envoy in Washington during the period.
Observers view the Obama administration’s decision to return an ambassador to Damascus as a reward for Syria’s improved attitude in the region, including the exchange of diplomatic representation with Lebanon and boosting security along its border with Iraq.
The move also comes as the government in Iran, Syria’s strongest strategic ally, is undergoing political turmoil in the wake of its disputed presidential election.
One Damascus-based political analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for his security, said Washington sees an opportunity to weaken ties between Damascus and Tehran.
This analyst also said that the United States has tried to persuade its allies in the region, mainly Saudi Arabia, to reconcile with the Syrians in order to further isolate Tehran.
There were already signs of divergence between Iran and Syria on some regional issues.
But this analyst cautioned that “the price of breaking their alliance with Iran would be very costly” for Syrians.
“What the U.S. has offered to the Syrians is not enough to take that risk,” he said.
To sever its ties with Iran, this analyst said, Damascus would insist on the full commitment of the United States to the peace process with the Israelis and eventually the return of the Golan Heights.
George Hajouj, a Damascus-based political analyst, said he believed that Damascus had a clear vision of what role the United States should play after the appointment of the new ambassador.
Damascus wants Washington to pave the way for a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on the “land-for peace” principle whereby Israel would relinquish occupied territory in exchange for a peace agreement with Palestinians.
The ‘Could’ with the Likkud (and others in Israel) is an exercise in futility. PULSE, Julian Brody
“…. By distancing itself from Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah and strengthening its relationship with the United States, Syria could increase its regional influence.
….By strengthening its relationship with the United States and Europe through an Israeli-Syrian peace deal, Syria could continue to refinance its heavy foreign debt and attract foreign investment to spur economic growth.
Prime Minister Netanyahu could also benefit from an Israeli-Syrian treaty. Such a deal would demonstrate his commitment to the peace process and improve his relationship with President Obama. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu will face strong opposition to a Golan withdrawal. According to Hof, polls consistently show that 70 percent of Israelis are unwilling to give up the Golan …
Since Israel relies on the Sea of Galilee as its primary natural reservoir to serve its dense population centers, Hof’s proposal avoids giving Syria the ability to increase its population density in the Golan Heights and possibly jeopardize Israel’s water supply. Instead, the proposal strives to “minimize the Syrian impact on waters vital to Israel’s economy, facilitate Israeli civilian access to the full circumference of the Sea, and carve out an area where Syrian-Israeli people-to-people contacts might easily and informally take place.” …..In essence “Syria gets the land and regulated access to the water, and Israel gets the water and regulated access to the land.” Bi-national access to the preserve will further increase Israeli-Syrian civilian contact and contribute to the development of a “warm peace.”
Though Hof offers a practical and feasible solution, he neglects a major source of contention within the Israeli-Syrian relationship: terrorist sponsorship. It is unlikely that Israel will reach an agreement if Syria does not promise to renounce its ties with Hezbollah and Hamas.
Hof contends that Syrian renunciation of terror is a consequence, not a stipulation of the treaty, since “Syria would be unable to uphold its end of normal peaceful relations.” …”
Syria’s National Museum makes it into this list of the top ten museums in the world.
For the sheer volume of artifacts displayed, Syria’s national museum deserves a place in the top ten. Located in the oldest continually inhabited city in the world the museum certainly equals its surroundings with its two wings hosting Arab Islamic, Classical and Byzantine collections. Many of the most important finds from excavations throughout Syria are on display here and the collection begins even before you enter. The facade of the building incorporates the transplanted gateway of Qasr al-Heir al Gharbi, a desert castle near Palmyra. Visitors can see clay tablets of the oldest alphabet in the world, the Ugaritic Alphabet and ivory, bronze and marble classical statues found at the many archeological sites throughout the country.
By far the most popular part of the museum is the reconstructed 2nd-century AD Synagogue, with walls that are covered with Talmudic laws and scenes from the scriptures.
According to the Syrian Embassy, entrance to the museum is free.