News Round Up (17 Oct. 2008)

Bush Administration Explores Possible Opening With Long-Shunned Syria
By Thomas Omestad
US News and World Report, 15 October 2008

Mustapha and Bush

Late in the life span of the Bush administration, U.S. officials have cautiously reached out to Syria through contacts that, until recently, they had shunned because of alleged Syrian support for terrorists and for efforts to destabilize Lebanon and Iraq.

It is too early to tell whether recent high-level meetings involving State Department officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and senior Syrian officials will lead to any breakthrough in relations. But Syria clearly hopes so.

The unexpected moves amount to “a tentative opening,” Syria’s ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, said in an interview with U.S. News. He interprets the contacts as perhaps reflecting an administration now disposed to “reconsider U.S. policies toward Syria.”

They also reflect a shift in Syrian thinking. Just this week, Syria formally established diplomatic ties with Lebanon for the first time since independence six decades ago, shaking off a long-held reluctance to acknowledge a French colonial decision to carve Lebanon from territory that had been Syrian…

… Moustapha says he hopes the new contacts will continue and will “let us narrow the differences.” He adds, “For the past four years, we have told the U.S. that we want to improve relations.”

Moustapha says he found particularly encouraging the administration’s support for a Syrian-Israeli peace track, given that U.S. officials have focused instead on trying to move along Palestinian-Israeli talks, where Washington plays a key brokering role. U.S. officials, the Syrian ambassador added, even encouraged him to keep them briefed on Syria’s perspective on how those talks are going when they resume.

Company News Alert: Carrefour Confirms Syrian Entry (Syria)

Following a long period of speculation, French retail major Carrefour has confirmed that it will enter the Syrian market. Carrefour is present in the Middle East through a partnership with its local franchise operator Majid Al Futtaim Retail (MAF Retail), a part of the Majid Al Futtaim Group, which has confirmed that it will invest an initial US$1.7bn to build Syria’s largest ever mixed-use development. The hotel, residential and commercial complex will be anchored by a Carrefour Hypermarket and will be located outside of Damascus on the Beirut to Damascus Highway which has been identified as a key development area.

Hugh Macleod, Extremists turn their wrath on Syria, Lebanon,” in San Fran Chronicle

After years of watching Baghdad burn while turning a blind eye to their own Muslim extremists, Lebanese and Syrian officials are now worried that al Qaeda-linked violence has gripped both nations. Two car bombs in two… 

Robert Worth in the NYTimes, here

“In the past, Syria has killed many people here under the pretext of fighting terrorism,” said Mr. Daqmaq, the cleric. “But the difference now is that there is a big lion called Al Qaeda, and the Syrians fear it.”

Boston Globe

Syrian Diplomacy: In an editorial, the paper comments on the establishment for the first time of diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria, and says the U.S. too has an opportunity to revive diplomacy with Syria – and needs to make the most of it.

Washington Times

Anti-Arab Bigotry: Edward Ayoob, a lobbyist, says he was right to fear that this presidential campaign was going to result in anti-Arab American bigotry because Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein. … What really has been shocking and outrageous is how the media, the political establishment and the candidates themselves have so openly tolerated racism and bigotry against Arabs.

Syria’s Choice by Hassan Mneimneh, a native of Beirut, is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in the Weekly Standard

Damascus should not be rewarded for its ‘nuanced’ position on Islamist terrorism.  …. Syria’s choice should be simple: an end to support for all terrorism and respect for Lebanon’s independence, or America will sit on the sidelines and watch a dictatorship that lived by the sword die by it.

What is Behind the Veil — a Deeper Look into Syria,” by Sondja at The Agonist

…Yet as an American girl on my own, I was cautious about visiting Syria. After all, they are the opposite of us, for we symbolize democracy, freedom, women’s rights, and they … well how can such liberties exist when women’s faces have been blacked out as if by an eraser?….

Orhan Pamuk, Turkish Novelist Denounces Government at Book Fair, NYTimes


 — A Syrian author and opposition figure has been indicted on a charge of spreading lies undermining the state, a human rights group said on Thursday.

Habib Saleh, who was arrested in May “has been indicted for having spread lies aimed at weakening national sentiment,” the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights (SLDHR) said. Saleh, 61, is also accused of having provoked “dissension aimed at triggering confessional strife,” and is due to appear before a Damascus criminal court, at an unspecified time, a statement added.

In 2001 he was arrested along with nine other opposition militants and jailed for three years. He was again arrested in May 2005 for posting “lies” on the Internet and released in September 2007.

Saudi Arabia hosts Taliban talks to bolster Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia is mediating between Taliban and Afghan officials to prevent its ally Pakistan from sliding into Islamist violence and to wean the Taliban away from al Qaeda, diplomats said on Wednesday. Saudi Arabia is mediating between Taliban and Afghan officials to prevent its ally Pakistan from sliding into Islamist violence and to wean the Taliban away from al Qaeda, diplomats said on Wednesday

U.S. protests to Syria over detained journalists
Reuters, 15 October 2008

The United States has officially protested to Syria for not immediately notifying Washington about the arrest of two American journalists, the State Department said on Wednesday.

The two journalists complained to diplomats that their request to notify the U.S. government of their arrest immediately was ignored, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

140 Iraqi refugees in Syria head home
By Albert Aji
The Associated Press, 15 October 2008

Some 140 Iraqi refugees living in Syria headed home Wednesday on a free trip organized by the Iraqi government. Many cited improved security in Iraq and dwindling savings as reasons for their return.

The refugees boarded a chartered Iraqi Airways flight to take them to Baghdad, where they will receive an official reception at the airport. The Iraqi Embassy says it is planning several such trips in the coming weeks. …

An official at the Iraqi Embassy, Adnan al-Shourifi, said Wednesday’s trip — which was organized for the first time in cooperation with the U.N. agency for refugees — reflects international recognition of the improved security situation in Iraq. He urged all refugees to return home to take part in rebuilding their country, saying they will be given cash and other incentives. Ayman Gharabiyah, a UNHCR official, said most of the Iraqis were returning home because their savings have run out.

Each returning family, he said, will receive around $850 in cash along with an extra monthly payment of $145 for the next six months. The returnees would also get their houses and jobs back, he added.

Hamid al-Dulaimi, a 50-year-old who has been living in Syria for the last two years, was returning with his wife, three children and mother.

“But if I find the security situation in Iraq is still bad, I will be back here,” he said….

Damascus has said the cost of the Iraqi refugees’ stay in Syria is estimated at $1.6 billion per year.

Syria-Turkey Gas Link Extension Planned
Moscow Times, 15 October 2008

Stroitransgaz, a Russian pipeline builder partly owned by Gazprom, plans to extend a gas link from Syria to Turkey that may help supply a project to Europe.

Stroitransgaz has signed an accord with state-owned Syrian Gas and the new pipeline will link Aleppo, in northern Syria, with the Turkish border, Syrian Oil Minister Sufian al-Alao said in comments published late Monday by the Syrian state-run news service Sana.

Syria began receiving gas from Egypt this year through a pipe that crosses Jordan and plans to import gas from Iraq’s Akkas field, which is close to the border, by 2010. Stroitransgaz, which built the Syrian section of the pipeline from Egypt, will now construct the 62-kilometer extension in 18 months, at a cost of 52 million euros ($71.2 million), Alao said.

Cristobal Burgos-Alonso, an adviser at the European Union’s Energy Directorate, on Oct. 2 said Iraq and Egypt might provide gas for Nabucco, a pipeline project to supply Europe through Turkey, bypassing Russia.

n National Iranian Oil managing director Seifollah Jashnsaz was to visit Moscow on Tuesday for talks with Gazprom, including on a joint venture to build a pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Oman, the Tehran Times newspaper reported.

Comments (54)

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51. Shai said:

OTW, Rumyal, Norman, Alex,

Indeed only 2 Israelis here seem to be pro-peace. But I know that many Israelis are reading the comments on SC. I have to assume that the language barrier is enough to keep most away and that, at the end of the day, most peacenicks prefer to be “passive” rather than “active” or vociferous, especially on a site that on first impression seems more intended for Arabs than for Jews. Plus, let’s face it, most people aren’t inquisitive, don’t go out of their way to communicate with their “enemy”, and find this comfortable “voyeurism” adventurous enough. Taking the time to actually write a comment seems almost beyond some emotional or conceptual barrier perhaps, and so they shy away from it. I know personally at least 4-5 amazing people, great intellectuals who are very successful at what they do (Academia, Business), who promised me they would write, but have remained readers only. These are people who are used to writing for a living, know how to express themselves, and have no language barrier whatsoever. And yet, they choose not to. But they keep coming back to read, because they do find SC fascinating. So go figure…

Rumyal, you’re right, we don’t want the Ynet-crowd coming here. If Alex had to start censoring 100 comments a day, he’d soon have to quit his job, and wouldn’t even get the 3 hours of sleep a night that he does now… 🙂 So how are we helping the peace process? Perhaps by representing quite a few people (maybe 30% of Israelis) who are clearly for-peace, but haven’t found their way to SC yet, or to any other meaningful blog. That’s ok. But we are reaching out to the other side, and many many Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, and other Arabs, are reading our comments. And perhaps some high-level people on both sides are coming across SC every so often, and are generating material for thought, not to mention for decision-making. If I was an MK member, I’d certainly seek out blog like SC, to learn so much about how the other side sees me. To me, that’s often more important than how I see myself.

Don’t give up guys – this is a good thing we’re doing, and SC is the perfect place, with the perfect people. What Alex and Joshua have done is a blessed thing and we should, in our own minor way, contribute to it in whatever way we can.

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October 21st, 2008, 7:38 am


52. Alex said:


I am still awake : ) … and it is 4-5 ours, not 3 .. don’t worry.

But Imagine … 100 more AIG’s : )

I will resign from moderation and start a different blog.

Anyway … I think you, and recently Rumyal, are doing a great job. I assure you that you made a difference.

Too bad AP does not believe me.

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October 21st, 2008, 7:53 am


53. Rumyal said:

Alex LOL 🙂

After we bring peace to the world our next task would be to break the tyrannical shackles of the need to sleep, enough with that useless time drain already!

If you’re looking for role-model bloggers, nothing competes with the DataGrid Girl… All you wanted to know about ASP.Net DataGrid controls, in Pink/i>!

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October 21st, 2008, 10:14 pm


54. Rumyal said:

Alex LOL 🙂

After we bring peace to world our next task would be to break the tyrannical shackles of the need to sleep, enough with that useless time drain already!

If you’re looking for role-model bloggers, nothing competes with the DataGrid Girl… All you wanted to know about ASP.Net DataGrid controls, in Pink/i>!

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October 21st, 2008, 10:16 pm


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