Posted by Joshua on Sunday, July 20th, 2008
I am headed off for three weeks of travel and vacation so I will not be posting regularly. I will count on Alex, QN, and Ehsani to entertain and enlighten
The following profile of Syria's first lady, Asma al-Akhras, will become increasingly common. Asma has kept a low international profile until now – in part because Syrian officials have not been swanning around the West — but the Paris tour is a coming out party of sorts. It has generated great interest and a number of profiles of Syria's beautiful first lady will come out soon.
Syria's first lady is the more glamorous, modern face of the nation,
writes Jason Koutsoukis.
[Power couple … the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma, in Paris. Photo: AP]
What would it take to distract the international paparazzi from France's first lady, Carla Bruni, at an international leaders' summit in Paris? The answer, quite simply, was Asma al-Assad…..
Abdullah al-Dardari is to embark on a two-day visit to France on Monday in efforts to boost bilateral economic cooperation. The trip was scheduled to "follow up the outcome of the successful visit" of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to France and his talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy a week ago, said the official SANA news agency.
Dardari will hold talks with French officials, including ministers of economy, industry and employment, and the French President's General Secretary Claude Gueant, to discuss the future of economic and technical cooperation between the two countries, said SANA.
Talks will focus on bolstering cooperation in the field of transport, particularly in civil aviation, railroads and marine transport, as well as cooperation in the fields of energy, gas, petroleum and electricity. Cooperation in communications, the use of information technology to support economic and social development, and cooperation to support the process of economic and institutional reform and capability-building will also be discussed, SANA said.
In a recent press statement, Dardari revealed a more detailed plan in seeking cooperation with French companies during his stay in France, saying he would discuss with personnels of Airbus, a leading aircraft manufacturer, to complete a deal to buy 50 aircraft in the next twenty years. He said he is scheduled to hold talks with the world's fourth-largest oil and gas company Total to renew contract for oil production. Dardari will also seek to obtain the French government's support for these deals and a loan worth of 50 million euros, said informed Syrian sources.
Meanwhile, Dardari is due to endeavor to secure the signing of a partnership agreement between the European Union and Syria, which was initialed in late 2004 but long-stalled after the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005, said the sources. French President Sarkozy will pay a visit to Syria before mid-September, which would be prepared during Dardari's visit to Paris, said an Elysee statement last week.
U.S. Talks With Iran Exemplify Bush's New Approaches
In a Matter of Days, Administration Announces Change of Tactics Toward Onetime 'Axis of Evil'
(By Dan Eggen, The Washington Post)
… Many Democrats view the developments as evidence that Bush is moving closer to military and diplomatic policies that their party's presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, has long advocated.
John R. Bolton, a former United Nations ambassador for Bush who has become one of his most vocal conservative critics, likened the developments to breaches in a dam that is about to burst. "Once the collapse begins, adversaries have a real opportunity to gain advantage," he said Saturday. "In terms of the Bush presidency, this many reversals this close to the end destroys credibility. . . . It appears there is no depth to which this administration will not sink in its last days."
Former White House Middle East director Flynt Leverett, who has criticized the administration for being too hawkish, said the moves on Iraq, Iran and North Korea were signs of "tactical desperation," adding: "It's a recognition that if they don't make these moves, they'll be left with nothing."
White House officials bristle at such criticisms, saying that partisans on both sides have misinterpreted tactical decisions as policy changes. …U.S. officials have said the decision to send Burns was intended to further unify the international coalition that opposes Iran's nuclear work.
Saudi Arabia tried to Disuade France from Inviting Syria:
French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner confirms that Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, visited France before President Assad’s visit in order to convince the French to not seek friendly relations with Syria. Kouchner also said that he hopes the Saudis (who are smart) will understand that there is no other way .. because everyone is working for peace. Finally, he said that the Americans and Israelis approved and supported Sarkozy’s initiatives … including his work with President Assad.
كوشنير يؤكّد لـ»السفير« لقاء الفيصل وساركوزي:
السعوديون ليسوا متحمسين لتقارب دمشق وباريس
السعوديون ليسوا متحمسين للتقارب الفرنسي السوري. الخلاصة تفرض نفسها في ما قاله وزير الخارجية الفرنسية برنار كوشنير لـ»السفير«، وهو يغادر ظهر امس، منبر مؤتمر صحافي عقده في الكي دورسيه.
انتخب الوزير الفرنسي من سؤال »السفير« عن حقيقة موقف الرياض من تقارب باريس ودمشق، عبارة »قلة الحماس«، مفضلا إياها على تعبير »معارضة الرياض« للقاء الرئيس الفرنسي نيكولا ساركوزي بالرئيس السوري بشار الأسد في قصر الإليزيه الأسبوع الماضي.
»هل أظهر السعوديون معارضتهم او قلة حماسهم للتقارب الفرنسي السوري؟«، يجيب كوشنير المقاطع »أفضل قلة الحماس«.
و»هل أتى وزير الخارجية السعودية سعود الفيصل وتحدث بذلك مع الرئيس ساركوزي؟«، يجيب كوشنير »نعم بالتأكيد«.
وكانت »السفير« قد نشرت الاثنين الماضي، خبر المساعي السعودية للجم الاندفاع الفرنسي تجاه دمشق، في لقاء عقده الأمير سعود الفيصل مع الرئيس ساركوزي، قبل وصول الرئيس الأسد إلى العاصمة الفرنسية. ومن غير المستبعد ان يقتطع ساركوزي والملك السعودي عبد الله، بعض الوقت من عطلتيهما الصيفية في المغرب، للاجتماع بهدف متابعة البحث في الموقف السعودي.
وبات واضحا ان الاعتراض السعودي على تطوير باريس لعلاقاتها مع دمشق، في الوقت الحاضر على الأقل، حجته الراجحة في خطر البرنامج النووي الإيراني، اذ لم يعد تحالف سوريا مع ايران يشكل حاجزا لا يمكن للرئيس ساركوزي اجتيازه، في طريقه إلى دمشق. كما لم يشكل عقبة كبيرة امام القائمين على الاليزيه لفتح أبوابه الأسبوع الماضي امام الأسد.
ويحيل كوشنير »اسباب الاعتراض السعودي حول التقارب مع سوريا«، لاختلاف في »التعبير، في الأنظمة، والبلدان، والموارد، والتحالفات التي تعقدها سوريا، او السعودية وهي قطب مهم في العالم العربي، وهذا طبيعي، ولا يصدم. هذه حال الدنيا ولا جديد فيها«. ويضيف »لم يظهر الاختلاف فقط حول قدوم الرئيس الأسد إلى باريس، بل قبل ذلك.. والجميع يبدل رأيه، ولان السعوديين أذكياء، اعتقد أنهم يفهمون، ولكننا لا نطلب منهم تغيير موقفهم.. هناك مساران سياسيان لا بد لهما من لقاء، لأننا جميعا نريد السلام«.
والشراكة الفرنسية ـ السعودية الإستراتيجية، تملي تنسيقا مستديما بين الرياض وباريس، لكن وصف ساركوزي في الإليزيه للعلاقات السورية الفرنسية المستجدة، بانها بنيوية واستراتيجية، يندرج لدى الوزير الفرنسي في تحولات سياسية أوسع في فرنسا والولايات المتحدة إزاء سوريا وإيران.
ويسأل كوشنير عما اذا كان السعوديون على اطلاع أم لا على ما يجري على الخط السوري الفرنسي. ويقول »من البديهي أننا أعلمناهم بما يحدث.. لكن البعض قد يقدر أننا لم نفعل ذلك بشكل كاف.. لا أعرف! صحيح ان السعودية لم تكن نصيرة للقائنا مع الأسد، إنها علاقات معقدة وحساسة وأفهم اختلاف المواقف داخل العالم العربي، لكن أعتقد أن الجميع قد فهم موقفنا وهو يجنح نحو السلام والتهدئة«.
ويتابع الوزير الفرنسي »بوسع السعوديين الا يقبلوا طريقتنا في البدء، أو لا يوافقوا عليها كليا في مرحلة تالية.. ولكن هذا ليس انطباعي.. ان ما يجري جزء من إعادة التشكيل، ليس الجغرافي فقط، ولكن السياسي والإستراتيجي أيضا.. إنها دبلوماسية الحركة والحوار«.
واختلاف التقدير بين السعودية وفرنسا، لا يفقد تقارب باريس ـ دمشق شيئا من زخمه، ولن يغير الاعتراض السعودي شيئا كبيرا في المدى القريب، لأنه يجري في ظل تفاهم أميركي فرنسي، وتشجيع إسرائيلي. ويقول كوشنير »نلنا تهنئة إسرائيلية على دعوة الأسد إلى قمة الاتحاد من أجل المتوسط.. وقد التقينا بالرئيس جورج بوش وكوندليسا رايس في حزيران هنا في باريس، وعقدنا اجتماعا لأربع ساعات وشرحنا لهم موضوع اللقاء.. وبدأوا بالتفكير بطريقة عملية، انطلاقا من المعطيات الجديدة.. وقد هنأنا الأميركيون على القمة وعلى اللقاء بالأسد لأنه لا يمكن الفصل بين الحدثين«.
ويتقدم التقارب السوري الفرنسي بسرعة أكبر مما يعتقده كثيرون، من دون ان تعيقه شروط مسبقة. ولأن باريس ترى انها حققت الأهم في إعلان الأسد من الإليزيه قرب إقامة سفارة سورية في بيروت، فقد اصبح نافلا بنظرها، ان يسبق موعد اقامتها، زيارة الرئيس ساركوزي إلى دمشق، مطلع أيلول المقبل، طالما ان مبدأ إقامتها قد أصبح واقعا.
'Our resistance is education': Students serve as crucial link between Golan Heights, Syria
By Meris Moore Lutz
Saturday, July 19, 2008
DAMASCUS-On a hot afternoon in Damascus in late June, 26-year-old Bashar Fakhradeen ticks of his list of things to do, see, and eat before crossing the border back to his village in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the last time. "I need to get an oil painting of old Damascus, and some mosaic woodwork," he says, sitting in one of the old city's renovated palaces-turned cafes. Giant plasma screens hang from the ancient stone walls, flashing an endless stream of music videos from the Arab world's top pop divas, as tittering groups of teenagers flirt over beer and nargileh.
"This is my farewell to Damascus, so I've just been walking around trying to take it all in," he adds, shrugging helplessly.
Until recently, Fakhradeen was one of approximately 300 university students from the Golan Heights given special permission to cross into Syria to pursue their higher education. But this spring, he graduated with a degree in Arabic literature from the University of Damascus, and so his last days in Syria will be spent saying goodbye to friends and family he may never see again.
"I have been here for eight years – my entire youth was spent here," he says. "I definitely feel a stronger sense of belonging to Syria than when I first came."
Since 1978, the students' unique status has allowed them to act as intermediaries between the Golan Heights and Syria, maintaining the bonds of culture, family and language that they hope will one day lead to reunification.
The Syrian government, for its part, attempts to attract students from the occupied territory by giving them special privilege at Syrian universities, such as exemption from entrance exams to the most competitive departments, like medicine, and a small stipend of about $20 a month.
Last December, the Syrian government announced its decision to grant citizenship to the students, and began distributing new identity cards, but not passports. However, the Israelis have been confiscating the cards at the border as the students cross back into the Golan for their allotted two-month summer vacation, according to Fakhradeen and other students interviewed for this article.
The Jerusalem Post reported on July 5 that the Syrian government has filed an official complaint with the United Nations claiming Israel is 'abusing' the mostly Druze inhabitants of the Golan by taking their ID cards, dumping nuclear waste in the area, and confiscating land.
The Post went on to report that representatives from a special UN committee for human rights abuses said the Israeli government denied them permission to visit the Golan in order to verify the accusation.
"Syria gives us one card and Israel takes it away," Fakhradeen says, showing off his new identity card, nearly identical to his old one except for a 'citizen number' printed at the bottom. …..
|The talk of the town|
|By Zvi Bar'el and Barak Ravid|
The pictures that came in from the French capital depicted him as trying to court Syrian President Bashar Assad, with the latter turning his back on him time after time.
Olmert's advisers were angry. "No such thing," they said and offered the following version: "Time after time, the French, the UN secretary general and others came to us," they said. "All of them asked, 'do you want us to introduce you to each other?' But Olmert gave all of them the same reply and said, 'drop it. I don't want to embarrass anybody.'"
Even if Olmert wasn't trying to "court" Assad, and the pictures were misleading, Syria's behavior at the conference was yet another instance in which Israel was exploited for Assad's purposes. To the extended Israeli hand, the Syrians responded with a hasty retreat from any Israeli who came within 10 meters of them in the conference hall. The Syrians received international legitimization, and Israel again received not even a crumb.
But even if the Syrians rejoiced in the streets of Paris at Israel's expense, they may still have understood it's a lot nicer in Europe than in Tehran. If Assad had a swell time in Paris, that doesn't present a problem for Olmert. On the contrary, let him sense the advantages. Things must also be examined with an eye toward the bigger picture: Israel's freedom to engage in military action in the region in the coming months, especially in the light of increasing talk of a possible Israeli attack on Iran. A Syrian president whose wife can go shopping again in Saint Michel and Saint Germain is not going to be in any rush to join an Iranian military adventure.
Samir Kuntar will visit Syria (Jerusalem Post) and meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad in coming weeks, Qatari newspaper Al-Watan reported Saturday. Kuntar was expected to thank Assad for Syrian's role in defending Lebanon.
Growing Salafist movement in North poses challenge to the project of state building
By Mona Alami of Inter Press Service
Saturday, July 19, 2008
… "Most Salafists are allied to the Saudis and, thus, aligned with American Middle East policy. They maintain excellent relations with the government and the Hariri family," says Bakri. The Hariris are a powerful Lebanese political clan with strong ties to Saudi Arabia. Saad Hariri, son of slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, heads the majority parliamentary coalition in Lebanon.
… Different sources interviewed by IPS report that most Salafists seem to follow the pro-government bloc, while other radical Sunni factions, such as Tawhid, are sponsored by either Syria or Iran, and hence, support the opposition.
According to a source, who chose to remain anonymous due to the topic's sensitivity, many Salafist preachers are on the payroll of Arab embassies located in Lebanon. Bakri says this support can be partly explained by Sunnis' growing fear of Lebanese Shiites, represented by Hizbullah….
Thaw in relations with Syria only a 'partial' step – analysts
Hariri tribunal could pose stumbling block in talks
By Dalila Mahdawi
… Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut told The Daily Star Friday that the recent thaw between the two states was only a "partial" step toward reconciliation, "part of the general reorientation of Syrian policy" and "indicated a new period in Lebanese-Syrian relations."… Salem said, "the rapprochement between Syria and France suggests that there might be some progress on the issue of the tribunal that we don't know about."..
Elias Hanna, a retired army general and senior lecturer of Political Science at the Notre-Dame University in Lebanon, was optimistic that "regardless of all the complexities faced, I don't think the talks will break down. Syria lost Lebanon, a major strategic asset in 2005, and regaining it now would be of huge value" to Damascus. …