Posted by Joshua on Friday, June 20th, 2008
Asma Al-Assad in India
Israel and Syria are unlikely to hold direct peace negotiations before the end of the year, especially without the involvement of the United States, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying yesterday.
Ambassador James Foley, the department's coordinator for Iraqi refugees, will travel to Syria on June 23-26 as part of a four-nation Mideast tour to boost the numbers of Iraqi refugees coming to the U.S. to meet the Bush administration's goal of accepting 12,000 by the end of September.
"He will assess the needs of Iraqi refugees in these countries and look at ways to enhance programs that provide assistance to refugees and help resettle the most vulnerable in third countries," said Kurtis Cooper, a department spokesman.
Foley also will visit Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, but the Syria stop will be the highlight because it is home to the largest number of Iraqi refugees and because of strong U.S. objections to Syrian policies in Lebanon and its support for anti-Israel groups.
The United States does not currently have an ambassador in Syria and trips there by senior U.S. officials are unusual. Foley's visit to Damascus will be his second as the Iraq refugee coordinator. Last year, he went to Syria and won approval for a small number of U.S. immigration agents to go there to interview Iraqi refugees.
Cooper said the trip did not imply any change in U.S. policy toward Syria,
In May, Lebanon seemed to be slipping into a new civil war. Now a Lebanese friend in Beirut tells me that people are partying like there's no tomorrow….
Shia Hezbollah has resisted the temptation to turn the screw tight on its Sunni rivals. They have been seriously weakened by Hezbollah's victory on the streets, but they are still in power.
Syrian leaders in upbeat mood despite IAEA visit (20 June 2008)
Reuters by Alistair Lyon, Beirut
The attitude is not wait-and-see," said Taqi. "We have to produce the necessary momentum so that when the new U.S. administration comes it will find something to work on, and not treat the Middle East as the Bush administration treated it."
Washington, grappling with the Iraq war and other setbacks to Bush's "freedom agenda", has seen nations like Turkey, Qatar, Egypt and others step in as mediators in Middle East conflicts to fill what al-Taqi called "a vacuum in American vision".
Syria, whose troops left Lebanon in 2005, was delighted by last month's Qatari-brokered deal among rival Lebanese leaders which translated a military victory won by Hezbollah and other Syrian allies against U.S.-backed factions into political gains.
"The Syrians were thrilled to see them wiping away the facade of U.S. power," said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at Oklahoma University. "It was clearly very sobering for the Americans, who are trying to figure out where to go from here."
Thaw Between Syria and Israel Puts Hezbollah on Front Burner 19 June 2008
By Nathan Guttman in the Forward – New York, NY, USA
“Syria is bending over backward right now to be accommodating to Israel and France by pushing Hamas to compromise and by pushing the Lebanese opposition to moderate their demands,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria scholar at Oklahoma University. Syria and Israel are finding common ground on the issue of Hezbollah, Landis added, but while Israel would like Damascus to break altogether with the terrorist group, Syria believes it can encourage Hezbollah to focus on politics.
Nur al-Cubicle writes:
Meanwhile, relations are not so good between the Arab League and Israel:
“A sharp verbal exchange occurred yesterday in Petra between Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and Israeli President Shimon Peres, When Peres gave a speech at a working lunch, he called upon Arabs to “follow the path of peace in the example of Anwar Sadata and the late King Hussein of Jordan”. Mr. Moussa stood up and chastised Peres, “We haven’t heard anything about Israel’s opinion on peace. All you talked about was King Hussein and Anwar Sadat. What is your opinion on the Arab peace initiative? Oh, yes, you’re a master talker but you can’t go on fooling us forever, we’re not dumb!…Stop building those colonies!…Mr. Moussa then left the room….”
The paper also reported that according to opposition leader Mohammad Raad, Condoleeza Rice, having flown to Beirut unexpectedly, has urged a delay in forming the government for “pending a certain event”
Qifa Nabki Comments:
It seems Michel Aoun is back to proving why he is so good for Lebanon.
All and sundry flay Aoun for bid to curb premier's powers
Daily Star staff
Thursday, June 19, 2008
BEIRUT: Sunni leaders from across the political spectrum slammed Christian opposition leader MP Michel Aoun for demanding that the authorities of the premier be amended. Former Prime Minister Omar Karami, a staunch opposition supporter, criticized Aoun for seeking to transform the prime minister into "a junior aide."
Karami made the remark during a news conference on Wednesday to express opposition to a call that Aoun made one day earlier to amend the premier's powers.
He said Aoun's call aims at "stripping the prime minister of all the powers gained by the Taif Accord."
"This is totally unacceptable," Karami added.
Read the rest here.
In addition to Karami, Hoss and Miqati also slammed Aoun for this pulpit preaching. It seems the opposition also has little patience for a megalomanical spoiler.
I'm beginning to think that, but for Aoun, HA, Amal, and the FM would have solved all of their problems back in 2006.
Oil prices rose $3.07, to $135 a barrel. Analysts speculated that the rise resulted from media reports of increased tensions between Israel and Iran which could, in the long run, decrease the supply of Middle Eastern crude.
"U.S. Says Exercise by Israel Seemed Directed at Iran – NYTimes.com"
Iran on Its Heels
In Tehran's Setbacks, an Opportunity in Iraq
By Vali Nasr
Thursday, June 19, 2008; Page A19
For the first time since 2003, Iran has stumbled in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to confront Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City last month caught Tehran off guard. The Mahdi Army lost more than face: It surrendered large caches of arms, and many of its leaders fled or were killed or captured. Crucially, the militias lost strategic terrain — Basra and its chokehold on the causeway between Kuwait and Baghdad and Iraq's oil exports; Sadr City and the threat it posed to Baghdad security. Visiting Basra this month, I saw city walls covered with pro-Maliki graffiti. Commerce is returning to the city center. Trouble spots remain in both places, as Tuesday's car bombings show, but the Mahdi Army's unchallenged hold has ended…..
Iran has also managed to bolster the Iraqi army. The dissolution of Iraq's military after the fall of Saddam Hussein was a strategic victory for Tehran. Yet after all the talk of standing up an army that could confront the Sunni insurgency, it was not by fighting al-Qaeda in Mosul but the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army in Basra that the Iraqi army found its footing.
Iran still has considerable influence in Iraq. It may reconstitute the Mahdi Army and pick up the fight against America, using special groups of the type suspected in the Baghdad car bombing Tuesday. It may also try to use nationalist opposition to the U.S.-Iraq "status of forces" agreement to its advantage. But Tehran will find it difficult to regain lost turf in Baghdad or Basra, or to go back to happily supporting Shiites both at the center and in the militias. It will have to choose whether it is with the state or the sub-state actors.
That debate is unfolding in Tehran. In not-too-subtle criticism of the Quds Force's handling of Iraq, even Tehran's conservative press heaped praise on Maliki during the Basra operations. Some calls for expelling Sadr from Iran even made it into the media.
Washington needs to see this as an opportunity not just for Iraq but for U.S. relations with Iran. The U.S. and Iraqi governments should build on recent gains. Stepped-up action against Mahdi Army cell…..
It is a frequent refrain in Washington that the United States needs leverage before it can talk to Iran. In Iraq, Washington is getting leverage. America has the advantage while Iran is on its heels. Engaging Iran now could even influence who wins the Iraq debate in Tehran.
NYC Mayor Bloomberg defends Obama before Jewish audience
NEW YORK (AP) — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is urging Jewish voters to denounce the online rumor that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim with a hidden agenda.
Bloomberg was speaking to members of a Jewish group in Boca Raton, Florida on Friday. The mayor says in prepared remarks that the rumor campaign is "cloaked in concern for Israel" but threatens to undo the strides that Jews and Muslims have made together.
Obama is Christian but has noted that some of the rumors about him have also been insulting to Muslims. Political independent Bloomberg has not endorsed anyone yet in the presidential race. His defense of Obama could help the Illinois senator in Florida, which is home to many Jewish voters