News Round Up (22 April 2010)

Obama Official Defends U.S.-Syria Engagement After Scud Reports
April 21, 2010

April 22 (Bloomberg) — A top State Department official defended the Obama administration’s policy of engaging with Syria against criticism from Congress following allegations that Syria transferred missiles to Hezbollah terrorists.

Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, faced questions yesterday at a House panel hearing from Democrats and Republicans who questioned the logic of President Barack Obama’s efforts to talk with a regime the U.S. accuses of weapons proliferation, links to terrorist groups and ties to Iran.

Representative Dan Burton of Indiana, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee for the Middle East and South Asia, compared sending an ambassador to Damascus to appeasing Adolf Hitler before World War II. President George W. Bush withdrew the last U.S. ambassador in 2005, following Syria’s alleged involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

It’s “rewarding Syria for kicking the U.S. in the teeth,” Burton said, referring to the administration’s decision in February to name career diplomat Robert Ford as ambassador to Damascus, after a reported meeting between leaders of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.

Feltman defended the decision, saying the Obama administration believes diplomacy can change Syria’s behavior. “An ambassador is not a reward; it’s a tool,” he said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is already listening to the leaders of Iran and Hezbollah, Feltman said, and he “needs to listen to us, too.”

Sending Ambassador

Ford hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate, and House members said they would share grave concerns with their Senate colleagues about the wisdom of sending an envoy to Damascus.

Feltman said that refusing to send Ford wouldn’t further U.S. goals; it would make influencing Syria harder.

Syria’s government “says it wants to live in peace in the region,” Feltman testified. A senior U.S. envoy in Damascus would in time have a chance to persuade Syria that “it’s in Syria’s interest” to seek peace with Israel, respect the sovereignty of neighboring Lebanon and uphold human rights of its people, he said.

Feltman declined to answer in open session whether the U.S. has evidence to confirm Israeli claims that Syria has been smuggling long-range missiles to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Israeli President Shimon Peres on April 13 accused the Arab country of supplying the militant group with Scuds, ground-to- ground missiles with a range of hundreds of miles.

‘Have to Review’

“If these reports turn out to be true, we have to review” the full range of efforts to reverse Syria’s actions, Feltman said.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, told Feltman he doesn’t “think your approach has any merit at all.”

Feltman said that, while a change isn’t possible overnight, the administration can send a strong message through diplomatic channels.

“It’s important to make the case to Syria why the path they’re on is so dangerous,” Feltman said. “Syria is not Iran,” he said, noting that Syria is a secular state and that the Obama administration doesn’t see the Syrian-Iran alliance as immutable.

Citing “growing rapprochement” between Syria and Saudi Arabia, Feltman said, “the Syrians try to hedge their bets.” It’s in the interests of U.S. allies, including Israel, Iraq and Lebanon, that the U.S. improves relations with Syria in an effort to change its behavior.

Also yesterday, Representative Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, and Representative Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, introduced a resolution in Congress calling for tightening restrictions against Syria, strict enforcement of sanctions related to the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah and a reevaluation of the decision to send an ambassador to Damascus.

Obama Syria outreach under fire amid Scud reports
By Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s outreach to Syria came under fire on Wednesday as a congressional panel questioned the rapprochement amid charges that Damascus has sought to arm Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas with Scud missiles….

“Do we actually have a policy toward Syria, and is it in our best interest? What are we doing?” Democratic Representative Eliot Engel asked, urging a tougher U.S. stance against Syrian President Basher al-Assad over weapons transfers and other issues.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said the United States was seeking answers on the missile charges and took the issue extremely seriously.

“All options are going to be on the table looking at this,” he said — while repeating the need to expand diplomatic dialogue with Damascus.

Israeli President Shimon Peres has publicly accused neighboring Syria of sending Scuds to Hezbollah, a Lebanese Islamist militant group. Syria has denied the charge and said Israel might be using the accusation as a pretext for a military strike.

Feltman declined to say whether the United States had confirmed that any transfers had taken place, saying he was unable to address these concerns in a public hearing.

But he said the United States had repeatedly warned Syria about transferring ballistic missiles and was pushing hard to stop any such shipments from taking place.

“If these reports turn out to be true we’re going to have to review the full range of tools available to us in order to make Syria reverse what would be an incendiary, provocative action,” he said.

Some U.S. officials have expressed doubt that any Scuds were actually handed over in full to the guerrilla group, although they believe Syria might have made a partial transfer of weapons parts, documents or funding.

“SPIT IN OUR FACE”

The missile allegations have complicated Obama’s efforts to forge a rapprochement with Syria, which his administration sees as crucial to Middle East peace efforts and to stabilize the nascent democracy in neighboring Iraq.

The United States has agreed to return an ambassador to Damascus after a five-year absence. But the designated envoy, Robert Ford, still awaits confirmation by the full Senate and Feltman conceded some senators may feel reluctant to move forward given doubts about Syria’s intentions.

“It’s like they just spit right in our face,” said Republican Representative Dan Burton, citing a raft of moves by Syria that he said were inimical to the interests of the United States and allies including Israel.

Feltman insisted it was time to return the ambassador, saying Washington needed a direct line to Syria’s leadership as it makes decisions that could have serious regional implications.

“Syria has made mistakes before,” Feltman said. “We need to be making our message to him loud and clear and directly.”

Hezbollah, a Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shi’ite Islamist group, is on the U.S. terrorism blacklist but is part of Lebanon’s unity government. The group fought a war with Israel in 2006 and has strong support in mainly Shi’ite south Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Wednesday denied that Hezbollah had received long-range Scuds from Syria.

Feltman said the United States had significant leverage with Damascus, including the current inclusion of Syria on the U.S. “state sponsors of terrorism” list and continued U.S. sanctions against the country.

“They don’t like any of that. But frankly the ball is in their court,” Feltman said. “They would like to see us move away from those things. Well, for that to happen they’ve got to take some actions that correct the troubling behavior.”

US says Syrian missile transfers to Hezbollah could lead to war in the Mideast
By MATTHEW LEE, 21 April 2010, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Obama administration’s top diplomat for the Middle East says the U.S. has warned Syria numerous times in recent weeks that transferring ballistic missiles to Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia could lead to war in the region….

Feltman told a congressional committee that Syria’s leadership needs to understand the risks of arming Hezbollah, which he said “could affect war and peace in the region.”

Politico

Amid recent reports that Syria intended to transfer Scud missiles to the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah, U.S. officials to date have been careful to say they do not know for a fact that the missiles were actually transferred to Lebanon, while Israeli officials have said they believe that they were.

U.S. reticence on the matter may be both because it doesn’t know where the missiles are, and to avoid giving pretext for any possible Israeli military attack on Lebanon.

But today, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.), chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says she thinks there is a “high likelihood” the missiles were sent to Hezbollah in Lebanon. “I believe there is a likelihood that there are Scuds that Hezbollah has in Lebanon. A high likelihood,” Feinstein told the AFP.

“The rockets and missiles in Lebanon are substantially increased and better technologically than they were and this is a real point of danger for Israel,” she continued.

Her remarks come as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeff Feltman, a former U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, is due to testify on U.S. policy to Syria before the Middle East subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Committee this afternoon. …

Kerry today said the intelligence on what Syria transferred and where it is is still incomplete. “I think it’s safe to say we’re inquiring and trying to get more information about it. I wouldn’t comment on what it is, or isn’t, at this point in time,” Kerry told the AFP. “There are concerns about rocketry in general, and clearly Hezbollah has been rearmed, but I don’t think there’s clarity as to which weapons yet, with specificity, and where. Where is very important in this question.”…..

From Ma’an.

43 percent are for 2SS but binational state sentiment is growing, at 34 percent, up from 20 percent less than a year ago, and 30 percent say peace process is dead.

Comments (8)


1. Akbar Palace said:

Apartments vs. Scuds

US warns Syria over Scuds-to-Hezbollah claim

And just think about it, just a few weeks ago SC participants thought Netanyahu was “humiliating” the US by allowing Jews to build apartments in Jerusalem. No end to the Blame Israel Firsters.

Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, the state department’s top official on the Middle East said it would consider the “full range of tools” available to make Syria reverse any delivery of ballistic missiles to Hezbollah.

Mr Feltman would not confirm that Scuds had been delivered but said it would be an “incendiary, provocative action” if it turned out to be true.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8636422.stm

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

April 22nd, 2010, 11:11 am

 

2. why-discuss said:

Clinton seems to disagree with Feinstein. Maybe the US don’t want to contradict officially the declarations of senile Peres. Maybe the new US administration is becoming more suspicious of Israel’s tempestuous accusations and rumors supported by the Israel-biased US media (New-york times and others)

“…Clinton did not confirm the reports. Without mentioning Scuds or Iran, which many believe is the source of the missiles, she described the situation in a way that strongly suggested that the U.S. does not believe Scuds have been transferred to Hezbollah yet.

By ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writer Robert Burns, Ap National Security Writer – 1 hr 30 mins ago

TALLINN, Estonia – The Obama administration is still committed to improving relations with Syria despite its “deeply troubling” moves to aid the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in neighboring Lebanon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.

Clinton, speaking at a news conference before the opening of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in this Baltic capital, said the administration has concluded that the benefits of sending a U.S. ambassador to Damascus — after a five-year absence — outweigh the costs.

“The larger question as to what the United States will do with respect to Syria is one we’ve spent a lot of time considering and debating inside the administration,” she said. “Where we are as of today is that we believe it is important to continue the process to return an ambassador; this is not some kind of reward for the Syrians and the actions they take that are deeply disturbing.”

She said the presence of an ambassador gives Washington a better insight into what is happening in Damascus.

“We have a long list of areas that we have discussed with the Syrians and we intend to continue pushing our concerns, and we think having an ambassador there adds to the ability to convey that message strongly and hopefully influence behavior in Syria,” she said.

Some U.S. senators are threatening to hold up the confirmation of the administration’s choice for U.S. ambassador to Syria — career diplomat Robert Ford — because of unconfirmed reports that Syria was transferring Scud missiles to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

Clinton did not confirm the reports. Without mentioning Scuds or Iran, which many believe is the source of the missiles, she described the situation in a way that strongly suggested that the U.S. does not believe Scuds have been transferred to Hezbollah yet.

Clinton referred to “these stories that do suggest there has been some transfer of weapons technology into Syria with the potential purpose of then later transferring it to Hezbollah inside Syria.” Pressed to say whether she meant that the Scuds in Syria had originated in Iran, she replied, “I just said that we have expressed our concern about that.”

Israel, which regards Hezbollah as a major threat, has accused Syria of providing the group with Scuds. A Scud has a far longer range and can carry a much bigger warhead than the rockets Hezbollah has used in the past, and could reach anywhere in Israel from Hezbollah bases in southern Lebanon. Syria has denied the charge, as has Lebanon’s Western-backed prime minister.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

April 22nd, 2010, 1:37 pm

 

3. jgupta said:

I have been trying to learn a bit about Syria and read the wikipedia article and have a couple of questions for anyone who knows.
1. Religion: The article mentions the Muslim conquest of the Seventh century, but doesn’t explicitly say this is when the people were converted to Islam. Is that when it happened? Other than Christians, are there remnants of the original religions still extant in Syria? If not, did they disappear during the 7th century conquest, or later, like under Turkish or French rule
2. Language: The article mentions Arabic supplanting the local languages during the Muslim conquest but also mentions that there is some Kurdish, Turkish and Armenian spoken. Also “Neo-Aramaic” How prevalent are those languages? Is the Neo-Aramaic concentrated among the non-Muslims or are those two things unrelated (I am not distinguishing between Alawites and Muslims (or other Muslims))?
3. Economy: The article is pretty useless on this – would you consider Syria to be an economic engine in the region? Is it a net exporter or a net importer of goods? What about financial capital? Does it receive foreign aid in any significant amount or is it a donor country?

Thanks

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

April 22nd, 2010, 9:42 pm

 

4. Husam said:

J.. GUPTA:

Sounds like you wan

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

April 22nd, 2010, 11:53 pm

 

5. Husam said:

J..GUPTA:

Sounds like you want us to do a research paper for you. The internet has all your answers.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

April 22nd, 2010, 11:55 pm

 

6. norman said:

JGUPTA,

The religion Syria at that time was Christianity as it was the religion of the roman empire , the ruling empire in Syria and when Islam came to Syria , some people changed religion for admiration of the religion Islam and to avoid paying taxes , still many people stayed Christians until many years later ,during the Seljuk time , as i believe ,

About the language , Aramaic was the dominant language of Syria , Syria as it is known for Nour , the entire Syria , present day Syria , Palestine , Jordon , Israel and Lebanon , With time Arabic became more popular for it’s richness so Aramaic is still spoken only in Maaloula and it is spoken by Christians and Muslims of that area, it is still the language of the Syrian Orthodox church , the is a new movement in Syria to revive the Aramaic language ,

The Economy in Syria was for many years centrally controlled with agriculture and oil export and price support for the necessities , that was until President Bashar Assad became president and made his goal to free the Syrian economy , that is still in it’s early phase but moving in the right direction it is moving slowly to protect the Syrian population from the shock of lifting price control without a safety net for the poor ,

Syria has an important thing that id does not have any significant foreign debt and that it’s people are richer than they seem as they rarely invest their money in anything but real state and do not put their money in banks so it is very difficult to know the wealth of the people , in addition it’s economy is hard to evaluate as most transactions are made in cash without paper trail ,

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

April 23rd, 2010, 3:13 am

 

7. jgupta said:

Thank you

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

April 23rd, 2010, 11:09 am

 

8. jo6pac said:

Thanks Norman, WOW what strange timeing on Israel part it couldn’t be that they aren’t getting their way for once, I hope. Yes some one is spitting Amerika eye but not the one the dan b. came up with. It’s time for Mother to cut the string and move on, put Ford in place

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

April 23rd, 2010, 9:18 pm

 

Post a comment