Posted by Joshua on Sunday, May 23rd, 2010
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is in Syria this weekend, his second trip there in just two months.
From Kerry spokesman Frederick Jones:
“Senator Kerry traveled to Syria this weekend. This is his third trip to Damascus since becoming Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in January 2009, and his fifth trip to Damascus as a senator. Chairman Kerry planned to speak with President Assad about a range of issues critical to the stability of the region. Senator Kerry has consistently said that while the United States has serious, long-standing disagreements with Syria, in particular its support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, Syria can play a critical role in bringing peace and stability if it makes the strategic decision to do so. Since becoming Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Kerry has emerged as one of the primary American interlocutors with the Syrian government.”
A Tale of Two Trilateral Meetings
By Ahmed Salkini
A momentous trilateral meeting took place in Istanbul on May 9th that brought together Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. Syria’s detractors in the US were conspicuously silent regarding this trilateral meeting while going to great pains dissecting the significance and implications of the one held several months ago between Presidents Assad and Ahmadinejad, alongside Hezbollah’s Secretary General. The reason for this silence is simple. …The underlying theme was a vision for peace, stability, and security in the region.
Among several topics, they agreed that Iraq’s sovereignty must be maintained, and that its future government should espouse a unified Iraq. The three leaders also discussed Gaza and the ongoing, brutal Israeli blockade, as well as the failure of the international community to meet its responsibilities and pledges to the besieged people of Gaza. However, the most significant outcome of this meeting was Syria reaffirming its commitment to renewing indirect peace talks with Israel, while Turkey reaffirmed its own role as mediator…
Yet, the current government in Israel, without equivocation, inexorably rejects these international demands. Their president declared this week from Moscow that a peace agreement with Syria will not include returning the Golan, as his foreign minister echoed: “Syria must be made to understand that it has to relinquish its demand for the Golan Heights.”…. [A paragraph from James Denselow's article, copied below, was accidentally included here when I initially published. It was not written by the author of this article -- Joshua Landis]
CORRECTION: A Russian head of state visited Syria in 1967
Saïd Sukkar [email@example.com] wrote me
Dear Joshua Landis
In your Article headed “Will failure to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict mean a new Cold War in the Middle East” you said “President Dmitry Medvedev visited Syria on Monday, the first ever visit by a Russian or Soviet head of state.” This, I am afraid, is not an accurate Statement.
In late June, early July 1967, ex Syrian President, Shukri Quwatli, passed away in Lebanon and the Lebanese Government accorded him the full honours of a Head of State Funeral all the way to the Syrian Borders. Syria took over from the Borders BUT Syria’s sitting Head of State at the time, Nureddin Atassi, did not attend Quwatli’s funeral because he was at the Airport receiving Soviet President Podgorny. See this article:
Lebanon and Syria Agree to Back Hizbollah
By: Phil Sands | The National
Syria and Lebanon have agreed they will present a united front of opposition to Israel and support for Hizbollah, when the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, travels to Washington next week.
Rebuilding the ‘box’ around Syria
U.S. diplomatic overtures haven’t worked; it’s time to get tougher again with Damascus.
May 18, 2010
When the Obama administration came to power, it began to dismantle the diplomatic “box” that had been built around Syria, a box meant to isolate it for its destabilizing behavior in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. Administration officials argued that the international will to pressure Syria no longer existed and that an attempt at distancing it from Iran was worthwhile. The United States’ gentler approach has included sending senior officials to Damascus, refraining from public criticism of President Bashar Assad and his government, and nominating a U.S. ambassador to Syria for the first time in five years. But such engagement has proved its limits, and it’s time to put the box back together…………
Addendum: In today’s LA Times, Ahmed Salkini, the spokesman for the embassy of Syria published this response to Maksad:
Re “Rebuilding the Syria ‘box,’ ” Opinion, May 18
The most surprising element of Firas Maksad’s commentary was not the message it conveyed but the logic of the argument.
The writer claims that “engagement [with Syria] has proved its limits” and that “it’s time to put the box back.” Yet he fails to explain the logic behind replacing what he perceives as a “limited” policy with one proved to have failed. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman is among many officials and politicians to declare that isolating Syria undermined America’s own efforts to further its goals in the region.
Syria is committed to renewing indirect peace talks through Turkish mediation, while Israel rejects them. This is a time for stepped-up American diplomacy to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the region that would include Maksad’s own Lebanon.
This is what a sincere “advocate for Lebanon” would promote.
Ahmed Salkini, Washington
How Western Engagement Thwarts Israeli-Syrian Peace
Commentary Magazine, 2010-05-20
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s candid interview this week with Lebanon’s As-Safir paper ought to be studied by anyone who still believes in either the possibility of Israeli-Syrian peace or the utility of Western engagement with Syria. …
Syria News Quotes Dardari that the next economic five year plan for Syria forcasts that economic growth will readh 8% and unemployment with reach 4% if 130 billion dollars are invested, 77 billion of which is to come from the private sector.
“كما تطمح الخطة القادمة إلى تحقيق معدل نمو يصل إلى 8٪ ومعدل بطالة 4٪ وذلك مع إنفاق 130 مليار دولار 77 ملياراً منها يجب أن يأتي من القطاع الخاص.
Syria Economy to Grow 5% in 2010, Bank Governor Says
By Massoud A. Derhally and Alaa Shahine
May 21 (Bloomberg) — Syria’s economy will grow 5 percent this year, the governor of the country’s central bank said. “Growth will come from the finance, services and tourism industries,” Syrian Central Bank Governor Adib Mayaleh said in an interview late yesterday at a conference in Beirut. Inflation probably will fall to 3 percent this year from 4 percent in 2009 and more than 15 percent in 2008, Mayaleh said. …
Syria’s economic growth will rise to 5 percent in 2010 from 4 percent last year, the International Monetary Fund said in a forecast on its website. The current account deficit is expected to narrow to 4 percent this year from 4.5 percent in 2009 and inflation will reach 5 percent in 2010, the IMF said.
Syria earned about $5.2 billion in revenue from 6.1 million tourists last year, when 12 percent more visitors arrived than in 2008, SANA news agency said last month, citing Tourism Minister Saadallah Agha al-Qalaa.
47% of Syrian state employees have only completed primary school. (This figure has been being cast around from a recent study, but it doesn’t actually mean much if one doesn’t know what they are employed to do. See the following article in Arabic.
47 بالمئة من موظفي سورية بشهادة إعدادية
طباعة أرسل لصديق
20/ 05/ 2010
أكدت دراسة ان نحو 47.5 بالمئة من الموظفين في سورية يحملون شهادة التعليم الإعدادي أو أقل.
Guardian (GB): Russia shows US how to deal with Syria
by James Denselow in the Guardian, 2010-05-19
While the US remains unwilling or unable to reach out to Damascus, the Russians have no such worries, prompting concern that the first visit of a Russian leader to Syria since 1917 could trigger a new Middle Eastern cold war ….
This has been a busy month so far for the Syrians. The US Congress blocked Obama’s attempt to appoint Robert Ford as ambassador following reports of Syrian Scud missiles being transferred to Hezbollah, and on 3 May Washington renewed economic and …
… Yet, crucial to understanding the situation today, is how in 1970 Assad played upon the ideas of Syria’s “strategic importance” to make simultaneous overtures to the US and the Soviets. In the words of historian Eberhard Kienle, he succeeded “in inducing them to outbid each other”. Such a dual strategy was reflected by Assad signing an agreement on economic co-operation with the Soviets while pursuing a western-orientated policy of infitah (economic opening up).
Today, Assad the younger is once again reaching out in all directions to pursue what he sees as Syria’s interest. This pragmatism should be acknowledged by an institutionally obstinate US that must by now realise that its policy of non-engagement has simply brought it no reward over the past six years, whether it is in weakening Syria’s relations with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran or improving the country’s human rights record.
Syrian-Russian relations, which go beyond arms deals to a range of trade and cultural ties, are not a challenge to the US but rather should be a prompt to Washington to accept that almost a decade of policies have failed and that a new course must be adopted.
majedkhaldoun writes in the comment section:
Israelis are horrified that Russia is selling Syria a few MIG 29 fighters, but lets not forget that Iraq had 13 of them, in 1991, five of which were shot down by F15s and eight of which were flown to Iran, where they remain. Israel is negotiating with the US for F35 stealth fighters which are much more advanced than the F15s or F16s that are already superior to MIGs.
Bilal Saab in Janes Weekly
….The risks of the use of force are far greater today than they were in 2006. Hizbullah, according to Israel’s own intelligence estimates, is much better armed today and more widely dispersed than it was in 2006, and its secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to hit deep inside Israeli territory. Unlike in 2006, the balance of terror caused by Hizbullah heavily weighs in Israel’s strategic thinking today. Moreover, Hizbullah’s patrons, Syria and Iran, have publicly stated that they would intervene militarily in the event of an Israeli attack.
Therefore, unlike in 2006 when Hizbullah was practically alone on the battlefield, Israel may have to potentially prepare for a multi-front war if it decides to engage Hizbullah militarily, with Syria to its north east, Hizbullah to its north, Iran by air and sea, and possibly Hamas from the Gaza Strip. Lacking strategic depth, Israel will be very careful to avoid such a scenario, especially at a time when its relationship with its most important ally, the United States, is going through a difficult period…..
Gary Sick writes about Washington’s response to the Brazil-Turkish brokered deal for Iran:
Well, that didn’t take long. In my previous note (yesterday, below) I wondered if we were smart enough to declare victory and take yes as an answer from Tehran. Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced that a new package of sanctions against Iran had been approved by the major powers and would be sent to the UN Security Council later in the day.
In case anyone overlooked the significance of this action, which followed by one day the announcement by Brazil and Turkey of the successful conclusion of their negotiations with Iran, she added: “I think this announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide.”
Take that, Tehran! But it turns out that this lifted middle finger was not limited to Iran. Only hours before Clinton’s announcement, the foreign minister of Turkey held his own press conference. Obviously unaware of what was about to happen, he described in some detail not only the tortuous negotiation process with Iran, but his perception that he was acting directly on behalf of the United States.
Prince Turki’s speech to diplomats in Riyadh seems to be almost screened out of US media. Here is a report in extenso from:
Agence France Presse: “RIYADH (AFP) – An “inept” United States cannot fix Afghanistan’s problems and should simply focus on “chasing the terrorists” there, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal said on Saturday. The ex-ambassador to the United States also challenged Washington to produce results in just-started Middle East peace talks, and accused US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of undermining efforts to make the region nuclear-free.
Turki said Arab states have given Washington four months to show progress in US-guided Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. “The Arab world has given Obama until September to get things done,” said Turki. “It is not enough to talk the talk. He has to walk the walk. “If he does not succeed… then I (will) ask President Obama to do the morally decent gesture and recognise the Palestinian state that he so ardently wishes to exist. “He can then pack up and leave us in peace and let the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese negotiate directly with the Israelis. No more platitudes and good wishes and visions, please.” Turki also faulted the US and European approach in trying to halt Iran’s alleged efforts to build a nuclear weapon. “The discussions on Iran’s nuclear ambitions started off on the wrong foot. The carrot and stick approach does not work,” he said. For one, he said, the US and Europe have had double-standards in dealing with Iran on the one hand, and other nuclear countries on the other. “You cannot ask Iran to play on one level while you allow Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea to play on other levels.” Turki said a successful strategy toward Iran requires even-handedness, a “universal nuclear security umbrella” for the countries in the area, and “a good military option” against any regional country which does not cooperate. He said Clinton had undermined efforts to move toward a regional nuclear-free zone, after the UN Security Council’s five permanent members recently expressed support for the idea. “Alas… Clinton then voided the issue of its value by stating that the conditions do not yet exist for establishing the zone,” he said. “Why, then, did she join the other members of the P5 in issuing their statement?” Turki said he hoped Obama “will find the way to correct his secretary of state’s nullification of making our area free of weapons of mass destruction.” Turki also warned of rising violence in Iraq after the pullout of US troops next year, warning both internal and external groups seek to carve up the country. “Imagine what will happen once internal strife and fighting escalates” following the US pullout, he said. Without a UN Security Council effort to protect Iraq’s current borders, the consequence could be “regional conflict on a scale not seen since the Ottoman-Safavid wars of the 17th and 18th centuries,” he warned.
South Lebanon: “…this regional face-off has reached a new balance of mutual deterrence …”
Rami Khouri in Daily Star
“… The Israel-Hizbullah war of summer 2006 was the most violent and destructive incident in the period that followed the withdrawal, and has since triggered significant military and other preparedness measures on both sides of the border. This is perhaps the most militarized and politically confrontational border in the world, with armies from every concerned quarter. Israel and Hizbullah are the main antagonists, but also present in the immediate area or nearby are the Lebanese Army, United Nations peace-keeping troops from many countries, Syria’s armed forces further eastward, and, by proxy, interested state parties in the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia. ….
“According to US State Department figures, direct military aid to Israel was $2.55bn in 2009. This is set to increase to $3.15bn in 2018.
A White House spokesman reaffirmed what he called the administration’s “unshakeable commitment” to Israel’s security – adding that Mr Obama recognised the threat posed by missiles and rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah.
Middle East and North Africa Region Recovers at a Good Pace
By David Morgan
Thursday, 20 May 2010 00:43
The Middle East and North Africa region is growing out of its downturn at a good speed, says the International Monetary Fund in its latest World Economic Outlook report….
GDP in the countries of the region is projected to grow at 4½ percent in 2010, edging up to 4¾ percent in 2011.
As in other regions, recovery prospects vary substantially across MENA economies.
In the group of oil exporters, the strongest performer is Qatar, where real activity is projected to expand by 18½ percent in 2010, underpinned by continued expansion in natural gas production and large investment expenditures.
In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, GDP is expected to grow at about 3¾ percent and 3 percent, respectively, this year supported in both cases by sizable government infrastructure investment.
In the United Arab Emirates, growth in 2010 is projected to be subdued at 1¼ percent, with property-related sectors expected to contract further.
In the group of oil importers, Egypt’s GDP is projected to grow 5 percent in 2010 and
5½ percent in 2011, helped by stimulative fiscal and monetary policies. Morocco and Tunisia will continue to grow at rates of 3¼ to 4 percent in 2010 and 4½ to 5 percent in 2011, assuming exports, tourism, remittances, and foreign direct investment continue to improve….