Posted by Joshua on Saturday, October 25th, 2008
Breaking The Iran-Syria Link: U.S. Should Lend Push To Israel-Syria Talks
October 25, 2008, Hatford Current
No one is certain what Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad really wants.
However, a Syrian-Israeli peace is worth pursuing because it would change the strategic picture in the region. Iran would no longer be able to ship arms to Hezbollah through Syria, and Hezbollah would have to rethink its policies toward Israel. Iran’s post-Saddam expansion of regional power would be reversed. This, in turn, would undercut Hamas and help expedite Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Progress on the Israel-Syria front could mesh with Israel’s new interest in reviving the dormant Saudi plan for a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world. At the same time, a new administration could reach out to a chastened Iran.
… Last week, Syria formally recognized Lebanon for the first time, thus abandoning its historic dream of a greater Syria. Can the United States afford to sit this process out any longer?
“While Turkey mediates between Syria and Israel, the United States is on the sidelines,” I was told by Dennis Ross, a Mideast negotiator in the administrations of Clinton and George H.W. Bush, and an adviser to the Obama campaign. “Until the parties (in the region) see U.S. effectiveness, they will hang back.
“It makes sense to work on all components of the peace process, but work to get some things done. Test Assad.”
Russia decries US sanctions on arms exporting company: Los Angeles Times
Russia reacted angrily Friday to U.S. sanctions leveled this week against an arms trading company, calling them an “arrogant application” of American laws abroad.
Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov said the U.S. move to ban government agencies from dealing with Rosoboronexport, a state-owned company managed by a close friend of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was “absolutely incompatible with the new realities in the current world structure.”
In addition to the Russian firm, the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions against companies in China, South Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates for allegedly selling technology to Iran, North Korea and Syria that could lead to weapons of mass destruction. …
“If somebody in Washington thinks that in this way the United States will make Russia more accommodating in accepting the U.S. approach to the solution of the Iran nuclear problem, this is a mistake,” Lavrov told reporters Friday…… Igor Danchenko, a research analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said Russia sells a variety of “defensive, not strategic” weapons to Iran, including missile air defense systems. “The U.S. has been making informal accusations against Russian companies for some time, but they don’t hold any water,” Danchenko said. “This is a formal step that makes the Russians look bad.”…
Danchenko noted that the sanctions were limited to one branch of the conglomerate, and that Rosoboronexport also sold titanium to Boeing Co. for use in building jetliners.
Anders Aslund, a senior fellow who follows Russia at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said the sanctions would have little practical effect on the company, which is Russia’s largest arms export firm.
“Still, it’s something that President Bush felt was important to do before he left office,” Aslund said, …
… “It stems from the same old unipolar world philosophy,” Lavrov said. “We will be taking this into account in our practical matters, in the relations with the United States both in trade and other spheres.”
Russia’s envoy to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Dmitry Rogozin, said in an interview with the Interfax news agency that the measures “are far-fetched. Moreover, they are quite provocative and insulting to Russia as a nation.”
EU’s Solana targets deal with Syria next year
AFP, 23 October 2008
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana held talks on Thursday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the Middle East peace process and regional issues, highlighting improved ties between them….
“Syrian-European ties continue to make progress,” Solana said, according to SANA. He voiced hope that both sides might next year sign an “association” agreement…. “The EU totally backs the indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel,” he said. Since May, Syria has been engaged in indirect peace talks with Israel under Turkish mediation.
SANA quoted Assad as saying Europe’s “role in the peace process is important and essential.
“Peace guarantees security and stability to the people of the region and this reflects positively on Europe and the world.”
… His return to Damascus comes after Syria and Lebanon formally established diplomatic ties on October 15, for the first time since independence 60 years ago. … the EU diplomat praised the “importance of developments which recently occurred in Lebanon,” namely the setting up of diplomatic ties between Beirut and Damascus, SANA reported.
The Geopolitics of Sino-Syrian Relations
By Chris Zambelis
China Brief from the Jamestown Foundation, 10 October 2008
Solidifying the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) burgeoning relationships with the countries of the Middle East remains a top priority for Beijing. The impetus behind China’s resurgent efforts to extend its influence within the Middle East stemmed from Beijing’s pursuit of energy resources to sustain its rapidly expanding economy. As the world’s fastest growing consumer of oil and third-largest net importer of oil, energy will continue to be the most important motivating factor shaping China’s foreign policy toward the Middle East in the foreseeable future . The looming global economic downturn will also prompt China to seek out new consumer markets for Chinese-made goods amid rising consumer fears and shrinking global demand from developed markets…
The Syrian government organizes meetings with Saudi opposition members at the Univ. of Damascus (in Arabic)
Syrian minister to visit UK
By Roula Khalaf and James Blitz
Financial Times, 23 October 2008
Syria takes another step on the road to international rehabilitation when its foreign minister visits London next week for the highest level encounter between the Syrian and British governments since 2002.
…Analysts in Damascus say Syria is hedging its bets at a time of great uncertainty in the region. It has yet to be reassured that a new Israeli government, now being formed, will be serious about peace negotiations and willing to return the Golan Heights, occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, or that a new US administration will be willing to broker the talks, as Mr Assad wants.
The perception in Damascus, moreover, is that a military confrontation with Israel is still possible.
“Syria has to keep three lines of foreign policy open: it has to keep the possibility of war on the table, the possibility of a status quo in which it needs to ride out crises, and the possibility that there will be peace and openness,” says one analyst close to the government.
UNHCR starts to help hundreds of Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria
UNCHR, 23 October 2008
The UN refugee agency has begun helping hundreds of Iraqi Christians who fled to Syria to escape violence and threats in the northern Iraq city of Mosul.
Thousands of Christians have left Mosul over the past fortnight. Most have found shelter in villages elsewhere in Ninawa province, but about 400 have crossed into Syria. It is still not clear who is behind the intimidation.
“Many Christians from Mosul have been systematically targeted recently and are no longer safe there. We are ready to provide support for those Iraqis that seek refuge in neighbouring countries,” said Laurens Jolles, UNHCR’s representative in Syria. “We are grateful that Syria continues to welcome refugees,” he added of a country that is hosting at least 1.2 million Iraqi refugees.
UNHCR has fast-tracked the registration of Christian refugees from Mosul who have turned up at the agency’s offices in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo, while a team of field officers has travelled to the Qamishli area close to Iraq, where some people have been arriving. Following registration, families facing financial difficulties are assessed for emergency grants and food assistance.
140 Iraqi refugees in Syria head home
Tehran Times, 22 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….
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…. Damascus has said the cost of the Iraqi refugees’ stay in Syria is estimated at $1.6 billion per year.
Lebanese City’s Strife Reflects 2 Conflicts
By Alia Ibrahim
Washington Post, 22 October 2008
Despite two decades of lost battles, Samir Hassan sees no alternative to more fighting.
Hassan, a 39-year-old Sunni resident of this northern Lebanese port city, recently picked up his gun to lead a group of street fighters. “When you are torn between your wanting to live and your feeling that you are in real danger, you choose to defend yourself, even if you know you could die, and even when you know your death would be gratuitous,” he said.
The on-again, off-again battle in Tripoli pits Sunnis against Alawites, a branch of Islam whose members include the leadership of Syria, Lebanon’s often meddlesome neighbor. The conflict here is fueled by Lebanon’s internal divisions and a slow-burning proxy war that involves Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria…. we’re hiding the guns for now, but they will be out in a second when [the two sides] disagree again,” said Hassan, a part-time soccer coach. More than 20 people died in street clashes in late spring and early summer.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said last month that any progress in Lebanon is meaningless before the “eradication of extremists and Salafis moving freely in northern Lebanon.” …. Hassan and other residents say the role of Islamist fighters in Tripoli is being exaggerated to justify further violence…
Syria envoy: Future generations will pay if Israel scuttles peace talks
Haaretz.com, 22 October 2008
Syria’s ambassador to the United States on Tuesday warned that should Israel scuttle peace negotiations with Syria, the citizens of each country will pay the price…. Ambassador Imad Moustapha said in an interview with the Syria Comment Web site….
UN Resolution 1701: A View from Lebanon
By Nicholas Blanford
The Washington Institute, 21 October 2008
Read the two companion PolicyWatches, “UN Resolution 1701: A View from Israel” and “UN Resolution 1701: A View from the United States.”
Two years after the 2006 summer war, Hizballah and Israel [are]… focusing on preparations for the inevitable second round of conflict. … the Shiite organization has developed a new line of defense north of the Litani River and completed a massive, unprecedented recruitment, training, and rearmament drive. …
Buildup South of the Litani? : Hizballah’s military preparations north of the Litani River and in the Bekaa Valley are well known. Vast tracts of land in this mountainous spine running north from the Litani to the lower reaches of the Barouk Mountains have been placed off-limits. The sound of explosions and machine gun fire has become commonplace in parts of the Bekaa Valley where Hizballah conducts its training.
What is less evident is the scale of Hizballah’s military preparations near the southern border….
Despite the tepid endorsement of 1701, Hizballah’s bottom line remains the same: it will not scale back its preparation for the next encounter with Israel because of UN Security Council edicts. …
Conclusion: Given what has transpired in Lebanon over the past two years — both on the ground and in the air — it would appear that Hizballah and Israel will continue to breach, and not honor, Resolution 1701. Preparing for the inevitable second round of conflict has taken priority — for both parties — over complying with the UN resolution.
Under the lull provided by the ceasefire, the organization has managed to avoid paying a price for triggering the 2006 war and has reasserted itself even more forcefully in Lebanese politics.
Hizballah Undeterred: UNSCR 1701 provided Israel with a reasonable exit from a military dead end, and was a way for the United States and France to reassert influence in Lebanon, at least ostensibly. Yet the increased involvement of Washington and Paris has been of little value,…
many Israelis have a strong sense that an opportunity was missed following the 2006 debacle. Hizballah’s buildup over the last two years accentuates Israel’s desire to undermine the organization’s position in Lebanon. Logic suggests this can only be achieved by a successful military operation followed by a clear diplomatic solution. Such an outcome would close the loopholes of UNSCR 1701 and force the Lebanese government and the international community to take concrete measures to implement UNSCR 1559, which calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all militias inside Lebanon.
Conclusion: Another war with Hizballah appears inevitable, and the Israeli military currently is making preparations to ensure that the next round is decisive….
….. The ceasefire, however, proved to be the easy part. More difficult was dealing with the domestic ramifications of the conflict in Lebanon — Hizballah was emboldened and Lebanon’s central government was weakened. Their ensuing struggle for power culminated in May 2008 in a bloody street battle that claimed sixty-five lives, eventually leading to Hizballah’s temporary occupation of Beirut.
In the Doha Agreement that followed, Hizballah gained new political power, albeit at the cost of credibility lost in turning its weapons against its own people. The pro-sovereignty forces, on the other hand, made painful concessions to the opposition but in many respects stood their ground and even made gains by electing a president, forming a government, and promulgating a strong cabinet statement. The true test of their strength will be in how President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora handle ongoing discussions of Hizballah’s arms, and how the majority fares in the 2009 parliamentary elections. ….
Events during this period, however, have underscored that while foreign aid can provide vital leverage to Lebanon’s government, real change must be led by the Lebanese themselves. For example, international security assistance gave the LAF an edge in its hard-fought victory over the radical Sunni organization Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in mid-2007. But the operation’s success ultimately stemmed from the LAF’s determination and public support. Hizballah at first sought to limit the LAF’s freedom of action, but was forced to backpedal when it became clear that the tide of public opinion supported the government.
The Challenge of Hizballah
The violence in May 2008 underscored one of the premises of Resolution 1701: that any gains made by the Lebanese government could easily be countered by Hizballah with massive military force…. Ehud Barak asserted that Hizballah’s arsenal of rockets has nearly tripled since 2006.
Arms smuggling and an emboldened Hizballah pose a threat to the region that is difficult to overstate. As a vanguard for Tehran, Hizballah frustrates progress on regional peace and stability and acts as a proxy through which Iran can operate without risking direct retaliation. This strategy holds true not only in the Levant, but also throughout the Middle East — such as Hizballah’s training of Iraqi Shiite militants — and as far away as South America, where Hizballah agents engage in terrorist financing and other activities. Compounding the problem, the Iran-Syria arms pipeline supplies al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in Palestinian refugee camps, as well as other Syrian proxies in the region.
Next Steps: In the short term, it is critical to stop the flow of arms to the militias that hold Lebanon hostage….The EU should also emulate the British government’s recent designation of Hizballah as a terrorist organization. … Finally, measures to stop the arms before they arrive at the border should be examined in earnest.
The long-term challenge for Lebanon’s allies will be to strengthen the Lebanese state by increasing military, diplomatic, and economic assistance to Beirut. The Lebanese government, in turn, can demonstrate its authority by continuing to address the country’s security challenges and wresting control of the Lebanon-Israel relationship from Hizballah and Iran by taking up Israel’s offer of bilateral talks…
Israeli leaders should see the Lebanese government as a partner and refrain from actions that indirectly benefit those seeking to undermine it, such as Hizballah. While Hizballah, despite its claims of defending Lebanon, dragged Israel and Lebanon into a war neither wanted, the Lebanese and Israeli governments should pursue the peace that both countries need.
Michael Singh is a Boston-based associate fellow at The Washington Institute and former senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council.
Rafsanjani says Israel lacks ‘goodwill’ in talks with Syria
Tehran Times, 23 October 2008
TEHRAN – Israel lacks “goodwill” in negotiations with Syria, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told Ahmed al-Hassan, a member of the leadership council of Syrian ruling party.
However, Rafsanjani said, “Peace with Syria is very important for the Zionist regime because it will reduce many local and international pressures on this regime.”… Rafsanjani said the return of Golan Heights to Syria is a “strategic demand” of all regional countries.
…Rafsanjani also praised Syria’s good relations with Palestinian and Lebanese groups and its positive efforts to strengthen Lebanon’s independence in line with promoting regional security and stability. “The Arab and non-Arab friends of Syria in the region can be very influential in promoting stability by helping Syria in its fight against terrorism and anti-security measures.”
Rafsanjani said Syria plays very important role in regional security. “Definitely, the U.S. and Israel will lose from the security and stability of Syria and the expansion of its international relations with other countries.” Rafsanjani added the “terror and anti-security acts in Syria in recent months are indications of this dissatisfaction.” Al-Hassan thanked Iran for its principled policy in the region and its friendly relations with Syria.
Iran Says “No”—Now What?
By George Perkovich
Carnegie Endowment, Policy Brief No. 63, September 2008
A new IAEA report says that Iran continues to defy UN Security Council resolutions and enrich uranium while refusing to answer IAEA questions regarding possible weaponization activities. If the United States is to induce Iran to halt enrichment activities, both the costs of defiance and the benefits of cooperation must be greater, warns George Perkovich in a new policy brief.
Perkovich argues that the United States should pursue a revised strategy showing Iran’s leaders that the more they advance enrichment capabilities, the less valuable cessation of those activities becomes for negotiating incentives packages.
A three-step approach for the next U.S. president:
Give Iran one last, time-limited chance to negotiate suspension …. If Iran rejects the opportunity, break off negotiations and focus on developing a consensus to maintain international sanctions as long as Iran remains in violation of Security Council and IAEA resolutions. Rather than defending a redline Iran already crossed, the United States should build resolve within the UN Security Council and among allies for continued sanctions and robust consequences should evidence emerge of new Iranian weaponization activities.
Finally, clarify the international redline. … the international community could define its redline for Iran as weaponization,…“An underappreciated factor in Tehran’s unwillingness to answer the IAEA’s questions is that Iranian leaders must wonder what would happen if they did ‘come clean,’ perhaps acknowledging that past nuclear activities were related to acquiring at least the option to produce nuclear weapons. The fact that neither the United States nor the Security Council has told Iran how it would react if Iran admitted to past nuclear weaponization violations may pose a genuine quandary in Iran. The UN Security Council could clarify that Iranian admission of past weaponization activities, coupled with willingness to accept that the NPT violation required ‘restitution,’ would not necessarily lead to further sanctions or punitive sanctions…”
Iran: Is Productive Engagement Possible?
By Karim Sadjadpour
Carnegie Endowment, Policy Brief No. 65, October 2008
Iran continues to be a critical national security challenge for the United States, … A different approach is required. In a new policy brief, Karim Sadjadpour explains that the relevant question is not whether to talk to Iran but how to talk to Iran, and prioritizes U.S. engagement with Iran on six critical issues: Iraq, Afghanistan, nuclear proliferation, the Arab–Israeli conflict, energy, and terrorism.
The next U.S. president should: Focus initially on areas where the United States and Iran share common interests, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than issues with little or no common interest, like the nuclear issue or the Israeli–Palestinian conflict….
Both Obama, McCain Free Of “Axis Of Evil” Taboo – Analysts
AFP, 21 October 2008
Whether under Barack Obama or John McCain, the next U.S. administration will pursue negotiations with Iran, North Korea and other anti- American regimes, analysts predict.
To be sure, they say, Obama might be more willing to talk than McCain.But the way has been clear for such negotiations since President George W. Bush himself changed course after crashing into the limits of U.S. power in Iraq and breaking the taboo he created, they say….
“The truth is the Bush administration view of not negotiating with these hostile regimes is already dead,” analyst Peter Beinart said. “They’re negotiating. McCain will negotiate, Obama will negotiate.”… Obama, they say, instinctively wants to reach out to the leaders of countries like Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela, but he faces practical and political limitations.
… In September, a poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs showed a majority of Americans backed future U.S. talks with the leaders of Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Myanmar as well as the Islamist groups Hezbollah and Hamas. The analysts thought it unlikely either McCain or Obama would talk to the Islamist groups, which are labeled as terrorist.
Canadian ‘role in Syria torture’
BBC, 21 October 2008
A Canadian inquiry has concluded that officials there contributed indirectly to the torture of three Canadian citizens in Syria. The men were arrested in Syria on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities, but were released in 2004. Returning to Canada, they said they were tortured and that Canada supplied Syria with questions to ask them…. Ahmad El Maati, Abdullah Almalki and Muayyed Nureddi, all of Middle Eastern origin, were separately arrested by Syrian military intelligence between 2001 and 2004….
Former Obama Adviser Meets Syria’s Assad
By Ayman Abdel Nour
Forbes.com, 21 October 2008
Syria’s official media was keen to deliver special coverage of President Bashar Al-Assad’s Oct. 16 meeting with Robert Malley, head of the Middle East program at the International Crisis Group and erstwhile informal adviser to U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The lead story the next day in government newspapers reported that Al-Assad and Malley discussed Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and prospects for peace in the Middle East, and that Malley explained the role the ICG would have in briefing the new U.S. administration about Syria’s important role in the region.
What really attracted attention, though, was that on the same day a Web site closely associated with the government published a translation of a lecture Malley had delivered at Yale, offering effusive praise for it.
The site referred to Malley as a senior adviser to Barack Obama on the Middle East, even though the Obama campaign says Malley’s role was never official. In any case, the campaign dropped him as too controversial after it was reported that he had met with Hamas officials. The Web site further stated that Malley’s opinions would shape the next U.S. president’s ideas about the Middle East, noting that, unlike the Bush administration, Malley supported a peace agreement between Syria and Israel–which would weaken Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
The site noted that Obama had twice echoed Malley in stating that the failure of the war in Iraq had strengthened Iran’s influence. But if the Obama campaign has indeed severed its ties to Malley, it seems that Syrian officials are overestimating his influence. (Malley last met with the Syrian president in April 2007.)
The date for Al-Assad’s latest meeting with Malley is no accident–the U.S. election is nearly upon us and, with the Syrian regime expecting an Obama win, it wanted someone it believes has Obama’s ear briefed on the latest developments by the president himself. It is no coincidence that another Obama foreign policy adviser, Daniel Kurtzer, a career diplomat who served under George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, also recently visited Damascus, where he met with Syria’s foreign minister.
The general atmosphere in Damascus is one that sees these experts as genuine peace seekers and believes in what they are doing. These visiting diplomats want to meet all parties to any possible future peace negotiations in order to gain their confidence. I wish them success in their missions.
Sleiman hails Sarkozy’s ‘brave move’ to repair ties with Syria
Tehran Times, 21 October 2008
President Michel Sleiman described his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy’s openness toward Damascus as a “”brave move”” which helped end Lebanon’s 18-month political crisis, the state-run National News Agency said. Sleiman held a half hour meeting with Sarkozy on the sidelines of the 12th Francophone summit in Quebec, Canada on Saturday.
Diplomatic dynamics with Syria
The Boston Globe, 20 October 2008
While the conclusion of your Oct. 16 editorial “Syria’s blowback problem,” regarding the need for the United States to revive diplomacy and engage with Syria, is on point, the premise of the editorial is not.
To connect the agreement of diplomatic exchange between Syria and Lebanon to a change in Syrian policy, namely an act of regime preservation, is inaccurate. Syria’s policies and positions stand unchanged for several years now. We have continuously called on France and the United States to move past the futile policies of isolation and try to engage us. President Assad has called for diplomatic exchange with Lebanon since 2005, and we have repeatedly invited the Israelis for the past eight years to return to the peace negotiations table. In fact, it is the new vision of President Sarkozy of France to engage Syria, the new political process in Lebanon, and an ostensibly new vision of peace in Israel that have resulted in the new dynamics vis-à-vis Syria.
Moreover, it is not only Syria, but all Arab countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that fought against extremist religious fanatics – the same ones that the United States was funding, training, and arming to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. As for the urban myth of what occurred in Hama, we invite the Globe editorial board to visit the “bulldozed” old quarter and verify the facts for themselves.
Embassy of Syria
US commander sees future troop cuts in Anbar
AP, 23 October 2008
The U.S. commanding general in Iraq’s Anbar province is voicing optimism about troop reductions next year.
But Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly also warns that security gaps along the Syrian border and al-Qaida cells still pose risks.
Kelly told Pentagon reporters today that his 25,000-troop force is focused more on training Iraqis and helping them shore up their western border with Syria and doing less combat….