Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, February 27th, 2007
U.S. Agrees to Meeting with Iran and Syria writes David Ignatius – or sort of. This is how it has been explained:
The Bush administration has agreed to sit around a negotiating table with official representatives of Iran and Syria next month — as part of a planned regional conference in Baghdad to discuss ways to stabilize Iraq.
In joining the Baghdad conference, the administration is tiptoeing into what has become one of the most contentious issues in the roiling Iraq debate. Critics for months have been urging the administration to end its diplomatic isolation of Iran and Syria and begin a constructive dialogue about with them about how to stabilize Iraq. Even former secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has generally supported administration policy on Iraq, argued in an op-ed piece last weekend that it’s time to end the diplomatic quarantine and convene an international conference on Iraq.
The government will invite representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States — in addition to all of its Mideast neighbors.
Though it will bring together American, Syrian and Iranian representatives, the Baghdad meeting doesn’t signal a direct U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria. A senior State Department official said Monday night that it wasn’t likely there would be separate bilateral meetings with Iran or Syria. Rather, the planned Baghdad meeting is an extension of the administration’s current policy of using the Iraqi government as the channel for discussions with Iran and Syria about Iraqi security.
The initial meeting, tentatively planned for the first half of March, will be at the ambassadorial level, the State Department official said. The American representative will be Zalmay Khalilzad, the current U.S. ambassador to Iraq, or his successor, Ryan Crocker. Khalilzad has long favored direct meetings with Iran. If the initial meeting goes well, a second meeting at the foreign minister level is planned for April.
Iran and Syria haven’t formally agreed to attend the meeting, but “they haven’t said no,” said the State Department official, and the Iraqis expect they will attend.
The trick for the administration has been to gain Iranian and Syrian help in Iraq — or at least, a cessation of harmful activity — without conceding ground on the larger issues of paramount importance to those countries. The Baghdad conference appears to offer such a finesse. It begins contact, but leaves diplomatic “grand bargains — that would address the Iranian nuclear program or Syria’s role in Lebanon — for other times and venues.
Although US diplomats claim there will be no "grand bargains," such as Syria's role in Lebanon, but, of course, Syria can ask the Iraqis what they want and then explain that they will do it if the US takes Syria off the terrorist list or drops economic sanctions. At which point, the Iraqi officials will look at the American ambassador and wait for his response. It will help clarify the issues. At least this way, the American public will get a better idea of how interested its government is in stabilizing Iraq and can assess the price Syria and Iran will ask for cooperation. It is a positive turn of events which fits in well with the diplomacy that the US has farmed out to Saudi Arabia. Both Iraq and Saudi Arabia will be able to lobby Washington on Syria's behalf.
U.S. takes harder line on talks between Jerusalem, Damascus
By Ze'ev Schiff, Amos Harel and Yoav Stern, Haaretz, February 24, 2007
The United States demanded that Israel desist from even exploratory contacts with Syria, of the sort that would test whether Damascus is serious in its declared intentions to hold peace talks with Israel.
In meetings with Israeli officials recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forceful in expressing Washington's view on the matter.
The American argument is that even "exploratory talks" would be considered a prize in Damascus, whose policy and actions continue to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and the functioning of its government, while it also continues to stir unrest in Iraq, to the detriment of the U.S. presence there. [complete article]
Assad accepts to go to Saudi Arabia, Arab League meeting
“Al-Assad after receiving Abdullah’s invitation: my attendance is decided” (Translation by mideastwire.com)Al Hayat, an independent Saudi owned newspaper, reported in its February 26 issue about the latest developments in the preparations for the Arab summit which will be held in March. The newspaper added: “The Saudi minister of state Abdullah Zeinal announced to Al Hayat yesterday that the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad has confirmed that he will attend the Arab summit set for the 28th and 29th of next month. Al-Assad announced to Zeinal: “My attendance is decided. I will expend all my efforts to ensure that the summit succeeds”. Zeinal had delivered to the Syrian president yesterday a letter from the Saudi king Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz that includes an invitation to attend the 19th Arab summit which will be held in Riyadh next month.”
The newspaper added: “A Syrian presidential spokesman announced that the meeting which took place in the presence of the Saudi ambassador in Riyadh Ahmad Bin Ali Al-Qahtani discussed “the necessity of ensuring the success of the Arab summit because of its importance for the Arab people”. Zeinal clarified to Al Hayat that the meeting with Al-Assad was “very distinguished and Al-Assad gave me valuable time. As soon as I handed over the invitation, he told me that his attendance was decided and that he will do his best to ensure its success before also expressing his estimation for the Saudi king and the old relationship between them”. While diplomatic sources announced that Syrian officials told them that the Arab summit is “important and it must succeed”, Syrian sources clarified that Damascus is “anxious for the success of the summit in the current circumstances and it is paying attention to the suggested agenda”
The newspaper continued: “The Syrian foreign minister Walid Al-Muallem is supposed to participate in the Arab foreign ministers’ meeting which will be held at the beginning of next week in Cairo. It was learned that Syrian Saudi arrangements prepared for Zeinal’s visit as he met the Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Al-Miqdad before he met with Al-Assad…” – Al Hayat, United Kingdom Click here for source
As U.S. Puts Pressure on Iran, Gulf's Religious Rift Spreads,
Sunni States See Rise In Anti-Shiite Actions; Scare Tactics in Bahrain, By ANDREW HIGGINS, WSJ, February 26, 2007; Page A1
MUHARRAQ, Bahrain — One night last fall, incendiary leaflets denouncing Iran suddenly appeared on the walls of houses and mosques in this tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.
"Iranians are trying to occupy your homes, the homes of your fathers and grandfathers," warned the anonymous tracts. "Do you want to be ruled by these people? No, a thousand times no!"
Bahrain, a crucial American ally and home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, was quickly caught up in a wave of anti-Iranian paranoia. Politicians, clerics and the media jumped on the theme, turning Iran into a big issue in bitter local elections …
How low have America's fortune in the Middle East sunk? So low that we're staking our hopes for the region on … Saudi Arabia….
|David Schenker (February 26, 2007) of WINEP writes: Saudi-Iranian Mediation on Hizballah: Will a Lebanon Deal Come at Syria's Expense?|
I am not sure why Schenker thinks that Hizbullah and Iran will eventually accept the Hariri tribunal at Syria's expense. This seems like wishful thinking to me. If Hizbullah breaks with Syria, it will have no means of importing arms. Perhaps Schenker assumes that Hizb will accept to give up its role as "resistance" and accept peace with Israel without a Golan deal or Palestinian deal. Possible, but not likely. It is also unlikely that Siniora will give up his insistance that Lebanon fully support an international tribune, designed to take on Syria. Stalemate is the most likely outcome. Both sides seem adverse to compromise.
“Scholars and sheikhs: conversions to Shi’ism in Syria individual cases” (translation by mideastwire.com)
“He believed that “Saudi Sheikh Salman Al-Awded who said that about Syria, based his talk on doubts and illusions”. He said that the situation in Syria was different from Saudi Arabia. He added that: “Let them show us one case which proves that people were paid to convert from one sect to the other”. He continued that people converted from the Sunni sect to the Shi’i sect and vice versa everywhere, and considered these cases to be individual cases which were present in all the societies.
“Worshippers and sheikhs quoted the scholar, Wehbe Al-Zuheili, as saying after the Friday prayer in a mosque in Damascus a few weeks ago that there were cases of Shi’ization in one of the towns in the Raqqa governorate northeast of Damascus, and [he] asked the worshippers to make sure of that. We were unable to contact Al-Zuheili, but the general supervisor of the Ghuraba Al-Sham media institution…, Sheikh Mahmoud Kul Aghasi, said to Al Jazeera.net that Al-Zuheili’s position was “investigative and was confirmed the following week”.
“Aghasi added that the story started from Al-Raqqa where an Iranian institution built two shrines for the Companion [of the Prophet] Ammar Bin Yasser and follower Awais Al-Qarni (God bless them), as well as a cultural bureau and a tapes library. He indicated that some people in that area were influenced by the building pattern and the ideology and found common grounds with those who are responsible for them. He assured however that they never changed their sect, and if they did “there are very few of them”. He believed that some exaggerated the entire issue…
“For his part, the former assistant to the Syrian minister of endowments, Dr. Abdul Razzak Al-Muanness, said he heard a lot of “talk” regarding Shi’ization in Syria in newspapers, satellite channels and websites. He checked the veracity of these claims by conducting tours and visits in many Syrian regions and didn’t find any proof for the spread of Shi’ization. The dean of the Islamic Studies College in Damascus, Abdullah Nizam, said that talks about Shi’ization in Syria were “lies” and said to Al Jazeera.net that he called upon all those who raised this issue to provide proof for the fact that someone converted to Shi’ism or was asked to convert to Shi’ism in exchange for money…
“Aghasi believed it was the right of any group to promote what it believes in… but in correct and clear ways. He said that the Shi’is have been declaring their creed for years via books, publications, and recordings and wondered why this issue was raised in these “difficult circumstances” that the region was going through. He concluded by saying that foreign sides connected with the American administration were interested in talking about a Shi’i spread as part of an Iranian path.
“Al-Muanness believed that such allegations were not innocent and were the result of the American occupation of Iraq, and an attempt to weaken the domestic communities of its neighboring states by spreading sectarian strife, in order to undermine peacefulness and cooperation with Iran. For his part, Nizam said that this issue was raised because of the “critical circumstances that the nation is going through, following the victory achieved by the Lebanese resistance over the Israeli army”. He added that what he called “media mouthpieces” and some scholars “fell in the American-Israeli trap and launched a campaign to arouse the common people and the sectarian conflicts among the Muslims.” – Al Jazeera, QatarClick here for source