Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, April 29th, 2008
New York Times – NEW DELHI — The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, arrived here for a dinner meeting with government officials on Tuesday, but he was expected to sign no path-breaking bilateral deals, nor iron out the kinks in a proposed 1,600-mile-long natural gas pipeline. Instead, he brought the Indian government a strange boon: a chance to show that it is willing to buck pressure from the White House and shake hands with a man Washington reviles.
“It is good for the government to be seen taking a stand that the U.S. may not like,” observed Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to Washington.
In fact, for energy-hungry India, good relations with Iran are important for at least three reasons. It is the second largest supplier of oil to India, after Saudi Arabia, and a potential source of natural gas in the future; it wields influence in Afghanistan, which India increasingly considers critical to regional stability; and it commands loyalty from India’s substantial community of Shiite Muslims.
Iran’s new thrust into India and Sri Lanka comes as it is increasingly isolated by the United States and Europe.
Iranian Foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who attended university in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, is credited with driving this “Look East” strategy.
Bilateral trade between Iran and India, the bulk of which is oil and gas-related products, increased 55 percent in the last fiscal year to $9.3 billion, according to figures from the Indian government. That amount is about a third of India-United States trade.
In February, the Confederation of Indian Industries, the country’s largest business group, took a delegation of 10 companies to Iran to discuss possible business partnerships, said one executive who went on the trip but did not want his name used because he did not want to comment on government matters.
With increased diplomatic pressure from the West on Iran, the executive said, “this is the right time for Indian companies to step in.”
Indian companies have had difficulties signing deals with their Iranian counterparts because international banking restrictions make it difficult to get a valid bank guarantee known as a “letter of credit” from an Iranian company, he said. But some Indian banks are finding ways around international banking rules, by putting these letters of credit in different currencies, he said.
A breakthrough on the pipeline project, the executive added, would encourage greater business opportunities for Indian companies.
India for its part must figure out how to balance its broader relationships in the Middle East. Its second largest defense partner, after Russia, is Israel, and its largest source of oil, to the tune of 25 million metric tons last year, is Saudi Arabia. From Iran, it bought nearly 15 million metric tons during the same period, followed by about 13 million each from Iraq and Nigeria. India imports roughly three-fourths of its oil from abroad.
Bashar and Olmert: The First Test
April 29, 2008
Bashar al-Asad's confirmation, in an interview to the Qatari daily al-Watan, that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had given him a commitment to return the entire Golan Heights to Syria has one meaning: Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations are warming up. For the first time since the failure of the Clinton-Hafiz al-Asad Geneva summit of March 2000, there is a real chance for the resumption of peace negotiations between Israel and Syria, and perhaps even for a breakthrough.
As the results of the 2006 Lebanon War gradually became clear to both sides, the Israeli and Syrian leaderships began exchanging messages expressing interest in restarting the long-stalled peace negotiations. Yet, up until recently, they produced no results. In fact, imbedded in these exchanges was a fear of the consequences of resuming negotiations, reflecting the lack of genuine political will to move ahead, not to mention an unwillingness to pay the price which would be entailed by a peace agreement.
Over the years, Syria's unwavering precondition for the resumption of the peace process was an Israeli commitment to full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 lines. Israel's difficulty in accepting this demand was at the root of the failure of the Syrian-Israeli negotiations conducted with Hafiz al-Asad by the Barak government in 1999-2000. Since then, no Israeli prime minister has been ready to commit himself to full withdrawal before Syria clarified what it intended to offer Israel as a quid pro quo.
Now, however, it seems that Prime Minister Olmert is prepared to comply with the Syrian demand. In this, he is following in the footsteps of Yitzhak Rabin, who tendered a similar commitment (the Rabin deposit) in August 1993, when he made it clear to the Syrians that in return for a peace agreement acceptable to Israel, he would be ready to withdraw to the 4 June 1967 lines. All subsequent prime ministers expressed their readiness to accept Rabin’s commitment. Yet at the moment of truth, each of them got cold feet, refusing to take the political risk entailed in acceding to a Syrian return to the Galilee shoreline.
For Olmert, accepting the Rabin deposit is the inevitable outcome of pursuing a peace deal with Syria. It has long been clear to Israeli leaders that neither Hafiz al-Asad, nor his son and successor Bashar, would follow in the footsteps of Egypt’s Anwar al-Sadat and undertake dramatic public initiatives and symbolic gestures on behalf of Arab-Israeli peace. Hence, it would be up to Israel to make the requisite initial gestures towards Damascus in order to pave the way to an agreement.
This raises the question of why Bashar chose to disclose the Olmert commitment, delivered to him by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There are several possible answers. The Syrians may have feared that the existence of a secret Turkish channel between Syria and Israel would be leaked to the Israeli media, and thus preferred to be the first to make it public, in order not to find themselves on the defensive. More likely, the Syrians may have wanted to test Olmert's seriousness, to check whether the message delivered to them was reliable, and whether Olmert would be capable of weathering the inevitable criticism from portions of the Israeli public. The fact that the Israeli Prime Minister's Office declined to deny the news of the commitment has been understood as a tacit confirmation of its veracity. Syria, incidentally, was not worried about the embarrassment it might cause Olmert. Supporting an Israeli prime minister in the difficult challenge he may be expected to face among his own public has never been on Syria’s agenda.
Olmert and Bashar have successfully passed their first joint test. Olmert dared to do what no other Israeli prime minister in the last decade had done, and Bashar reacted relatively positively, praising Olmert for his efforts to advance peace.
Nonetheless, a word of caution is in order. Notwithstanding the fact that Jimmy Carter concluded his recent visit to Damascus by declaring that 85% of the problems between Israel and Syria had already been settled during the previous rounds of the peace negotiations, the picture is far more opaque. First, all understandings reached between Syria and Israel in the past have been left unwritten, and are hence given to interpretation. Second, the current reality on the ground and the overall regional configuration have changed substantially in the last eight years. For example, earlier Syrian-Israeli understandings regarding Hizballah were reached at a time when the organization had only a few thousand rockets of limited range. Now, however, the organization has in its possession tens of thousands of advanced rockets that can reach as far as Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona, in southern Israel. In addition, Syria’s primary regional ally, Iran, and their Palestinian joint client, Hamas – both of whom embody a hard-line, rejectionist position towards Israel – have far more weight then they had in 2000. Finally, achieving real progress in the Israeli-Syrian peace process will require active American participation. So far, the US has not reacted officially to the latest Olmert-Bashar exchange. However, it concurrently revealed information regarding the Israeli attack in northern Syria in September 2007 against a nuclear facility under construction with North Korean assistance. To be sure, the revelation was not designed as a response to the incipient resumption of Syrian-Israeli negotiations. Nevertheless, it served as another reminder of the low point that Syrian-American relations have reached in recent years, and the lack of any readiness in the Bush administration to change its attitude towards Syria.
In conclusion, much water will flow through the River Jordan and into the Sea of Galilee before the Syrians are allowed to wade into them. Nonetheless, it seems clear that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has taken the first plunge.
U.S. Was 'Clueless' on Counterinsurgency
BY ELI LAKE – Staff Reporter of the Sun
April 29, 2008
WASHINGTON — Paul Wolfowitz, in his first public remarks on the Iraq war in years, said the American government was "pretty much clueless on counterinsurgency" in the first year of the war.
The former deputy secretary of defense said yesterday that the force sent to Iraq was adequate for fighting Saddam Hussein's military, citing the speed with which American troops toppled the regime. But Mr. Wolfowitz said no one in the Bush administration anticipated that Saddam would order his security services to wage an insurgency after their formal defeat on the battlefield.
Mr. Wolfowitz's remarks came at a forum for a new book, "War and Decision," by the former no. 3 official at the Pentagon, Douglas Feith. In the book, Mr. Feith argues that America's greatest mistake in the war was establishing a coalition provisional authority instead of installing a group of Iraqi exiles in an interim government until elections could be held….
SYRIA: More questions about alleged nuclear site
LA Times Blog — Borzou Daragahi in Amman, Jordan
Professor William Beeman at the University of Minnesota passed along a note today from "a colleague with a U.S. security clearance" about the mysterious Syrian site targeted in a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike.
The note raises more questions about the evidence shown last week by U.S. intelligence officials to lawmakers in the House and Senate.
The author of the note pinpoints irregularities about the photographs. Beeman's source alleges that the CIA "enhanced" some of the images. For example he cites this image: ….
LEADING EDITORIAL IN TODAY'S WALL STREET JOURNAL
—- Original Message From: DAVID KIM (BANK OF TOKYO-MITSUB) At: 4/29 8:13:19 Plutonium on the Euphrates — II April 29, 2008; Page A12 We finally know what Israel bombed in the Syrian desert on September 6 last year, and it isn't pretty. After seven months of silence, the Bush Administration confirmed last week that the target was a nuclear reactor being built with the aid of North Korea.
The prospect of nuclear technology in the hands of another terrorism-sponsoring state is scary enough. Worse is the notion that Syria's reactor is no big deal.
That's the interpretation being shopped in Washington by anonymous Administration officials, presumably at State, who have been quoted as saying the CIA has "little confidence" that the goal was to build a bomb.
The no-big-deal thesis expounded by the President's men directly contradicts their boss. After briefing Congress behind closed doors, the White House put out a statement expressing "confidence" that "this reactor was not intended for peaceful activities." CIA Director Michael Hayden said yesterday an operational reactor could have produced enough plutonium to make one or two nuclear bombs.
Damascus think tank chief handles Syrian talks on Israel
The Syrian official in charge of the Turkish-mediated contacts with Israel is Samir Taqi, head of a Damascus-based research institute, Israeli officials told Haaretz Monday. The officials said Taqi was very close to decision-makers in Damascus and enjoyed the confidence of the Turkish government. People who know Taqi personally said Monday they believed he was very well-connected to the Syrian intelligence services.
Taqi served for years as an adviser to the previous Syrian president, Hafez Assad. In recent years he received the official title of adviser to the prime minister, and heads the Center of Oriental Studies, a political think tank.
Prior to taking up his advisory posts, Taqi, who is a Christian, was a cardiac surgeon, who studied medicine in London. In recent years he has has frequently met with journalists and academics to discuss political issues.
Last year, the Turks welcomed Taqi's visit to northern Cyprus at the head of an unofficial Syrian delegation, when he met with with the foreign minister of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. His act aroused the ire of Greek Cypriots, who oppose recognition of the Turkish part of the island as an independent state, which only Ankara recognizes.
Haaretz has learned that Taqi was the bearer of Israel's main message to Syrian President Bashar Assad more than a week ago, following his visit to Ankara. Taqi's principal contact in Ankara is Ahmet Davutoglu, a close associate of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.