Posted by Joshua on Saturday, March 3rd, 2007
Correction: In my article Will Saudi Arabia Solve America’s Problems? I incorrectly wrote that Mohammed Ben Jelloun "was writing at a Hizbullah backed think tank." This is wrong. Ben Jelloun is a sociologist and political scientist unaffiliated with any party. I should have written that "Ali Fayyad is a "director of a think tank closely affiliated with Hezbollah." Ben Jelloun was quoting from an article by Mr. Fayyad, who is affiliated with Hizbullah. I apologize for any insult to Mohammed Ben Jelloun or to those associated with the website "Swans Commentary" that published his excellent article, all of whom are unaffilliated with Hizbullah. I recommend everyone to read Mohammed Ben Jelloun's fine article, "Hizbullah's Democratic Demands." Best, Joshua Landis
Will Saudi Arabia Solve America’s Problems? I incorrectly wrote that Mohammed Ben Jelloun "was writing at a Hizbullah backed think tank." This is wrong. Ben Jelloun is a sociologist and political scientist unaffiliated with any party. I should have written that "Ali Fayyad is a "director of a think tank closely affiliated with Hezbollah." Ben Jelloun was quoting from an article by Mr. Fayyad, who is affiliated with Hizbullah. I apologize for any insult to Mohammed Ben Jelloun or to those associated with the website "Swans Commentary" that published his excellent article, all of whom are unaffilliated with Hizbullah. I recommend everyone to read Mohammed Ben Jelloun's fine article, "Hizbullah's Democratic Demands." Best, Joshua Landis
Helena Cobban Interviewed Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem on Feb 28th when she was visiting Damascus. Cobban has serialized them here: one (on Iraq), two (Peace with Israel), three Israel again. Here is a bit from part one. Mouallem explains Syria's view of the upcoming Baghdad conference:
This is a humanitarian issue, and it's increasing in gravity on a daily basis, because of the terrible security situation in Iraq.
He explained that because Syria hopes that these displaced persons can speedily return to their homes in Iraq, his government is reluctant to refer to them as refugees, calling them instead "displaced perople."
Mouallem described the Bush administration's decision to attecnd the Baghdad conference as,
V.P. Sharaa had this to say about the March 10 talks in Baghdad. Quoted from the Daily Star:
"I am optimistic, but in a measured fashion," Sharaa told Le Monde newspaper.
"The Baghdad meeting is a good thing, even if it is coming a bit late. It should have been held two years ago," he said. "Much depends on what the American administration has in its head."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has invited neighboring countries, including Syria and Iran; the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the US, Russia, Britain, France and China; and representatives of the Arab League and Organization of the Islamic Conference to the March 10 meeting in Baghdad.
Washington has said that agreeing to attend the conference does not amount to a change in policy toward Iran and Syria, which it accuses of fuelling violence in Iraq.
But Sharaa indicated that he thought the US presence might signify a shift of stance.
"I have to say that I have already noted positive elements," he said.
SANA adds this:
Al-Sharaa called for caution because the situation in Iraq is slipping toward chaos, and there are important proposed issues such as national reconciliation, and agreement on a timetable for withdrawal of the foreign troops, indicating that Syria stands in at the same distance from all the Iraqi parties whether in the government or in the opposition, because the role of a mediator can not be played if we take sides with any party.
On the Syrian-French relations, the vice president expressed hope that the crisis between the two countries will end by the French presidential elections whoever would the president-elect be, because there is no reason for the continuation of boycott between the two countries, and healthy normal relations should be restored in the best interest of the two countries.
On Ahmedinehad's visit to Saudi Arabia, Parisa Hafezi of Reuters (1 March 2007) explains that the Middle Eastern powers are trying to reduce friction and to bring Syria out of the cold:
A Lebanese political source in Beirut said Iran wanted to break the ice between Saudis and Syrians — a key element in defusing Lebanon's crisis — before an Arab League summit set for Saudi Arabia at the end of March.
Saudi commentators, noting Syrian officials have not visited Saudi Arabia in months, say Riyadh might want a thaw in its relations with Damascus to pry Syria away from Iran.
The crisis in Lebanon and Sunni-Shi'ite fighting in Iraq has led to fears of growing sectarian divides across the region.
Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria have all accepted Baghdad's invitation to attend a regional conference in March on ways of easing tensions in Iraq.
Iraqi analyst Mustafa Alani, who recently visited Riyadh and met Saudi officials, said "The Iranian leadership think they are going to face a major crisis sooner or later with the nuclear programme and the United States trying to push them out of Iraq, so basically they want to neutralise Gulf opposition at the least," Alani said.
"The visit is an Iranian initiative. It wasn't an invitation. The problem is Ahmadinejad himself. He is not trusted by the Saudi leadership," he said.
"The Iranians tried to show the Saudis goodwill in Lebanon and that they are open to diplomatic bargaining. They reduced the tension markedly in Lebanon." (Additional reporting by Beirut bureau)
The first day of the meeting produced little agreement on Lebanon but "The two parties have agreed to stop any attempt aimed at spreading sectarian strife in the region," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters without elaborating.
The State Department is sending a special envoy to Syria to discuss Iraqi refugees. This is the first official high level US visit to Syria since Washington withdrew its ambassador two years ago; it is an additional indication that Syria's isolation is ending. John Donnelly of the Boston Globe writes (1 March 2007)
A senior State Department official has applied for a visa to travel to Syria to address the problems of Iraqi refugees, further eroding the Bush administration's previous position of not engaging in direct talks with Damascus.
Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the assistant secretary for the bureau of population, refugees, and migration, applied for the visa earlier this week, according to a State Department official, who asked to speak anonymously because he was not authorized to talk publicly on the issue.
The decision for the administration to ask Syria for permission for Sauerbrey's travel comes as US officials have also agreed to hold high-level talks with Iranian and Syrian officials during an upcoming international meeting on Iraq's future. President Bush had previously disallowed any direct talks with officials from the two nations, especially Iran. The United States has diplomatic relations with Syria, including a charge d'affaires at the embassy in Damascus; it has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since the 1979 Islamist revolution.
The US official said Sauerbrey was given instructions to talk only about Iraqi refugees, but that still represented a significant turnaround within the senior levels of administration, particularly the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, who had been opposing any outreach to Syria. Cheney and others have argued that senior administration officials should shun Syria because of its long period of hegemony over Lebanon and allowing weapons to flow from Iran into Lebanon to support Hezbollah fighters.
"We think that this is very important and commendable," said Dawn Calabia, a senior adviser at Refugees International, a Washington- based advocacy group, about Sauerbrey's planned trip. "Her visit is a way of saying we appreciate that Syria is permitting so many Iraqis to stay there and give them at least a safe place to be. That's an important gesture."
The conservative Heritage Foundation is dismayed that the US will talk to Syria. They oppose talks because they believe Syrian and Iranian diplomats are smarter than Americans and will "sucker" them into giving away the store. "Bush Administration has reinforced the perception that it is going soft on America's enemies," writes James Philips. "The Bush Administration must not be suckered into trading concessions on Iran's nuclear program for a cosmetic deal on Iraq that involves Iranian and Syrian promises that will never be fulfilled."
Steven Cook of the CFR says "The Decision to Meet With Syria & Iran is ‘Positive'. On Syria, He answers Gwertzman's question:
What about Syria? Can they do anything to help out Iraq?
The Syrians can do a better job on policing their border. But what’s uppermost in the minds of the Syrian leadership is relieving the pressure on the investigation and international tribunal on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. That is essentially the price the United States is going to have to pay. That’s what the Syrians are looking for in terms of gaining its cooperation. Talks with the Iranians are much more important than the talks with the Syrians, to be honest with you. But there is a Syrian-Israeli angle here. The Israelis have demonstrated an interest in dealing with the Syrians as a result of the war in Lebanon over the summer. There may be something that can be done as a result of these talks to jump-start a Syrian-Israeli negotiation. But the Syrians have a history of playing both ends of the fence, being constructive in one area and being the furthest from constructive in another area.
Farid Ghadry, leader of the Syrian Reform Party, has blasted Walid Junblat, the anti-Syrian Lebanese leader of the Druze, for arguing at the American Enterprise Institute that the US should support Khaddam and the Muslim Brotherhood against Bashar al-Asad. He writes on his blog:
The event of AEI provided a hint of what is illogical in the approach of the Lebanese politicians and why it has been difficult for the international community to lock-step with their wishes. Jumblatt, in his last three visits, has called for the US to support the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and Abdul Halim Khaddam, an ex-vice president of Syria and an adamant supporter of Ba’athism,….
I, personally, have a problem with someone supporting the Syrian opposition in general vs. supporting a portion of the Syrian opposition that is not representative of the people of Syria anymore than a past corrupt official and a group with a history of violence do. Lebanon’s security can not be the price for Syria’s insecurity. Yesterday’s headline in a Muslim Brotherhood Arabic web site read: “Jumblatt supports the Muslim Brotherhood as an alternative to Assad’. Since when the alternative is a group and not a democracy, I ask !!!
French President Jacques Chirac told Lebanese parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri Friday that the "constructive" outcome of the Paris III donor conference should not be squandered by political infighting. In a meeting at Elysee Palace in Paris, the leaders also discussed plans for an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. reported.
Chirac told Hariri the "constructive outcome of the Paris III donor summit should not be jeopardized by the political skirmishes prevailing on the Lebanese scene," the station said.
The French president said that the international court could be formed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, but he told Hariri that the establishment of the court "is better implemented within Lebanese constitutional institutions," adding that if such an approach failed "other means of having the court formed will be discussed."
Hariri said after the meeting that the establishment of the international tribunal was the only way to protect Lebanon from "evil forces that roam around it."
Asked whether the court will be established under Chapter 7 if various Lebanese groups fail to agree on its formation, Hariri said that "everything will be discussed in time."
A Chapter 7 designation would allow for the implementation of the court by international parties without the approval of Lebanon's Parliament.
Speaker Nabih Berri, a member of the opposition, has so far refused to convene a parliamentary session to endorse a draft proposal for the tribunal. In an interview Thursday on CNN, Hariri said Berri was "not allowed" to suspend parliamentary sessions "because Lebanon is a democratic country." "We will denounce anyone who contributes to hindering the formation of the court," he said.
Western intelligence sources worried by jihadist upsurge in Lebanon (From Warincontext.org)
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, March 2, 2007
Western intelligence agencies are worried by a growing concentration of terror operatives associated with the global jihad movement in Lebanon.
Recent intelligence indicates that hundreds of Sunni Muslim terrorists from various Arab countries are currently residing around Tyre, mainly in a Palestinian refugee camp near the city. Some of the terrorists are apparently from Sudan and Yemen.
Both Western and Israeli intelligence agencies fear that the jihadists' growing presence in southern Lebanon will lead to more attacks against Israel and a renewed escalation along the northern border. The United Nations forces deployed along the border following last summer's war with Hezbollah are also considered potential targets. [complete article]
New polling research finds opposition to war highest among Jews
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, March 2, 2007
Even as a new study found that American Jews are significantly more opposed to the Iraq War than are Christians, Jewish organizations decided not to take up the issue at their annual policy conference.
Drawing from the results of 13 polls conducted since 2005, the Gallup Organization found that 77% of American Jews think the Iraq War was a mistake, compared with 52% of the general American public. The poll found that Jewish opposition to the war in Iraq transcends political boundaries, with Jewish Democrats and Jewish Republicans being more likely than their respective non-Jewish counterparts to oppose the war.
"These data show that the average American Jew — even those who are Republicans and may support the Bush administration on other matters — opposes the war," Gallup concluded in the report, released last week.