News Round Up (June 2, 2009)

Syria has had its best year of rainfall in nearly eight years, farmers in the Coastal Mountains have been saying joyfully. In the Jazirah area, Syria’s bread basket, the rain has not been as plentiful, although it has been better than the previous three years which were terrible, I am told.

Syria’s GDP Rose by 7% in 2008 From the Syria Report by Jihad Yazigi

Syria’s real Gross Domestic Product rose by 7 percent in 2008 while the inflation rate stood at 5.4 percent, according to preliminary data from the Central Bureau of Statistics. Read
News

Economy: Drought Hits Hard on Syria’s North-East
The drought affecting Syria’s north-eastern region is leading to dramatic economic, human and social consequences, according to a joint FAO/WFP assessment mission conducted in May.

160 Syrian villages deserted ‘due to climate change’ By Talal El-Atrache

DAMASCUS (AFP) — Some 160 villages in northern Syria were deserted by their residents in 2007 and 2008 because of climate change, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The report drawn up by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) warns of potential armed conflict for control of water resources in the Middle East.

“The 2007/8 drought caused significant hardship in rural areas of Syria. In the northeast of the country, a reported 160 villages have been entirely abandoned and the inhabitants have had to move to urban areas,” it said….

The report says climate change could affect farm productivity in Syria, where agriculture represents 23 percent of gross domestic product and employs 30 percent of the economically active population.

“Some 13 percent of agricultural land was downgraded between 1980 and 2006 because of… urban expansion and agricultural, industrial and tourism activities,” Fayez Asrafy, a desertification expert, told AFP.

“Rainfall shrank by 10 millimetres (a year) between 1956 and 2006 while temperatures rose by (an average) 0.5 degrees Celsius, though below the worldwide average of 0.6 degrees,” Syrian meteorologist Khales Mawed said.

The IISD predicts even modest global warming would lead to a 30-percent drop in water in the Euphrates, which runs through Turkey, Syria and Iraq, while the Dead Sea would shrink in volume by 80 percent by the end of the century.

One-third of Syrians Live in “informal” Housing, Study Finds
2009-05-31

Damascus (dpa) — More than 35 per cent of Syrians live in “informal,” often ramshackle houses, a new Syrian study has found. This arrangement poses a threat to the ecology of Syria and is an impediment to the development of the country, the government’s Commission for Family Affairs concluded in its study, the results of which were published in Syria’s state daily Tishreen on Sunday.

Respondents told the commission that rising commodity prices, medical expenses, debt and taxes were the most serious problems they faced, and that they would need at least another 5,000 Syrian pounds (106 dollars) a month to make ends meet. A typical Syrian household includes six people, living on an average of 15,000 Syrian pounds (318 US dollars) a month, the study found, though in some areas, such as the northeastern Syrian city of Dair al-Zur, the average is higher, with as many
as 10 people living under one roof.

US Mideast envoy to the region next week: official

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is to travel to the region next week, a State Department official said Tuesday.

“He is planning to travel to the region next week,” the official said. “At this point I can’t be more specific on travel itinerary.”

In mid-May, Syrian Ambassador Imad Mustapha, speaking on the US-funded, Arabic-language television station Al-Hurra, said “Mitchell and his team sent their passports to us today for obtaining visas to visit Syria.”

But at the time, State Department spokesman Robert Wood stopped short of confirming a Syria visit….

“Senator Mitchell has not yet decided upon a trip to Syria,” Wood said….

Mitchell’s expected trip raises US engagement a notch.

US Congress Tries to Undermine Obama’s Efforts to Stop Settlements
Politico via Friday Lunch Club

“As President Barack Obama prepares to depart for his first trip to the Arab world, the administration’s escalating pressure on Israel to freeze all growth of its settlements on Palestinian land has begun to stir concern among Israel’s numerous allies in both parties on Capitol Hill.

“My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.). “I think it would serve America’s interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements.”

“When Congress gets back into session the administration is going to hear from many more members than just me,” she said. ….

But even a key defender of Obama’s Mideast policy, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), is seeking to narrow the administration’s definition of “settlement” to take pressure off Obama. And the unusual criticism by congressional Democrats of the popular president is a sign that it may take more than a transformative presidential election to change the domestic politics of Israel…. “

Ambassador Indyk Tells All: Pretty Amazing Interview

MJ Rosenberg writes: “Check out this interview from Yediot Achronoth. And, unconstrained by official responsibility, he actually says what he thinks. This interview will not make him more popular in Israel but it will confirm the view here that few, if any, in this country understand the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-American scenes better than Indyk.”….

On Syria

“Yes,” he said, “it could have been done differently. The joint strategy, ours and yours, was Syria first. At the Shepherdstown conference of January 2000, when we missed the chance to reach an
agreement with the Syrians, Arafat experienced a turnabout. Until then, he was afraid of being left behind. After the failure with the Syrians, Barak and Clinton—as President Bush rightfully said—courted Arafat desperately. Had there been an agreement with Syria, the equation would
have been different.

“I write in the book that for seven years, Hafez Assad was interested in the process, not the outcome, but before his death he underwent a change: he wanted to reach a deal. The fact is that over the years, he refused to send a senior figure to direct negotiations with Israel. Prior to his death, he sent his foreign minister Farouk Ashara to the talks.

“When Ashara came to Washington to negotiate with Barak, we dealt with the question why he did not shake his hand and why he condemned Israel in his speech, and ignored the most important thing he said: it is a dispute over borders, not an existential conflict. The Syrians were prepared for a series of compromises. People who read my book say that Barak did not have the courage to complete an agreement with the Syrians. Barak is a courageous man, there is no argument about that. The problem was the timing. The moment to finalize an agreement with Assad was between December 1999 and February 2000. Had Barak risen to the occasion at the right moment, it would have changed everything.”

You were recently in Damascus, we said, as the guest of Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. With what insight did you return from there? “There is greater flexibility than in the past in Syria,” he said. “Not on territory—it would be a mistake to think that they have changed their position. They will not cede a single centimeter of territory. But if Israel recognizes Syria’s sovereignty over the entire Golan, they will be willing to talk about what remains, including Israeli
communities under Syrian sovereignty.”…

Why didn’t Rabin complete the agreement with Syria, we asked.

“In October 1995,” he said, “a few weeks before the assassination, Rabin was in Washington. He said that he had to halt the negotiations with the Syrians, because he stood before elections. He doubted his ability to achieve a majority for withdrawal from the Golan. Rabin didn’t believe, but Netanyahu believed. His first intervention in politics here was an attempt to prevent, by means of the Senate, the stationing of US forces in the Golan—an important part of the agreement. “Netanyahu would come to me when I was ambassador, and question me about what was happening with the Golan. Why are you so concerned, I asked. Because if Rabin reaches an agreement on the Golan, he will win by a large majority, he said.

“That is why I say that Netanyahu will reach an agreement with Syria. The left wing will be with him because of the agreement, and as a right wing leader he will enjoy the support of the right wing.

“Netanyahu negotiated with Assad. Once again, behind our backs. He made more progress than Rabin and Peres. Assad calculated—like his son now—that Netanyahu could pass an agreement that the left wing would find it difficult to pass. That is the irony of the Middle East.”

Syria Looks to Iraq for an Economic Boost Wall Street Journal

….Syrian officials also have said that a railway line from the coastal city of Tartous to Umm Qasr port in southern Iraq is opening this month. The railway promises a faster and cheaper route to the Mediterranean for regional goods typically shipped through the Suez Canal.

Syria’s economic ties with Iraq were stronger in the past. Syrian exports to Iraq in 2007 were valued at $641 million, compared with about $2 billion before the U.S. invasion in 2003, according to official Iraqi figures…..

Damascus says it thinks it can use its ports on the Mediterranean to build an important trade route between Iraq and Europe. Iraq’s population of 28 million promises a booming market for Syrian and other foreign goods.

Baghdad and Damascus already have agreed to reopen the Kirkuk-Banias oil pipeline, which extends from oil fields in northern Iraq to the Syrian port of Banias.

The two countries also have held discussions about building a natural-gas pipeline from Iraq’s Western Akkas fields to Syria, which could be an attractive transit point for gas-starved Arab and European markets.

N. Korea to mass-produce Syria-provided missile By The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 02, 2009

SEOUL, June 2 (Kyodo) — North Korea has apparently agreed to mass-produce a small, Russian-designed missile that it recently obtained from Syria, according to a Western diplomatic source.

The missile in question is the Kornet anti-tank guided missile developed by KBP Instrument Design Bureau, a Russian government-backed defense contractor based in Tula, Russia, said the source, who closely monitors Syrian-North Korean affairs…. Japan and the United States… have pressed the U.N. Security Council to incorporate a complete ban on weapons exports in sanctions to be taken in response to the North’s second underground nuclear test conducted last week….

Iraq Oil Report: Kurds from Syria eye KRG 2009-06-01

Iraq’s Kurdish Region is becoming a favoured destination for an increasing number of Syrian Kurds deprived of nationality rights by authorities in Damascus. More than one thousand Syrian Kurds now survive in dire conditions in Moqoble camp, a…

Syria’s Kilo pledges to continue struggle Middle East on Line.

Syrian media workers say Journalists’ Union that should represent them is used to restrict them.

DAMASCUS – A few hours after his release from prison, Michel Kilo, a prominent Syrian intellectual and journalist, sat among his family and friends telling stories about his daily life while he was incarcerated.

Appearing in high spirits, Kilo – who spent three years in jail for “threatening national sentiment” and “inciting sectarian strife” – spoke jokingly about one cellmate who cooked better than all the women he had known. ….

The Debate Over the Makeup of the Next Government and the “Obstructing Third”

In recent months the March 14 Forces and the Hizbullah-led opposition have been arguing over the makeup of the post-elections government. The March 14 Forces reject the principle of the “obstructing third,” which Hizbullah obtained at the Doha summit following its violent May 7, 2008 takeover of Beirut. They characterize it as a dishonorable invention, which was meant to be a temporary solution, and which was imposed by force of arms. Moreover, they state that it paralyzes government activity, and that they will never again give a right of veto to the opposition.

The Hizbullah-led opposition, on the other hand, is demanding that the principle of the “obstructing third” be retained in the next government. In fact, its spokesmen have stated that even if Hizbullah wins, it will be willing to grant this right to the opposition led by the March 14 Forces.(9)

In a May 15, 2009 speech, which was aimed against the March 14 Forces, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah set out the Forces’ two options. The first option was that following the elections, a government would be assembled in which the opposition would have the right of veto, no matter which camp ended up in the opposition. The second option was to hold the elections using a different method: proportional representation elections in which all Lebanon will be a single electoral zone.(10) In such a case, the Hizbullah-led opposition would obviously win, because today Shi’ites comprise the country’s largest ethnic group. In effect, the options with which Nasrallah presented the Lebanese were either a government in which the Hizbullah camp has the right of veto, or a change in the electoral system that will produce a government in which the Hizbullah camp has a majority.

Comments (23)


1. qunfuz said:

I’ve just returned from Palestine where I was a participating author in Palfest 09 (the Palestine Festival of Literature). A rather rushed preliminary response is here: http://qunfuz.blogspot.com/2009/06/visit-palestine.html
If you scroll to the end you’ll find three photo albums so far (people, walls, hebron) with captions.

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June 2nd, 2009, 6:30 pm

 

2. Alex said:

The prime minister formed a new committee to look into forming a new family law, after the disaster produced by the previous committee he appointed.

عاجل – تشكيل لجنة جديدة للنظر بمشروع قانون الأحوال الشخصية
طباعة أرسل لصديق
خاص ( كلنا شركاء)
02/ 06/ 2009

علمت كلنا شركاء من مصدر موثوق رفض الكشف عن هويته بأن السيد رئيس مجلس الوزراء اتخذ قراراً ليل أمس الاثنين بتشكيل لجنة جديدة لإعادة دراسة مشروع قانون الأحوال الشخصية الجديد مع الأخذ بعين الاعتبار كافة الملاحظات التي وردت إلى مقام الرئاسة ووزارة العدل من عدة جهات.
ويبدو أن اتساع ردود الفعل الرافضة لمشروع قانون الأحوال الشخصية والمستنكرة لما تضمنه المشروع المذكور من امتهان لحقوق المرأة والطفل وسياقات وتعابير طائفية، قد أجبر رئيس مجلس الوزراء على إعادة النظر في مشروع القانون الذي سبق أن أعدته اللجنة التي شكلها لهذه الغاية.
وكانت أربع مذكرات احتجاجية قد قدمت مؤخراً من عدة جهات وجمعيات ناشطة في قضايا المرأة والمجتمع إلى كل من السيد رئيس الجمهورية والسيدة عقيلته وإلى الاتحاد النسائي العام وإلى الهيئة السورية لشؤون الأسرة. كما يذكر أن رؤساء الطوائف المسيحية في سورية تقدموا برسالة احتجاج مشابهة .
وفي سياق متصل علمت “كلنا شركاء” أن نقابة المحامين في سورية شكلت أيضا لجنة لدراسة مشروع القانون المذكور وإبداء الملاحظات عليه تمهيداً لرفعها إلى رئاسة مجلس الوزراء، علماً أن نقابة المحامين علمت بخبر مشروع القانون من وسائل الإعلام، ومن المفترض عملياً أن يكون لنقابة المحامين رأي أساسي ليس بمشروع قانون الأحوال الشخصية وحسب بل وفي جميع مشاريع القوانين التي تعدها الحكومة.
ويذكر أن كلنا شركاء كانت أول من أثار الموضوع وكشف عن مشروع القانون بتاريخ 27 أيار الفائت كما يذكر أن صمت إعلامي حيال مشروع القانون ساد الوسائل الإعلامية السورية المطبوعة والمسموعة والمرئية ويكاد ينفرد إلى اليوم موقع كلنا شركاء مع موقع نساء سورية في نشر قراءات وتعليقات وآراء في مشروع القانون.

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June 2nd, 2009, 9:17 pm

 

3. Alex said:

Can Obama Offer Change the Muslim World Can Believe In?

http://tonykaron.com/2009/06/02/can-obama-offer-change-the-muslim-world-can-believe-in/

In an indispensable commentary on Obama and the Middle East, Rob Malley and Hussein Agha conclude with some important advice to the President who heads to Cairo this week to address “the Muslim world”:

A window exists, short and subject to abrupt closure, during which President Obama can radically upset Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim preconceptions and make it possible for his future plan, whatever and whenever it might be, to get a fair hearing—for American professions of seriousness to be taken seriously. It won’t be done by repackaging the peace process of years past. It won’t be done by seeking to strengthen those leaders viewed by their own people as at best weak, incompetent, and feckless, at worst irresponsible, careless, and reckless. It won’t be done by perpetuating the bogus and unhelpful distinction between extremists and moderates, by isolating the former, reaching out to the latter, and ending up disconnected from the region’s most relevant actors.

It won’t be done by trying to perform better what was performed before. President Bush’s legacy was, in this sense, doubly harmful: he did the wrong things poorly, which now risks creating the false expectation that, somehow, they can be done well.

Since taking office, President Obama has taken great pains, at least rhetorically, to distinguish himself from President Bush. He has vowed to close the prison camp at Guantanamo and abide by the rule of law in the treatment of detainees; he has vowed to end the war in Iraq; he has declared his intention to reach out for talks with Iran; and he has vowed to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Obama’s openness to engagement and his legacy of opposition to the Iraq war has gone down well in the Middle East, with opinion polls showing the President having a remarkably high approval rating for a U.S. leader. But it’s hardly majority support, and even those who approve of Obama seem to retain a negative view of the United States. Here lies the rub: Obama has actually raised expectations that he will substantially change the policies that have antagonized much of the Middle East and beyond — expectations that, on current indications, he is unlikely to even come close to satisfying.

And that considerably raises the political peril of his planned speech to “the Muslim world” — I use quote marks in deference to the fact that the singularity of that noun may be more a figment of the jihadist imagination than a reality, but I’ll leave that conversation to others. The greater danger lies in the fact that Obama has no new policies to offer in Cairo. As his Deputy National Security Adviser Dennis McDonough told the Wall Street Journal, the Cairo speech will, instead, attempt to “change the conversation”. Said McDonough, “We want to get back on a shared partnership, back in a conversation that focuses on the shared values.”

The problem, of course, is that the breakdown between the U.S. and “the Muslim world” is not a misunderstanding of values, or a communication failure; it’s entirely about U.S. actions and policies, rather than the rhetoric in which they’re wrapped. People in Muslim countries understand American values, or the values America professes to uphold, and many are passionately attached to some of those same values. What they expect of America is that it apply its own values when dealing with the Middle East. They would like very much, for example, the U.S. to act on that basis of Lincoln’s “self evident truth” that Palestinian men and women were created equal to Israeli men and women — an approach Obama’s own Administration has yet to demonstrate, as my friend Rami Khouri notes.

And it’s all very well to proclaim democracy and government reflecting the popular will as American values, but the dominant feature of U.S. dealings over the past six decades with Muslim countries ranging from Indonesia and Iran to Pakistan, Palestine, Egypt and Algeria, has been to stifle the popular will and its free and democratic expression, by backing dictators who are willing to do Washington’s geopolitical bidding. Even now, now it’s far from clear that Obama is willing to accept the outcome of the democratic process in the Palestinian territories, or in Lebanon, or to suggest that a democratic process may be a good idea in Egypt. Indeed, one of the salient features of the Arab world with which Obama is dealing, is the disconnect between its leaders and its people. And currently, it’s with the leaders that Obama is looking to do business — indeed, as former Bush Mideast policy chief Elliot Abrams recently noted, the purpose of Obama’s speech is really to try and create a public climate that makes it easier for those leaders to cooperate with the U.S.

Let’s not forget that President Bush, and Condi Rice, also went to the Middle East and made lofty speeches about freedom and about how the U.S. was not in conflict with Islam. It was not the rhetoric that failed them; it was the disconnect between the rhetoric and the policies. The same disconnect casts a shadow over Obama’s speech: Despite his changing of the tone, he comes to Cairo as the head of a government that looks likely to keep Guantanamo open for some time yet (his arrival follows days after the news that a Yemeni inmate there committed suicide), while convicting some of its inmates not in courts of law, but in military tribunals — and limiting the probe into torture committed under the Bush Administration. He arrives as the Commander in Chief responsible for two occupations of Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of which looks likely to end any time soon — and in Afghanistan, U.S. involvement looks likely to increase, and with it civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes. The substance of his Iran policy thus far seems to have not shifted substantially from that of Bush, and it remains to be seen just what he intends with Israel and the Palestinians: He has demanded that Israel freeze settlements, and Israel has said no. Israel’s many friends in both parties on Capitol Hill are growing increasingly uneasy, and moving to restrain the Administration from publicly pressing Israel, even on the settlements issue.

Then, there are the worrying signs that he appears to have endorsed a renewed offensive by Palestinian Authority security forces against Hamas. That would be an unmitigated disaster, although the Israelis would love it — by ramping up their own assassination efforts against Hamas operatives in the West Bank, they seem to be trying to goad Hamas into relaunching its suspended rocket offensive in Gaza, knowing that a new security clash will take peace discussions entirely off the agenda.

And the problem here, of course, is that Obama’s key Arab partners — President Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak — for their own domestic political reasons (neither has a democratic mandate, and both would lose free elections to their Islamist challengers), share Israel’s animus towards Hamas, and have been content until now to tacitly back its efforts to destroy the organization. That’s not likely to happen, of course, but it leaves us contemplating a situation in which Obama is trying to build a “peace process” based on the fatally flawed foundations of a decrepit Arab (and Palestinian) political order largely at odds with its own citizenry, and, as Malley and Agha warned, disconnected from the region’s main players. In other words, to borrow from their warning, Obama may be trying to make a better job than Bush did of doing the wrong things.

Like some of his predecessors, Obama may have an exaggerated sense of the power of his own considerable charm to unlock geopolitical stalemates. But he shouldn’t underestimate the impatience of his audience with flowery rhetoric, and their determination to claim their own sovereign voice. What he says in Cairo will make little difference to the way he’s perceived in the Arab world and beyond; he’ll be judged by what he does.

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June 2nd, 2009, 10:08 pm

 

4. offended said:

Rabbi gives an insight into the Arab Israeli conflict.

//I don’t believe in western morality, i.e. don’t kill civilians or children, don’t destroy holy sites, don’t fight during holiday seasons, don’t bomb cemeteries, don’t shoot until they shoot first because it is immoral.

The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle).//

http://blogs.jta.org/telegraph/article/2009/06/01/1005535/chabad-rabbi-destroy-their-holy-sites-kill

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June 2nd, 2009, 10:36 pm

 

5. sam said:

The Hizbullah-led opposition, on the other hand, is demanding that the principle of the “obstructing third” be retained in the next government. In fact, its spokesmen have stated that even if Hizbullah wins, it will be willing to grant this right to the opposition led by the March 14 Forces.

That’s a dam good compromise! I once heard a saying that, “the art of true compromise, is when both parties are unsatisfied”.

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June 2nd, 2009, 10:53 pm

 

6. Sasa said:

So March 14 is saying it will not be part of a unity government if it loses. It is going to sit in the corner and sulk – in effect, it will do exactly what Fateh did after Hamas won a majority a few years ago.

March 14 will stay out of government in the hope that The Hizbollah coalition will lose international credibility.

We all know what happened next in Palestine…

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June 2nd, 2009, 11:07 pm

 

7. majedkhaldoun said:

Inflation rate of 5.4%
Is it true? the cost of rice and meat almost doubling,people are begining to complain,they wanted to boycut mobile phone,houses prices trippled.
this 5.4 % has to change.
We the arab world must take the Obama tenure as a great oppurtunity,we should not miss, Ehud Barack in Washington today can be explained either to mend deteriorating relation between Natan and Obama,or informing Obama that Israel on the verge of doing something major very soon.

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June 3rd, 2009, 12:43 am

 

8. why-discuss said:

“Where Iran has Hezbollah, Israel has Jundallah…This, by some reports, it is doing by nurturing the Sunni Islamist group Jundallah to parallel Tehran’s support for Lebanon’s formidable Shi’ite group, Hezbollah, that is favored to win parliamentary elections on June 7. ”

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/KF03Ak01.html

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June 3rd, 2009, 1:13 am

 

9. norman said:

NEWS | POLITICS | OPINIONS | BUSINESS | LOCAL | SPORTS | ARTS & LIVING | GOING OUT GUIDE | JOBS | CARS | REAL ESTATE |SHOPPING

Syria to Allow Visit of U.S. Military Leaders
Insurgency in Iraq Is Topic at Hand

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 3, 2009

After fits and starts, Syria and the United States have taken steps in recent days that could lay the groundwork for a greatly improved relationship, officials from both countries said yesterday.

Syria has agreed to let a delegation of U.S. military commanders visit Damascus in the coming weeks, when they will discuss joint efforts to stem the insurgency in Iraq. The Obama administration’s Middle East peace envoy, George J. Mitchell, is also planning a trip to Damascus this month. Mitchell, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Syria in four years, will probe whether it is ready to engage in serious peace talks with Israel.

The visits were sealed in a phone call Sunday between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, though Syria has not yet confirmed a date for the military visit. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said yesterday, “They agreed to have ongoing conversations about a full range of issues.”

U.S. officials said the administration was not committing to drafting a formal plan for improving relations, but the two visits could form the building blocks of a new relationship. Although officials from U.S. Central Command have met their Syrian counterparts at regional security meetings on Iraq, military officials have been unable for years to have a thorough, joint discussion on the situation in Iraq.

“If we can move on the Mitchell agenda and the Iraq agenda, that will have a positive effect on the bilateral relationship,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issues publicly. “But there has to be action on both sides. It is not simply that the Syrians get to sit there and wait for us.”

Central Command officials did not respond to a request for details on who would travel to Damascus, but other U.S. officials said the officers would not be high-ranking.

Still, Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States, hailed the military visit as a potential breakthrough. “The Bush administration used to accuse us of aiding the insurgents, and we used to say it was untrue,” he said. “We said we needed to sit together and discuss the issue, but they would not do that.”

With the Obama administration, “we have a very different context,” Moustapha said. “This administration wants to address all issues. We believe this is a very strong opportunity to cooperate with this administration.”

Moustapha said helping bring peace to Iraq is in Syria’s interest because it is harboring 1.5 million Iraqi refugees. “They will not leave until they think it is safe,” he said.

The United States has not had an ambassador in Syria since 2005, when the Bush administration withdrew Margaret Scobey to protest the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon battling Syrian influence in that country. There are no signs that the Obama administration is close to sending an ambassador back to Damascus.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey D. Feltman has made two visits to Syria since President Obama took office, but until now there was little indication of a rapprochement between the two countries.

Indeed, Moustapha said the administration’s decision last month to renew sanctions under the Syrian Accountability Act was “very problematic” and shows that it still can be “captive to Israel’s interests.”

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who first disclosed the military visit on The Post’s online feature PostPartisan late Monday, reported that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) played an important role in easing friction between the two countries after Obama renewed the sanctions.

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June 3rd, 2009, 12:35 pm

 

10. Observer said:

I received this from a friend of mine and I think it is a great comment

الوتر الحساس

لماذا هذا الغضب من الرافضي الارهابي حسن نصرالله

كتب : طاهر زعرور

ايام زمان … كان الفن اللبناني مرتبط بوقار فيروز وصوت وديع الصافي ونصري شمس الدين … وحتى عندما كان اللبنانيون يتدلعون على الشاشة كان اقصى دلع لهم ممثل بطروب وميادة … كان الدلع يتم بوقار قبل ان تدخل رساميل ال سعود الى لبنان فتعزل فيروز ووديع الصافي وتحول مومسات شارع الحمراء الى فنانات ومطربات … هذه تبوس الواوا وتل تمص الواوا

المال السعودي هو وراء انشاء جميع الفضايات اللبنانية … وفضائية ال بي سي مثلا المملوك نصفها للوليد بن طلال والنصف الثاني لحزب الكتائب هي المحطة الوحيدة في الكرة الارضية التي تقدم فيها مذيعة الاخبار نشرتها وهي بقميص نوم … وبعودة رفيق الحريري الى بيروت بمليارت سعودية اصبح النظام اللبناني يدار من الرياض فأريد للسياسيين اللبنانيين ان يبوسوا الواوا ايضا . ولا اجد فرقا بين هيفاء وهبي ووليد جنبلاط … الاثنان يبوسان الواوا ليتمتع بهما امراء ال سعود

لبنان هي الدولة الوحيدة في العالم التي تحبل بزعيم خلال 24 ساعة وتشخه وتسلمه مقاليد الحكم وتجعله زعيم اغلبية في البرلمان … هكذا خبط لزق …. مع ان الولد كل خبرته قبل ان يصبح زعيما كانت في النسوان

هل عرفتم اليوم لماذا هذا الغضب من الارهابي الرافضي حسن نصرالله الذي اتهمه عميل المخابرات الاردنية ابو مصعب الزرقاوي بالعمالة لاسرائيل ؟ قبل ان تبيعه المخابرات الاردنية التي دربته ليموت فطيسا في بغداد

ان جريمة حسن نصرالله انه خرب المشروع السعودي في لبنان … وقطع ارزاق الاف المومسات اللواتي يعملن في فنادق وكازينوهات وبارات نصفها لال سعود والنصف الاخر لحكام الكويت الذين مثلهم وزير خارجية ل يحسن التحدث بالعربية رغم انه يحمل لقب دكتور

البيان السعودي الذي ندد بحزب الله – ولم يندد حتى هذه اللحظة باسرائيل – وجريدة الشرق الاوسط المملوكة للامير سلمان والتي نشرت اليوم عشر مقالات كلها ضد حزب الله تتحجج بأن حزب الله لم يستشر السعودية عندما اس الجنديين وسارع ملك الاردن الى اصدار بيان مماثل

عجيبة … اذا كان الملك حسين الذي لم يخبره السادات بموعد الهجوم في اكتوبر قد قام بنفسه بركوب طائرة الى تل ابيب لاخبار اسرائيل بنية السادات فكيف كانت حرب اكتوبر ستنتهي لو ان السادات اخبر الملك حسين فعلا بخططه

ومثل هذا يقال عن ابنه عبدالله … فهل كان عبدالله ملك الاردن يظن ان حسن نصر الله سيتصل به ليخبره بموعد الهجوم لاسر الجنود الاسرائيليين مثلا وهو يعلم ان الملك الاردني ينام ويأكل ويشرب ويشخ في حضن المخابرات الاسرائيلية

قد نعتب على حسن نصرالله لانه لم يخبر السعوديين بنيته … ولكن حسن نصرالله قرأ مثلنا ما نشرته محطة ارملة الملك فهد من ان الشعب السعودي مشغول بعمليات تطويل(—-) تكلف ملايين الدولارات ومن غير المعقول ان يتصل نصرالله بهم لاخبارهم بعملية عسكرية قد تفسد عليهم تطويل (—-) التي يستلونها بمجرد دخول مطار بيروت … والا ما معنى وجود عشرات الالوف من السعوديين الذكور في بيروت بحجة السياحة

هل يتقاطر السياح السعوديون الى لبنان للتزلج على الجليد او زيارة مغارة جعيتا او المتحف الوطني ؟

كل مكاتب السياحة تعلم ان السياح السعوديين لا يغادرون فنادقهم لان الفنادق تؤمن لهم المومسات حتى باب الغرفة

من حق الاردن والسعودية والكويت ان يزعلوا من حسن نصرالله لانه اسقط عنهم ورقة التوت فهذا الشاب اللبناني الملتحي يقود حرب عسكرية على درجة عالية من الحرفنة رغم انه لا يحمل نيشان واحد من نياشين الجنرال خالد بن سلطان

نصرالله قصف المدن الاسرائيلية واغرق احدث باخرة اسرائيلية وقضى على الموسم السياحي في اسرائيل واجبر مليوني اسرايلي على النوم في الملاجيء حتى يجربوا بعض ما يعانيه سكان غزة الذين لا ملاجيء لهم ومع ذلك لم يخسر حزب الله حتى اليوم شهيدا واحدا ولم يتمكن جيش اسرائيل المجحفل من احتلال شبر في لبنان

صحيح ان الطائرات الاسرائيلية تعربد وتدمر الجسور ولكن البركة بشركة سولدير السعودية فهي التي ستبني الجسور بعد ذلك …. وبدل ان يتفلسف ملك السعودية … لماذا لا يصدر اوامره الى مئات الطيارين السعوديين بحماية اجواء لبنان … ام ان المساعدة السعودية مقصورة على المومسات وفضائيات التعريص

يا اخي … لا نريد حسن نصرالله .. بلاش … نحن ايضا لا نريده فهو شيعي رافضي ارهابي ايراني على حد تعبير الزرقاوي صديق الملك عبدالله ملك الاردن … ولكن الموانيء والجسور التي تدمرها اسرائيل ليست مملوكة لحسن نصرالله وجماعته من شيعة لبنان فالشيعة في لبنان هم افقر اللبنانيين واحياء الشيعة في بيروت وفي الجنوب هي الافقر وليس بين الشيعة في لبنان شرموطة واحدة من شرموطات فضائية رفيق الحريري والامير الوليد .. والشباب الذين يمطرون اسرائيل بالصواريخ كلهم من اللبنانيين الفقراء الشيعة الذين تعلموا فنون النزال دون ان يحملوا نياشين الامير ابو شخة فتوة الصحراء خالد بن سلطان

مذيعات تلفزيون شيعة لبنان يظهرن باللباس الشرعي الوقور … ولن تجد مطربات بوس الواوات على شاشات الشيعة في لبنان او ايران

لماذا لا تجرب الجامعة العربية اجراء انتخابات لزعامة الامة العربية بين جميع حكام الدول العربية في كفة … وحسن نصرالله في كفة اخرى … النتيجة ستكون بالنسبة لكفة الزعماء العرب : لم ينجح احد

المسيحيون العرب في فلسطين ومصر والاردن وحتى لبنان يناصرون حسن نصرالله اكثر من الشيعة انفسهم ليس لان المسيحيين قرروا التشيع وانما لان حسن نصرالله اثبت انه شاب عربي لبناني نظيف ويحمل هموم وطنه ويفكر بالاسرى الاردنيين في سجون اسرائيل في وقت يتبادل فيه الملك وابو مازن البوس ومصمصة الخدود مع اولمرت في العقبة

من يقرأ جريدة الشرق الاوسط اليوم يصاب بالغثيان والتقيؤ … حتى ايطاليا والدانمرك نددت باسرائيل وجرائمها …

بصراحة … اتفوه على هيك امة عربية ترضى بوجود مثل هذه الحثالات على رأس اجهزة الحكم

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June 3rd, 2009, 3:29 pm

 

11. Off The Wall said:

Shami and Majid
Sasa (comment # 6) just affirmed one of my previous comments about elites sitting on the sidelines at the first true challenge to their monopoly on power.

Elites in Lebanon did not have to go through what their Syrian counterparts had to. Observing them provides an approximation of what our own elites would have done had they stayed in power over the past 40+ years.

I am not saying the current situation is ideal, but the one before it was not as rosy as some have described it to be.

Observer:
Do you know where did that article appear. Seldom an article in Arabic press is as blunt as this one.

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June 3rd, 2009, 4:11 pm

 

12. jad said:

OTW, Observer
Taher Za3rour is an editor at the infamous Arab Times, and this article is almost 3years, however, it still sounds right and as if he wrote it today.

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June 3rd, 2009, 4:49 pm

 

13. majid said:

OTW,

You and SASA are jumping to conclusions and relying too much on wishful thinking. Lebanon is neither Gaza nor W. Bank. Those who make such comparison understand nothing about Lebanon, and are too simplistic in their analyses.

What M14 is trying to accomplish is to set a precedent for the proper exercise of Democratic rule where there is a ruling party in the government and an opposition exercising its duty where the Parliament will take its role as the proper forum for debating National issues. We cannot but wish M14 success in setting this precedent whether they win or lose the election, because it will be one step in the right direction on the road to abolishing confessionalism from the system, and will also set a good example to the rest of the regimes in the area. I believe Lebanon is the most qualified to do so, due to its ethnic composition and also due to its long tradition of liberalism combined with its long experience with Democratic rule, albeit imperfect as it was but it certainly never was totalitarian even though it could be facing that risk due to the intransigence of certain groups. Currently everyone in Lebanon wants to rule regardless of who scores the winner in the election which doesn’t make sense and which is also unconstitutional and it leads to paralysis. That’s why Assad must keep his mouth shut and should not talk again of so-called national unity governments in Lebanon because it is none of his business. It only means something to him because it allows him to use his cronies to his advantage and at the same time brag about the so-called ‘virtues’ of his totalitarian regime and stifle opposition within his country. I’m really surprised about you, OTW, who continues to claim to be liberal-minded and secular but had failed to see all of this. Are we witnessing here some kind of pseudo-intellectualism so common among those who immigrated to the West and have learned nothing but the mere appearance of what they came to witness but never really ventured to explore the depth of it? Or is this a natural outcome from those who attach themselves blindly to bankrupt regimes for whatever reason they may think legitimizes such attachment, a reason that could range from a genuine conviction to some material selfish benefits?

So you and SASA are just trying to use Lebanon as an excuse to make the current Syrian regime look more legitimate than it actually is. The comparison is not valid. Lebanon is extremely liberal. Syria is more or less a close society ruled by totalitarianism. I also do not understand your point, OTW, about the previous regimes being less rosy than everyone thinks. What do you mean by that? Explain please.

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June 3rd, 2009, 4:49 pm

 

14. Off the Wall said:

Majid
Wishful thinking at its best. Are you serious that M14 will be a step towards abolishing the repulsive sectarian/confessionalist system in Lebanon. In your eagerness to ascribe to my writings more than what they really say, you continue to see in any criticism of the defunct bought and sold Lebanese politicians a defense of Syrian regime. Just tell us all where you are from and I will then focus my criticism on the regime of that country, for in all likelihood it is a corrupt regime, as it is all biladul 3urbi, and it is all awtani. Corrupt to the core.

I am not making any excuse, nor am I jumping into conclusions. All I am saying is that elites are cowards and they can not work in a political system that allow others to be involved. In Syria, it was dandy when they controlled all of the political parties, including I dare say, the early incarnation of the Baath party. They could deal and wheal in their dinner parties and in their exclusive clubs and hang-outs, but when others ventured in, the let go and favored safety.

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June 3rd, 2009, 7:17 pm

 

15. majid said:

OTW,
Using superlatives shows how shallow your thinking is. You say “repulsive sectarian/confessionalist system in Lebanon.” That shows how detached from reality you are. What makes you think it is repulsive? This sectarian (or more correctly millet) system has existed in the whole of the Middle East for at least 500 to 600 years. People identified with it because it served their needs and made them cling to it. When the Ottomans administered it, every body was happy for quite few centuries. When the Ottomans left, people clung to it because it was the only frame of reference they could rely on. There is nothing repulsive about it except your own prejudices thinking that every thing has to be copied from somewhere else. What makes you think secularism is a valid ideology to adopt in those societies? Are you certain that people in those regions would identify with such ideology and that this ideology would stand the test of time as sectarianism/confessionalism has stood? I doubt it. Are you certain that you may not encounter violent backlash when the people realize that their historical identity is being threatened by something that doesn’t really mean anything to them.

What does it matter to you to know or not to know where I come from? Is relativism the only tool you have at your disposal to defend your indefensible bankrupt Syrian regime? Is it not enough for you to know that I’m an Arab?

As a matter of fact, I could originate from any Arab country and still prove to you that at the moment relatively speaking my country is in a much better shape than your beloved Syria in all fields including cultural, governmental, social, economical, international relations, geopolitical etc. So quit this game once and for all and make an intelligent argument.

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June 3rd, 2009, 11:00 pm

 

16. EHSANI2 said:

Majid,

I note that you claim that your country (?) is in much better shape than Syria in “cultural, governmental, social, economical, international relations, geopolitical etc”.

How much is your country’s strength? How about her ability to defend her borders? How about her ability to make her own policy choices without foreign interference? How stable is her survival with respect to her standing in the region? In other words, how do you rate her national security standing?

Do you care to add such color to your otherwise sufficiently colorful portrayal of the superiority of your country (?) over Syria?

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June 4th, 2009, 12:35 am

 

17. majid said:

Thanks for asking EHSANI2
I’ll answer your most important question. The country that I come from has a national security rating of 10 on a scale from 1 to 10.

Now that I answered you, how do you rate Syria’s national security, taking into consideration the status of its armed forces and the allegiances of its population to a minority ruling scetarian clan?

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June 4th, 2009, 1:40 am

 

18. jad said:

OTW, Ehsani,
It doesn’t matter from which tent ‘it’ comes from because if ‘it’ represent a citizen sample of that imaginable successful Arab country/kingdom on cultural, governmental, social, economical, international relations, geopolitical and security we all can tell how successful that country is on all those levels including sanity and religion tolerance level 😉

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June 4th, 2009, 2:08 am

 

19. norman said:

Majid ,

Can you prove that other countries are better than syria,? and in what regard.

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June 4th, 2009, 2:20 am

 

20. Off the Wall said:

Just a simple example of Syria’s Cultural Deficiency (This is recent)

No need even to mention Syrian painters,

Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation presents only musical performance as the highlight event of the 2009 French Season

Abu Dhabi, UAE, 12 May 2009: Yesterday evening, a packed audience of music lovers at Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace was treated to a truly accomplished performance by the French opera legend, Roberto Alagna. The concert, presented by The Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF), is the only musical performance of the French Season 2009, a month-long programme of arts, fashion and business events in the UAE capital. Attending the concert were many of the UAE’s French residents but also a diverse crowd of U.A.E. residents and nationals along with VIP guests including H.E. Alain Azouaou, French Ambassador to the U.A.E. and other Ambassadors.

The brilliant tenor was accompanied by one of the region’s pre-eminent orchestras, the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by renowned Italian maestro, Giorgio Croci . For a number of duets he was joined on stage by celebrated French soprano, Nathalie Manfrino, who also performed a number of solo arias.

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June 4th, 2009, 2:22 am

 

21. EHSANI2 said:

majid,

1 out of a scale of 1 – 10.

I envy you. Your country has it all. mine has none.

Make sure that you keep the name a secret. Given all that you have listed, you will have a massive immigration problem once people find out how perfect this place is. national security of 10 out 10. I presume the cultural, governmental, social, economical, international relations, geopolitical etc are all 10 out of 10 too”.

Come to think of it, why are you wasting your time with us poor Syrians? Why don’t you just leave us poor peasants alone and just enjoy this paradise of yours?

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June 4th, 2009, 2:39 am

 

22. majid said:

EHSANI2,
It is good to know where your standing is no matter where it happens to be on the scale.

Hope you succeed in improving it. But I see no chance in light of current circumstances. But you can never be certain of the future. For example, there could be a regime change which would help in giving it a quantum leap.

Norman, I’m not going to be sucked-in into the same game I advised OTW to stay away from. I hope Syria will succeed in improving its conditions.

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June 4th, 2009, 2:49 am

 

23. norman said:

Majid,

Syria has some problem but so does the US , Syrians can make Syria better ,it is just a matter of time ,

It is already better than few years ago,

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June 4th, 2009, 3:14 am

 

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