Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, March 18th, 2008
Ha'aretz, Israel – Mar 17, 2008
"I was just in Washington for a week and I had about 12 meetings in Congress, with Democrats and with Republicans, and I think that there is a majority in the American decision-making machine, certainly in the new teams, for talks with Syria," Liel told The Associated Press.
April Glaspie served as number two in the US embassy with Ambassadors Paganelliin and Bill Eagleton. She left Damascus in 1985. From 85 to 88 she was in Washington, responsible for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. She served in Bagdad as of 1988.
Al Hayat: Did President Hafez Assad talk to you about Lebanon?
A.G: President Assad did not talk to me; I was number two in the embassy. I met him so many times I was with my ambassador or with a Senator or Secretary of State.
Al Hayat: How was his thinking about Lebanon was it that Lebanon is a province of Syria?
A.G: Hafez Assad was so smart in many ways I remember him once saying: "Do no think I am foolish enough to believe that I can create an air force (I think he chose air force because it would be the part of military he knew most since he came from it) that can compete with the Israelis within a generation. Why? Because it is not sophisticated fast planes that made good air forces, it is pilots who had the advantage of having a splendid education from the time they were children. Not just brief technical education, he was right wasn't he? But I wish I could have asked him a question I never understood by doing the Iranians the favor of allowing them to export their revolution to Lebanon from the Iranian embassy in Damascus, it seemed to me and to anybody who was watching that what was going on in the Bekaa and in the South the weaponry that must have been going in, the independence of a group of people that in the end would be very difficult to control and which you could not control by cutting off their grenade because they had already so many buried that they could fight for years, seemed to me a very dangerous thing for Syria , it was an Islamic revolution and remember what happened to Syria when the "Ikhwan" tried to take over in the North . I could never understand why he could be so certain that this could not turn around and bite Syria on the heel because he cannot control Hezbollah.
Al Hayat: Was he convinced that Lebanon is part of Syria or he needed Lebanon for his agenda in the region?
A.G: He was much too clever to give us such an insight. He would never say this. It would be the kind of thing Saddam and Iraqis would say about Kuwait that it was part of Iraq historically. Assad was much too subtle to say or imply anything like that.
AL Hayat; But he refused embassies between both countries?
A.G: Absolutely, but I just don't know what he thought. If you were very old fashioned you could argue about whether or not he believed in Baas ideology, if he did there should not be any Syrian embassy anywhere.
Al Hayat: How would you compare Saddam and his people and aides to Hafez Assad and his aides?
A.G: Completely different, everybody around President Assad respected his power. Assad was much too subtle and smart to want people to say yes to him all the time.
Al Hayat: What about the "Moukhabarat" system in both countries? How do you compare?
A.G: A little more subtle in Damascus. For example my life as a diplomat in Syria was as free as it would have been in Beirut, no doubt people were watching us and knew where we were but no Syrian would think twice about inviting me to their house; I was surrounded by people who had been to AUB.In Bagdad, no Iraqi was allowed to invite a foreign diplomat to his house. And if a foreign including Arab diplomat wanted to invite any Iraqi, any, to their house you had to make a formal request to the Foreign Ministry including the invitation card and the Foreign Ministry would decide any invitation card would be sent. I never entered an Iraqi house except once and that was for a cultural event.
Al Hayat: You attended meetings as number two with Assad and with Saddam two Baas leaders who hated each other what would you say of both?
A.G: Assad was the Eastern Mediterranean, a Levantine; he could be extremely charming which is interesting coming from a very disadvantaged background as he was in every way. He had a great deal of self confidence, he was charming, he could have been a Beirut hostess, he could be genuinely amusing, he always spoke Arabic although I knew from his pilot training he must know some English. We once had Senator Tower visiting him in his office. There was President Assad and Senator Tower and me only in his office; Senator Tower smoked, there was a big bowl of cigarettes and the Senator ran out of cigarettes. Assad pushed the bowl towards him and they were all Syrian cigarettes and of course the Senator did not know, so Assad said suddenly in English a very complex sentence with lots of subordinate clauses: "I am sorry I do not have any American or English cigarettes which I know you would have preferred". Had I known you smoke I certainly would have, and my jaw dropped so surprised I was although I was supposed to keep a straight face, he looked at me and laughed out loud and said in Arabic: "Senator she dropped her pencil so I shocked her". He really laughed and we did as well. Saddam when you were with him there was this huge tension in the air because everybody in the room from his own staff was afraid of him and I never heard him make a joke but if he would have, everybody would have laughed. It was a completely different aura. In Iraq, it was much more frightening for example: It never occurred to me for example if I were in the North of Syria that I should avoid getting out of my car to buy some plums. The Syrians could not care less. I did that in Kurdistan once, it was very foolish of me because we all knew that you could not talk to any Iraqi, they got taken away and interrogated but I was in a little Kurdish village.
I put my head out of the window of my car and asked if there was any honey because Kurds are very famous for their white honey. He said no there isn't, I drove away and I looked back. They were following me with a car.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is bolstered
Mar 17th 2008
THE parliament returned by Iranians in nationwide voting on Friday March 14th appears at first glance to be a replica of the outgoing one. Conservatives who claim stricter adherence to the 1979 Islamic revolution’s ideals, and adopt a more combative tone with the outside world, retained a majority almost as crushing as the one they gained in the last parliamentary election, in 2004. A claimed 60% of the electorate turned out for the vote, allowing Iran’s unelected supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to declare that his people had foiled an enemy plot to foment voter apathy. But as with many aspects of life in the Islamic Republic, the election result is more nuanced than it may seem.
Commentary: Demonocracy, not democracy
By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large
Date: Monday, March 17, 2008
WASHINGTON, March 17 (UPI) — Washington's Pakistan kibitzers will soon rue the day they squeezed President Pervez Musharraf to restore democracy. "Demonocracy" is what has now emerged, or an unholy alliance of longtime America-haters, including the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal coalition of six politico-religious extremist parties that lost the Feb. 18 elections, plus a gaggle of former generals and admirals against Musharraf, and friends and admirers of A.Q. Khan, the man who ran a nuclear Wal-Mart for the benefit of America's enemies (North Korea and Iran).
More ominous still is the acquiescence of Pakistan's two principal "moderate" leaders.
Acting as behind-the-scenes catalysts are two prominent America-haters, Gen. Aslam Beg, former army chief of staff (1988-91), and Gen. Hamid Gul, former Inter-Services Intelligence chief (1989-91). In his regular "geopolitical" column, Beg recently advised Iran "to attempt to degrade the defense systems of Israel, harass it through the Hamas government of Gaza and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon," or the same policy Pakistan once adopted toward India in Kashmir through terrorist groups and extremist factions.
“Geagea to Rai Aam: Syrian wager on new US administration is wrong” (Thanks Mideastwire.com)
On March 17, the independent Al-Rai al-Aam daily carried the following interview with the leader of the Lebanese Forces and one of the poles of the March 14 movement, Samir Geagea:
“…Q: “American sources said that you have focused on the Palestinian issue during your meetings with American officials. Why was that?
A: “I believe that the region will not rest before a solution is reached to the Palestinian issue. It is the real passageway toward solving the issues of the Middle East. On the other hand, there is no solution on the horizon until now. The only solution ever reached was the one between former Israeli PM Ehud Barak and the late PA head Yasser Arafat in 2000. This solution should be taken and a few missing details should be added to it so that we see the emergence of a Palestinian state. This way, we would have seen the end of a major problem which is currently complicating all other problems in the Middle East.
Q: “Do you believe that what happened and what is currently happening in the Gaza Strip is affecting the Lebanese issue?
A: “Certainly. Each event entails negative repercussions in the Middle East as a whole, and therefore in Lebanon. Had it not been for the events in Gaza, maybe the Arab summit would not be held in Damascus. The Syrians today are using the Gaza issue as a pretext and are hiding behind it to get all the Arab states to partake in the summit. And this is just an example.
Q: “It was said you presented action papers to the American officials. What was in them?
A: “I presented papers in which I put forward our opinion regarding all the issues on the table, such as the Lebanese identity of the Shab’a Farms and the rejection of Palestinian nationalization in Lebanon. This opinion represents our viewpoint in the Lebanese Forces, one which is similar to that of the March 14 alliance.
Q: “You have met with the advisors of the American candidates and a number of them suggested engaging in dialogue with Damascus in case their candidates were to be elected. What have you heard from them?
A: “Any dialogue with Syria, Iran, Turkey or Israel will not affect Lebanon. Engaging in dialogue with Syria – if it were to happen – and the attempt to reach something with Syria is one thing, and the protection of Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and the freedom of its people is a completely different thing…
Q: “Do you mean that the March 14 alliance is not afraid of an American-Syrian dialogue?
A: “I have an opinion and I related it to the American officials. Any dialogue with the current Syrian regime will be useless. Look at the history of dialogue with them. However, in the future, the Americans might want to engage in a new dialogue and we would have no problem with that, since Lebanon is an issue in itself and is not affected by anything.
Q: “It is said that the Syrian regime is using this time and is betting on the arrival of a new administration that would show more openness toward it.
A: “The Syrians’ wager on a new administration is wrong and out of place. A new administration might come and open dialogue channels with Syria. However, it will reach the same result. Do you remember the Baker-Hamilton report following which US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went to Damascus? How long did the American openness last afterwards? One visit and it was over because nothing can be reached with the Syrians… Moreover, French President Nicholas Sarkozy also wanted to try. A few weeks later, his aides told him that nothing could be reached with the Syrian regime. Why? Because the international stance towards Lebanon has become clear and this is very important to us. This is a grain for Lebanon whether within the American administration or the international community…
"IRAQI REFUGEES: Improve UN Outreach in Syria" by Refugees International Download a .pdf of this information here.
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Iraqis Make Up Largest Group of Asylum-Seekers to EU
Deutsche Welle, Germany:
In 2007, 338,000 total asylum applications were filed in 43 industrialized countries — 10 percent more than in 2006, when a 20-year low was registered. The rise was largely attributed to the ongoing crisis in Iraq.
Iraqis topped the list of applicants for the second year in a row, accounting for over 10 percent of the total with 45,200 applications in 2007. Among the top five countries of origin were Russia (18,800 applications), China (17,100), Serbia (15,400) and Pakistan (14,300). Half of all asylum applications came from Asia. "It is important to bear in mind that Iraqi asylum-seekers in industrialized countries represent only 1 percent of the estimated 4.5 million Iraqis uprooted by the conflict," the UNHCR report said.
(XIN) Syria says 2 billions U.S. dollars sent back by expatriates in 2007
2008-03-17 14:00 (New York)
DAMASCUS, Mar 17, 2008 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — Syrian Minister of Expatriates Butheina Sha'aban said on Monday that the Syrian expatriates transferred almost 2 billion U.S. dollars back to the homeland in 2007, the official SANA news agency reported.
Sha'aban made the remarks at a seminar at the National Institute for Public Administration titled "the role and relations of Syrian expatriates with their motherland". The expatriates serve as a tributary to all economic, trade and development sectors in Syria, the minister noted.
Sha'aban added that the legislation issued over the past few years have helped attract the expatriates and their sons and build economic, trade and scientific
ties with them.