Posted by Joshua on Monday, August 10th, 2009
The Dutch and some other EU members have been hesitant to let Damascus into its Mediterranean trade agreement because of its human rights violations. All other countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea are members, no matter how egregious their human rights violations are.
It might be right to keep Syria out if this were to produce results, but it is unlikely to. I have argued on these pages that Europe is likely to have better success in bringing liberalism to Syria if it follows a China policy. By drawing Syria into the global economy and producing a larger middle class that has a real interest in abiding by international laws, the West is likely to have a greater impact than through sanctionsRound
Britain backs Syria-EU pact despite concerns
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Wed Aug 5, 2009
DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Britain supports signing an economic pact between Syria and the European Union despite its concerns about human rights violations by Damascus, a British official said Tuesday.
Ivan Lewis, a deputy Foreign Office minister, called for a “new beginning” with Syria and said Damascus should be encouraged to change policies, despite its alliance with Iran and support for the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah militant groups.
“(Britain) will try and play a positive role to help that happen, although some European countries still have concerns about elements of Syrian policy. We still hope we can overcome those concerns and that an agreement be signed,” Lewis said after meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem…..
Fred Hoff Visits Damascus to discuss the Obama peace plan and lay foundations for next steps. He is accompanied by a delegation to carry out discussions with various Syrians (although the following article does not say who is accompanying Hoff in the delegation, it is likely that they are military and will develop the new security agreement on Iraq.
تزامناً مع زيادة الحديث عن احتمال إطلاق الرئيس الأميركي باراك أوباما خطته للسلام الشامل في الشرق الأوسط، نقلت وكالة الأنباء الألمانية عن مصادر مطلعة مواكبة للعلاقات السورية الأميركية أمس عن أن السفير فريدريك هوف نائب المبعوث الأميركي للسلام في الشرق الأوسط السيناتور جورج ميتشل يعتزم زيارة سورية خلال الأيام القليلة المقبلة.
وأكدت المصادر التي لم تسمها الوكالة أن وفداً غير سياسي سيرافق هوف في زيارته إلى دمشق بهدف إجراء محادثات مهمة مع المسؤولين السوريين استكمالاً لزيارات سابقة قام بها ميتشل وهوف في الأشهر القليلة الماضية في إطار “خريطة طريق بين واشنطن ودمشق” كما اصطلح على تسميتها في وقت سابق.
وتدور محادثات مباشرة بين إدارة الرئيس أوباما والقيادة السورية من خلال ميتشل منذ عدة أشهر تشمل العلاقات الثنائية ومسارات السلام في المنطقة والوضع في العراق والأراضي الفلسطينية ولبنان والملف الإيراني.
PR-Inside, VIA FLC
“Engagement with Syria has emerged as a high priority for US President Obama’s administration, as evidenced by the flurry of diplomatic activity since the new president took office in January. We expect these efforts to bear some fruit, not least because of the poor state of the Syrian economy. The prospect of improved trade ties and the likelihood of increased inward investment will act as a major incentive………
The path to peace will not be easy for Syria, as illustrated in its spiky relationship with Israel. Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel´s prime minister, had declared himself hostile to the return of the Golan Heights to Syria – one of Damascus´s key demands of the regional peace process …. There are also still plenty of questions hanging over Syria´s commitment to the US vision of peace: its support of Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah is popular at home, and there is some suggestion that Syria has concealed the extent of its nuclear research facilities. Washington has also called on Syria to take action against al-Qaeda fighters entering Iraq from its territory. The Syrian economy is under attack on several fronts in 2009, and we are forecasting a slump in real GDP growth to just 1.4%, down from an estimated 4.1% in 2007. Conditions will remain tough in 2010, when we see growth rising only slightly to 1.8%, before recovering further to 2.6% in 2011. A poor growth outlook, twin deficits on the fiscal and current accounts and a lack of inward investment are likely to exert downside pressure on the currency during our forecast period.
Syrian tourism grows fast amidst economic crisis
DAMASCUS, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) — Despite the global financial crisis, Syria saw a 23 percent increase of Arab and European tourists in July compared to the same month last year, showed the latest official statistics released by the Ministry of Tourism.
According to the statistics, Bahrain accounted for 55 percent of the tourists, followed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Tourism in Syria has recorded strong growth in recent years. Minister of Tourism Saadallah Agha al-Qalaa told a Brazilian commercial delegation last month that visitors to Syria increased by 9 percent in the first half this year even amidst the international financial crisis, compared to the same period last year.
According to the minister, tourism has accounted for 11 percent of Syria’s gross domestic product (GDP) in recent years and Syria is now receiving 5.4 million visitors per year on average.
So far, Syria has tended to attract visitors from other parts of the Middle East, but promotion campaigns by the state and tour operators last year have targeted Asian and European tourists.
One important partner with Syria in the sector is Turkey, and relations between the two countries have grown significantly in recent years.
Turkey and Syria have signed deals to foster bilateral tourism and jointly promote the two countries as tourist destinations abroad, which means Turkish and Syrian operators could sell packages including both countries.
US Fines DHL express for Dealings with Syria
German express delivery company DHL has been fined USD 9.4 million by the US Treasury for dealing with countries under sanctions, including Syria.
Syria: Slow and Steady
Oxford Business Group, 7 August 2009
In March, the long-anticipated Damascus Stock Exchange (DSE) was launched and now, some six months into trading, the DSE has 11 companies listed, with three more currently undertaking initial public offerings. …
As further encouragement to entice Syria’s major privately owned family groups to list, Al Jleilati explained to OBG that, “Companies who restructure to have more than 51% of their ownership held by multiple shareholders will be taxed at 14% compared to historical rates that sometimes reached as high as 65%. Companies will also be forced to recalculate their past incomes, with the government granting immunity on all reporting discrepancies by imposing a flat back-tax of 1%, which we see as a very fair compromise.”
Despite the incentives provided, many companies are still reluctant to report their earnings, according to Sofian Haikal, the director of brokerage firm Cham Capital. “Family companies lack trust in the authorities and many are afraid to be the first guinea pigs in reporting their taxable incomes. That said, I am optimistic of the eventual transition from family to public business, as it only needs a few successful examples to gain collective popularity,” he told OBG.
Investors also face difficulties in measuring the intangible assets earned by these companies, such as brand equity, and there is reluctance on the part of investors to sell-off shares. According to research produced by Bemo Finance, share prices have risen 57% over the past four months. As a result of this upward trend, combined with a perception that due to the 2% daily fluctuation cap most listed companies are currently undervalued, many investors are holding onto their stocks. …
Mon Aug 10, 2009 (Reuters) – The Syrian unit of Qatar National Bank QNBK.QA (QNB) has raised at least 1.7 billion Syrian pounds ($37 million) through a public offering that is closing on Monday evening, a person close to the matter said.
QNB on June 30 said it aimed to raise 1.7 billion Syrian pounds by selling a 34 percent stake in its Syrian unit. The shares are offered to Syrian private investors at 500 pounds a share in an IPO running from July 12 to Aug. 10.
MP Walid Jumblat reiterated that he was the only person “entitled” to set the date for his visit to Damascus, according to comments published Monday in al-Anbaa newspaper. “I am the only one entitled to set the date, nature, circumstances and timing of my visit to Damascus. I will also study – at a later time – the possibility of visiting any other capital,” Jumblat said in his weekly interview with the daily. He said pending issues between Lebanon and Syria “can be resolved between the two states according to protocol.”
An excellent article by Sami.
U-turn puts Hezbollah in the driving seat
By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS – Those who rejoiced at the election results in Lebanon on June 7 had a big surprise this week, as the tables seemed to turn on the pro-Western coalition in favor of the Hezbollah-led opposition, and Damascus.
During the elections, the March 14 Coalition, which is close to the United States and France, won 71 seats in parliament, while the opposition, backed by Syria and Iran, came out with 57, maintaining the minority they had held since 2005. On August 2, however, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party in Lebanon and one of the March 14 heavyweights, sent shockwaves throughout Beirut by announcing that his alliance with March 14 had been “driven by necessity and must end”. ….
…Jumblatt has also changed his views on who killed Rafik Hariri in 2005. He had previously accused Syria, but he told the magazine that he was no longer certain who had carried out the assassination. ….
Why did Jumblatt – known to be a political chameleon – change his colors so dramatically? The Druze warlord was a strong ally of Syria during Lebanon’s civil war, and was royally rewarded for his services with government posts for him and his entourage throughout the 1990s. But when he realized that Syria’s fortunes were turning in 2004 – shortly after the war on Iraq – he shifted towards the opposition, calling on the Syrians to leave Lebanon, though more than anyone else it was him that helped legitimize the Syrian presence in Lebanon, for nearly 20 years.
Jumblatt managed to read the political landscape in Washington well , realizing that the Bush White House was at daggers end with the Syrian government, because of its lack of cooperation in the war on Iraq. ….
Jumblatt is a political animal who follows the prevailing wind, whether it comes from Moscow, Washington or Damascus. When Syria and the US were allies in the 1990s, he reasoned that it was best to be on Syria’s side, due to its excellent relations with the Bill Clinton administration. When he saw that relations were irreparable between the Syrians and George W Bush, he decided to abandon ship – especially after the passing of resolution 1559, seeing that a head-on collusion between Damascus and Washington loomed on the horizon.
That happened when Hariri was killed in 2005, and Jumblatt tried to ally himself with Washington’s “regime change” movement, but by late 2008 it was clear that Bush was leaving, having repeatedly failed at toppling – or even weakening – the Syrians. Now with Obama in power, there is no sense in maintaining hostility with the Syrians, since Obama is interested neither in regime change, not even instability in Damascus.
Obama’s focus is on Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan – not the worries of Lebanon, and Jumblatt has realized this from day one. The Americans are willing to tolerate a reborn Syrian influence in Lebanon, if it guarantees peace and quiet in Beirut and Iraq. ….
Israel warned on Monday that the Lebanese government as a whole would be blamed for any attack from its territory if Hizbullah is part of the new government. “If Hizbullah joins the government it will be clear that the Lebanese government will be held responsible for any attack coming from its territory against Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Baath party leader and former Saddam Hussein aide Izzat al-Douri called on both armed and unarmed groups in Iraq to engage in politics. Al-Douri claimed that the formation of a national council would create a forum for promoting a unified Iraqi political platform and facilitate a greater political role for many actors in Iraq.