Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008
Assad to Announce from Baabda Exchange of Ambassadors
Beirut, 03 Jun 08, Naharnet
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has reportedly decided to postpone an official visit to Lebanon that was scheduled for mid-June until the end of his Arab tour.
The daily As Safir said Tuesday Assad’s visit will be a turning point in the history of Lebanese-Syrian relations where the Syrian president is expected to announce from the Presidential Palace in Baabda normalization of relations between the two neighboring countries, including the exchange of ambassadors.
Citing well-informed Lebanese sources, the daily said Damascus, which had sent an invitation to Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun to visit Syria, has decided to convey similar invitations to a number of Lebanese leaders.
The sources said Aoun accepted the invitation and promised to visit Damascus once Assad ends his Lebanon trip.
Assad, who arrived in Abu Dhabi Sunday, is due to visit Kuwait on Tuesday.
He also visited Dubai, where he met with the emirate’s ruler Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum, who is also UAE vice president and prime minister.
The two leaders discussed “the peace process in the Middle East” and the situation in the Arab world, WAM said. They hailed the recent Lebanese reconciliation accord and the launch of a peace process in Lebanon.
Barak says Golan is not Syria's top priority
Israel's Defense Minister Barak said that the Syrian government is much more concerned with ensuring the continuity of [President Bashar] Assad's regime; blocking the international tribunal on the Hariri murder; pursuing international recognition of Syria's "special" role in Lebanon; and receiving badly-need aid from Western countries, similar to what Egypt has received over the years.
Returning the Golan, Barak said, comes after those other four issues in Syria's priorities.
Barak added that Israel had initially requested secret and direct talks with their Syrian counterparts, whereas Damascus had insisted upon indirect and overt talks. In any case, he estimated, it is highly unlikely that any agreement would be concluded by the end of the 2008 calendar year.
ABU DHABI (AFP) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday that indirect peace talks with Israel would eventually need "international sponsorship" from the United States.
"The success of these negotiations is dependent on Israeli intentions and political changes in the world," he was quoted as saying by the United Arab Emirates's official WAM news agency while on a visit to Abu Dhabi.
"During later stages, the negotiations will need international sponsorship, particularly that of the United States in their role as a superpower with strong and special relations with Israel."
He said the current Turkish-brokered indirect talks were at a "preliminary stage."
Peace Fills a Vacuum
Intent on isolating its foes, the United States has instead ended up marginalizing itself.
By HUSSEIN AGHA and ROBERT MALLEY
Op-Ed Contributors, NYT
June 3, 2008
IN the last few weeks, three long-frozen conflicts in the Middle East have displayed early signs of thawing. Israel and Hamas may be inching toward a cease-fire that would end attacks by both sides and, perhaps, loosen the siege imposed on the impoverished Gaza Strip. The factions in Lebanon, after a long period of institutional paralysis and a near civil war, have reached a tentative political agreement. And eight years after their last negotiations, Israel and Syria have announced the resumption of indirect peace talks.
That so many parties are moving at the same time in so many arenas is noteworthy enough. That they are doing so without — and, in some cases, despite — the United States is more remarkable still.
The Gaza deal is being brokered by Egypt. Qatar mediated the Lebanese accord. Turkey is shepherding the Israeli-Syrian contacts. All three countries are close allies of the United States. Under normal circumstances, they would be loath to act on vital regional matters without America’s consent.
Yet in these cases they seem to have ignored Washington’s preferences. The negotiations either involved parties with whom the United States refuses to talk, initiated a process the United States opposes or produced an outcome harmful to its preferred local allies.
The region is in a mess, and Washington’s allies know it. They privately blame the United States and have given up waiting for the Bush administration to offer them a way out.
By acting as they did, Egypt, Qatar and Turkey gave the true measure of America’s dwindling credibility and leverage after American debacles in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. They are willing to take matters into their own hands and overlook American ambivalence about their doing so.
Intent on isolating its foes, the United States has instead ended up marginalizing itself. In one case after another, the Bush administration has wagered on the losing party or on a lost cause.
Israel wants to deal with Hamas because it — not America’s Palestinian partners — possesses what Israel most wants: the ability to end the violence and to release Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas. Israel has come around to dealing with Syria because Damascus — not America’s so-called moderate Arab allies — holds the crucial cards: Syria has a clear strategy of alliance with Iran; it supports the more powerful forces on the ground in Lebanon; and it provides refuge to opposition and Islamist forces in Palestine.
Likewise, America’s Lebanese friends had to give in to Hezbollah’s demands once it became clear that the support of the United States could not undo their country’s balance of power. Meanwhile, the process President Bush seems to care about most — that elusive Israeli-Palestinian track — is also the least likely to go anywhere.
The United States has cut itself off from the region on the dubious assumption that it can somehow maximize pressure on its foes by withholding contact, choosing to flaunt its might in the most primitive and costly of ways. It has pushed its local allies toward civil wars — arming Fatah against Hamas; financing some Lebanese forces against Hezbollah — they could not and did not win. And it has failed to understand that its partners could achieve more in alliance than in conflict with their opposition.
How much more powerful would Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and leader of Fatah, have been if, at the head of a national unity coalition, he could deliver a truce and Corporal Shalit to Israel while simultaneously broadening the support he needs to sell a peace agreement? How much stronger would Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon and his colleagues have been had they agreed two years ago to the very power-sharing accord they were forced to swallow last month?
Many questions surround these three still-incomplete deals. They could collapse or move in unintended directions. They may end up serving a quite different purpose, like constraining Syria’s, Hezbollah’s or Hamas’s ability to retaliate in the event of an American or Israeli attack against Iran. On all this there is understandable uncertainty.
But for now at least, there’s no great mystery about where the United States stands. At a critical time in a critical region, it is quite simply missing in action.
Hussein Agha is the author, with Ahmed S. Khalidi, of “A Framework for a Palestinian National Security Doctrine.” Robert Malley, the director of the Middle East Program at the International Crisis Group, was a special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs to President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001.
U.S.-Iran regional power plays shift
By Scott Peterson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the May 30, 2008 edition
Istanbul, Turkey – A string of events across the Middle East is shifting the US-Iran regional power play. The Iran-led “axis of resistance” arrayed against the US, its Western allies, and Israel may appear ascendant, but new chances for peace could also redefine the game in the US’s favor…..
On the peace track, Israel declared that Syria would have to cut ties with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas to regain the Golan Heights, occupied by the Jewish state since 1967. Syria rejected that demand outright, and instead on Wednesday signed a new defense agreement with Tehran.
“It won’t be like the Israelis want, which is a complete break. That is completely out of the question [for Syria],” says Mr. Khouri, a former editor of Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper. “But an adjustment is very likely, because a Syria-Israel peace will axiomatically mean that a Lebanon-Israel peace will … follow very quickly, and that would have huge implications for Hezbollah’s rationale as an armed resistance movement.”
Iran offer to United Nations
News of the Syria-Israel talks came as an Iranian offer addressed to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, dated May 13 and called a “proposed package for constructive negotiations,” was made public.
The proposal said Iran was willing to start talks on issues from its nuclear program to a “just peace … in regions that suffer from instability, militarism, violence, and terrorism,” according to an unofficial translation. Iran would cooperate to “assist the Palestinian people to find a comprehensive plan” that was “sustainable, democratic, and fair” – effectively a peace deal with Israel, without using either word in the text.
“It’s a significant departure in foreign policy. I think they are serious,” says a political scientist in Tehran, who asked not to be named. “There is a sense of compromise [from Iran, born] primarily out of self-confidence. They think that they won in Lebanon; that they won in Iraq to a large degree. There is deadlock on the nuclear issue [so] it’s a good time to be a little more soft and compromising.”
Iran may also be looking beyond the US election, this analyst says. “This is part of an overall approach that may be a prelude … to show the next president that Iran could be worked with,” he says. “If you are serious and treat Iran with dignity … there could be windfalls in other areas as well.”
Analysts in Beirut and Tehran say Iran is not likely to prevent a Syrian peace with Israel, in the same way that – despite continuous lambasting of Israel – Iran has often stated that it will not undermine any peace deal acceptable to Palestinians.
“Peace with Syria would break up the current strategic situation because it would isolate Iran and silence Hezbollah,” Israeli infrastructure minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer told Israel public radio on Tuesday. “We are talking about a true peace, an end to hostilities, an opening of the borders, and Israel is ready to pay the price for such a peace and coexistence with Syria.”
But the weak government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not likely to be able to deliver.
“The only way to divide Tehran from Damascus is to give Damascus back all of the Golan Heights,” says Toby Dodge, an expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “Then things start to look much, much different. And that series of victories for Hezbollah, Damascus, and Tehran start to look less triumphant.”
But noting that Iran serves as Syria’s strategic depth, Mr. Dodge says he “would be surprised if [Syria] did get peeled away” from Iran.
Even if Syria were willing, “it’s down to the Israeli government to be secure in itself, not just in its political sense, but in its existential sense, to do that deal,” adds Dodge. “And I see no Israeli government [now] that can do that.”
Three parallel tracks
Beyond that, Hezbollah’s top priority is domestic politics, Syria’s is the Golan, while Iran aspires to regional dominance.
“You have three parallel … tracks, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. They are all mutually dependent and mutually supportive, but all have independent aspirations,” says Dodge. “The axis is created through a unity of common interests. And if you were sitting in Washington … you would seek to work against the axis by seeking individual and not collective interests.”
President Bashar al-Assad said Syria’s ties with Iran would not weaken, telling British parliamentarians this week that “if Israel could question Syria’s relations with Iran, then Syria could question Israel’s ties with other countries, particularly the United States,” a source familiar with the Damascus meeting told Reuters.
Still, Iran has moved fast to reinforce the resolve of the “axis of resistance.” In Lebanon this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the Qatar agreement, which essentially granted Hezbollah veto power over decisions of the pro-West government, showed “greatly weakened” US influence.
In Tehran, Iran’s defense deal with Syria on Wednesday pledged “mutual support regarding territorial independence,” and called for withdrawal of “foreign and occupation forces, which are the source of insecurity and instability in the region.”
President Ahmadinejad told Syria’s visiting defense minister, Hassan Turkmani, that Syria “will not abandon the front line until the complete removal of the Zionist threats.”
Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, echoed that theme, telling visiting Hamas chief Khaled Meshal that the “Zionist regime is at its lowest ebb,” thanks to Palestinian militancy.
And in Lebanon this week, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah marked the eight years since Israel’s withdrawal, noting that negotiations “did not return to Lebanon a single inch of land” – only armed resistance brought “victory.”
“There are two dreams; a Lebanese dream and an American dream,” Mr. Nasrallah said. “The Lebanese dream speaks about a calm and peaceful summer and the American dream speaks about a hot summer,” he added. “Come and let us realize our dreams, and not the dreams of our enemies.”
Keep expectations low for a Golan deal
By Hasan Abu Nimah
Tuesday, June 03, 2008: Daily Star
Syria says wants nuclear energy under Arab umbrella
Tuesday, June 3, 2008; 7:57 AM
DUBAI (Reuters) – Syria is not seeking nuclear weapons but wants to have access to atomic energy for peaceful purposes through a collective Arab project, President Bashar al-Assad said in remarks published on Tuesday.
The Dubai-based Gulf News also quoted Assad as saying that the United States should have sought an investigation of a Syrian facility suspected of housing a secret nuclear plant before it was destroyed in an Israeli air raid last September.
“Acquiring nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is an international trend that all countries are rightfully pursuing. In Syria, we want this to be done within an Arab context, which was discussed and agreed during the Arab Summit in Riyadh,” he said during a visit to the United Arab Emirates…..