Posted by Joshua on Friday, September 5th, 2008
An Israeli partner is needed
By Haaretz Editorial
Yesterday's four-way summit in Damascus was one of this region's most important diplomatic events for some time. It is not merely Bashar Assad's newfound standing because of the French attitude to Syria, but a new strategic opportunity.
However, Syria's changed international position is in itself significant. After all, Syria has ridiculed the sanctions imposed on it by Washington, and it is doubtful whether any international player will now seriously demand the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, passed four years ago, which serves as the basis for the international community's demand that Hezbollah be disarmed.
But this time Israel cannot be angry with the French. After all, it did an about-face as well when it began an indirect dialogue with Syria, which is meant to turn into direct talks at a later stage. In this Israel diverged from the normal framework, under which its relations with the countries in the region are coordinated with the United States. This is even more blatant in the case of Syria, as Israeli lobbying significantly affected American attitudes toward Damascus.
However, beyond the settling of scores between Jerusalem, Washington and Paris, the dialogue with Syria has opened a serious new window of opportunity. Assad claims to have presented a number of practical proposals for continuing negotiations, and has announced that he would like to hold direct talks after the U.S. elections. By this he is openly exhibiting his expectations that the Americans will be partners. No less important is the businesslike tone of his comments about Syrian contacts with Israel. It is encouraging that in addition to the French president, the ruler of Qatar and the prime minister of Turkey – the country that has hosted the indirect talks – have highlighted the negotiations with Israel in their talks in Damascus.
Of course, the concerns and suspicions raised by the opponents of dialogue with Syria should not be ignored. Most importantly, it is important to evaluate the price Israel will have to pay for an agreement with Syria. But there will be time for this when the direct negotiations begin and the Israeli public, which recognizes that Israel will have to withdraw from the Golan Heights, learns what it will get in return.
In the meantime, it seems that if there is an obstacle to the talks, it comes from the Israeli side. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who initiated the dialogue, is about to end his tenure, so the status of the person responsible for the negotiations is unclear. This situation has already broken the talks' continuity. Every effort must be taken to ensure that this break will be short, because it is vital that the meetings keep their momentum.
But removing bureaucratic obstacles slowing the dialogue is not enough. This is the time to demand from Kadima's candidates for prime minister, and from its coalition partners, to take a clear public stance on the results this dialogue might produce. Are they thinking about continuing the process begun by Olmert? Can Israeli citizens expect a future of positive diplomatic results that will end the long war against Syria and its partners in Lebanon? The answer to both these questions needs to be affirmative if the Kadima and Labor candidates want the public's support.
Peres proposes direct talks with Syria
By Guy Dinmore in Cernobbio, Italy
September 5 2008 15:50 | Financial Times
Syria and Israel should hold direct talks in Jerusalem or Damascus, Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, proposed on Friday.
Mr Peres, who holds a largely ceremonial role as president, extended an invitation to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, beside him as they debated the prospects for peace at the annual Ambrosetti conference on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como.
Drawing comparisons with the visit to Jerusalem by Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in 1977, followed by the late King Hussein of Jordan, Mr Peres said that if President Assad visited Israel or invited the Israeli prime minister to Syria then “we shall see a major change”.
Richard Holbrooke, a former senior US diplomat who was moderating the debate, pressed Mr Peres on whether he had formally extended an invitation. Mr Peres indicated that he had made a gesture, although he quoted Mr Assad as expressing the view that negotiations would not take place while the present US administration was in place…..
“We are on the waiting list,” Mr Peres said, alluding to the presence in Damascus this week of Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Turkey’s mediating role.
Raed Rafei in Beirut reporting for LA Times Blog writes:
Beyond political statements, the French-Syrian talks had a business dimension.
Sarkozy and Assad signed seven agreements on cooperation in the fields of petroleum, gas, electricity and railways, according to the official Syrian news agency, SANA. The agreements involve big French companies such as Total, the oil multinational, and aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
In an article published recently by the Washington-based Middle East Times, Andrew D. Bishop wrote that economic interests may well be behind France’s overtures toward Syria:
“Sarkozy's kind words and gentle moves toward Damascus are perhaps meant to open doors to fresh markets for France's corporate mammoths. … Assad is seeking to revamp his country's economy, and Sarkozy intends on lending him the hand he needs.”
France’s Total has signed three oil and gas agreements with Syria during the visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the country. (Tehran Times)
Syria in talks to buy Airbus jets
By Andrew England in Damascus and Ben Hall and Peggy Hollinger in Paris
September 3 2008 22:14 | Financial Times
President Nicolas Sarkozy began a two-day visit to Damascus on Wednesday as the French government confirmed that “exploratory discussions” had taken place with Syria over its desire to buy Airbus passenger jets.
Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, is hoping that Mr Sarkozy’s visit – the first by a western leader for several years – will help secure his tentative return to the international fold.
But the preliminary talks about the potential sale of Airbus aircraft to Syrianair will add to sensitivities over Mr Sarkozy’s initiative, particularly in Washington. The US has a trade embargo against Syria and Airbus jets contain many US-made components.
Airbus, in partnership with Northrop Grumman, is still hoping to win a $35bn (€24bn, £20bn) deal to supply air-to-air refuelling tankers to the US airforce and any controversy over potential sales by the company to Syria could bolster supporters of rival bidder Boeing.
An Airbus spokesman said: “We are always in discussion with any potential customer. But there is no proposal and no deal and we cannot comment on any early stage of discussion.”
But a senior French official said: “These are exploratory discussions. One of the elements will be to know, when the moment comes, what will be the position of the US. But we are not at that stage as far as I know.”……….
Sarkozy warns Iran it risks Israeli attack
By Francois Murphy and Emmanuel Jarry
Reuters, September 4, 2008
DAMASCUS (Reuters) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Iran on Thursday it was taking a dangerous gamble in seeking to develop nuclear weapons because one day its arch-foe Israel could strike.
Western powers accuse Iran of seeking the atom bomb under the cover of a civilian nuclear program but Tehran denies the charge, insisting it only wants to master atomic technology in order to generate electricity.
The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if the dispute cannot be settled through diplomacy.
"Iran is taking a major risk in continuing the process to obtain a military nuclear capacity," Sarkozy told a meeting in Damascus with the leaders of Syria, Turkey and Qatar.
"One day, whatever the Israeli government, we could find one morning that Israel has struck," Sarkozy added.
"The question is not whether it would be legitimate, whether it would be intelligent. What will we do at that moment? It would be a catastrophe. We must avoid that catastrophe," Sarkozy told the meeting in comments broadcast on television.
Speculation about a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities has risen since Israel staged an air force exercise in June which was reported to be a simulation of a strike against Iran…
The Lebanese ruling majority accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of interfering in Lebanese internal affairs and not recognizing Lebanon's sovereignty, local press Naharnet reported Friday. (China)
A statement issued by the ruling majority on Thursday night said Assad has no right to ask the Lebanese president to send Lebanese army units to northern Lebanon, and such a request is an "interference in Lebanese internal affairs, and result from non-recognition of Lebanon's sovereignty and independence."
The statement also said such an request is "an insult to Lebanese president."
Assad Thursday said at a press conference that he had told the Lebanese president during the latter's visit to Damascus to send more troops to northern Lebanon to stop clashes between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli and some villages of Akkar province.
During the past three months, clashes between the two sects in northern Lebanon have left more than 23 people killed and hundred others wounded.
'Commandos nearly exposed in Syria'
By DAVID HOROVITZ
Jerusalem Post, September 5, 2008
Aware that some members of both the American and the Israel intelligence community were not entirely convinced that President Bashar Assad was building a nuclear facility in the summer of 2007, Israel in mid-August sent 12 members of the Sayeret Matkal commando unit into Syria in two helicopters to collect soil samples outside the nuclear site. But the commandos' mission was almost exposed when a Syrian patrol drove past the landing site where the helicopters were parked.
This is one of the dramatic revelations contained in a new book by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman that is being published next week in the US…………
Tripoli – US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice met with her Libyan counterpart on Friday after she arrived here on a landmark visit to discuss ways to boost cooperation between the two countries.
Rice and Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Rahman Shulqum expressed satisfaction over improving bilateral relations. They discussed economic cooperation between the two countries, especially in the oil sector. "We tackled several important issues during the meeting, like Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, US-Syrian relations and Syria's role in the Arab world," Shulqum told the official JANA news agency.
Shulqum said Rice commented "on the progress of the relations between our countries and that presence of a deep political dialogue." During her five-hour visit, Rice is scheduled to meet Libyan President Moamer Gaddafi before she holds a press conference.
She has also been invited to visit the house where the Libyan leader's adopted daughter died in a US air raid on Tripoli in 1986.