Posted by Joshua on Sunday, March 8th, 2009
Acting Assistant Secretary Feltman Briefs on Meetings With Syrian …
QUESTION: Hisham Melham.
AMBASSADOR FELTMAN: Hi, Hisham.
QUESTION: What would you expect the Syrians to do as a prelude for higher-level meetings and a return of the American ambassador to Damascus?
AMBASSADOR FELTMAN: You know, Hisham, this was not a meeting where the Syrians set up benchmarks for us or we set up benchmarks for the Syrians……
Syria could be softening stance on dissidents, Phil Sands, The National, March 7, 2009 (Thanks: Jefferson Gray)
There are indications that Damascus may be loosening – ever so slightly – its iron grip on political dissent….
“There have been minor changes, small signs of improvements in certain areas,” Ammar Qurabi, the head of the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria (NOHRS), said in an interview. “They are subtle things and they may mean that a new approach is coming. Or they may mean nothing.” Last week there was a demonstration by Kurds in Syria’s northern border region. Whereas in the past such events have resulted in rioting, shootings and widespread arrests, this one apparently ended in a peaceful and unusual way.
“About 50 people were rounded up and taken to see the area security chief,” said Mr Qurabi, who has contacts with opposition and pro-democracy groups across the country. “He was respectful and told them, ‘None of you are under arrest, I am meeting you as a delegation, tell me what you want and I will move your statement up to the president’. “All of the demonstrators were released after two hours.”….
“Some of the opposition didn’t want the EU to sign agreements with Syria until activists were released from prison,” Mr Qurabi said. “My opinion is that good ties with the US and Europe will positively affect Syrian domestic life.
“After 2005, when relations were bad, Syria was dealing with the political opposition and domestic issues in a hard way. The regime thinks, ‘We are already on the blacklist so we have nothing to lose if we crack down.’
“When there are better ties, the regime is more comfortable and doesn’t feel under threat it will be softer, even if only as a decoration. They won’t make the improvements I want, but it will maybe be something. They will count to 10 before arresting dissidents, they will put people through the courts, rather than just into prison.”
See this earlier story by Human Rights Watch: Syrian authorities should abolish the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC), a special court that exists outside the ordinary …