Syria Dresses Up

Simon Tisdall gets the story and analysis right. This week has been confusing because a number of the US visitors to Damascus arrived with tough words that raised Syrian hackles and reminded us of rhetoric from the previous administration — i.e. Syria must end support for terrorism, Hizbullah, Hamas, Iran, etc. if it wants the US to change its attitude. Such language, we all know, is a non-starter. Hizbullah, Hamas and Iran are not considered terrorist by Syria. On the contrary they are seen as vital allies who fight for a just cause and help Syria make up for its terrible weakness in the face of Israeli military power and desire to hang on to the Golan Heights. Syria has demonstrated for decades now that it will not cut relations with allies that America designates as terrorists to win US engagement. Indeed, for it to do so would be tantamount to giving up the Golan Heights and raising its hands in defeat in the face of US and Israeli pressure. Syria can only afford to change its regional strategy once the Golan is safely returned. To abandon its regional assets before negotiations are joined would be simple stupidity.

At any rate, many in Syria were concerned that Obama’s people were singing that same tune as Bush’s people. Imad Moustapha and others are assuring us that this is not true and that there remains good reason to be patient and hopeful. Senator John Kerry said the same thing. So in the words of Tisdall, we need to indulge a bit of old style rhetoric as Obama’s people work behind the scenes to finesse the many land mines set by the Bush administration.

Courting Syria
Policy advisers in Washington increasingly see improved relations with Damascus as crucial to peace in the Middle East
Simon Tisdall, Monday 23 February

As they review Middle East policy options, Barack Obama’s advisers face two fixed certainties. One is that there is no magic wand, no easy, pain-free way forward. Second, it’s crucial to distinguish between what you want and what you can get. As Bill Clinton and others before him discovered, they are not usually the same thing.

That said, all else is fungible. Analysts who assume Obama will somehow let Arab-Israeli peacemaking define his presidency overseas are firing wide. All the indications are that his will be a “realist” foreign policy guided by pragmatism and self-interest, as shown by the hard-nosed message Hillary Clinton in China has just sent to the “free Tibet” movement.

If in four years’ time, military confrontation with Iran has been avoided, the Iraq withdrawal has been managed honourably and without internal collapse and some kind of half-credible peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbours is in train, Obama’s people will probably call it a good result. Anything more would be a bonus.

As usual in the Middle East, these objectives are linked. What has been less evident until now is the degree to which improved US relations with Syria could hold the key to all three. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, certainly seems to think so.

During a weekend visit to Damascus, Kerry spoke optimistically of Syria’s role in reconciling Hamas and Fatah and promoting a Palestinian unity government withwhich Israel might be obliged to negotiate. He also claimed Syria was ready to help more on Iraqi security and on Lebanon, where the opening next monthof a controversialinternationaltribunal investigating the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri will be followed by summer elections. Syria has been accused of complicity in Hariri’s killing.

“I believe this is an important moment of change, a moment of potential transformation, not just in the relationship between the US and Syria but in the relationship of the region,” said Kerry, who consulted Clinton before setting out.

Pro-western Arab states are making smiley faces, too. According to Syrian media reports, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief brought a message from King Abdullahstressing “bilateral ties and the importance of consultation and co-ordination” to a recent meeting with Assad. Riyadh may also return its ambassador to Damascus. Egypt is meanwhile doggedly hosting Palestinian unity talks.

Interviewed by the Guardian last week, Assad also seemed in the mood to talk. He stressed American indispensability in Middle East peacemaking and encouraged Obama to redeem his offer of resumed dialogue. He said he wanted actions, not words.

Officially Obama maintains the standard US positions that Syria must “change its behaviour” – meaning curb its backing for Hamas and Hezbollah, end political meddling in Lebanon and more closely support US objectives in Iraq and Iran.

But behind the scenes, it’s becoming clearer to Washington’s policy reviewers that better relations with Syria would serve multiple American purposes and that, with a bit of imagination and flexibility, previous sticking points might be finessed.

The US, for example, would not in practice demand an all-out Syrian break with Iran – an unrealistic aim. Rather it would look for a unilateral ending of some of their more objectionable joint activities, such as arms supplies to Hezbollah in Lebanon, pending a mooted US-Iranian dialogue and a possible change of government in Tehran.

Other parts of this nascent two-way bargain could includeSyrian help in securing a smooth transition in Iraq; and bridge-building between Hamas and Fatah prior to the resumption of talks on a two-state solution. One theoretical offer in return is an easing of sanctions, a perhaps less judgmental view of the Hariricase, security guarantees and eventualdiplomatic and economic normalisation – increasingly important given Syria’s financial straits.

Most intriguing of all is the possibility that Team Obama, less than enamoured with a new rightwing Israeli government led by Binyamin Netanyahu, could use improving US ties with Damascus as leverage to encourage moderate thoughts in Tel Aviv.

More than anything, Assad wants the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Netanyahu insists he cannot have it – but Obama, like some leading Israeli centrists, may feel less strongly. If, as seems likely, he obstructs the Palestinian track, the Likud leader may have to give ground elsewhere, literally.

Politically speaking, Obama cannot and will not turn his back on Israel. But he may be prepared to squeeze, more so than his predecessors, primarily in pragmatic pursuit of key US regional interests. If Assad is smart, and that’s another imponderable, he’ll seize the moment.

Bringing Syria In: The ECONOMIST

“…However, Mr Assad has delayed the appointment of an ambassador to Beirut, prompting speculation that he is looking for some form of diplomatic reward for taking this step—such as an assurance that the US president, Barack Obama, will appoint a US ambassador to Damascus…Mr Obama is likely to send an ambassador to Damascus in due course. He can also be expected to approve including Syria on the itinerary of US officials visiting the region. These would be likely to include, in the first instance, the assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, a post for which an appointment has yet to be announced (one of the names said to be in the hat is Jeffrey Feltman,… bête noire to Syria’s Lebanese allies). Mr Assad has also expressed interest in receiving David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, which suggests that he might be ready to offer some co-operation to the US in ensuring an orderly exit of its troops from Iraq….

The timing of an American ambassadorial appointment will be critical. Mr Obama could offer this move as an early gesture of goodwill. He could alternatively hold it back as means to maintain pressure on Syria in a number of sensitive areas. One of these is the Lebanese general election, which is scheduled to take place on June 7th. The election could see a shift in the balance of power towards Syria’s allies, led by Hizbullah, a Shia political and military group that the US wishes to be disarmed. If such a shift should occur as a result of what the US perceives to be Syrian interference, relations between Washington and Damascus could revert to their former coolness….

The US administration will also be looking at several other benchmarks of what it might describe as Syrian good behaviour. These include the negotiations about a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip; the US expects Syria to use its influence on Hamas and Islamic Jihad to secure a favourable outcome….”

Sami Moubayedsets out steps that both the US and Syria can take to improve relations in his article:
Syria confident of US detente By Sami Moubayed

Recommended steps would be:
Start a gradual three stage program to lift the Syrian Accountability Act. The Syrians realize that this cannot be done overnight, since once sanctions become embedded into American law, it becomes very difficult to lift them. The sanctions come in the form of a menu, where sanctions are “selected” by the US president. Bush approved some, and left others hanging. Step one would be to start a “de-ticking” process, where the approved sanctions are lifted, one-at-a-time, to show the Syrians good faith. Eventually, the Accountability Act will still be there, but it will be a crippled law found only on paper.Remove Syria from the State Department list of states that sponsor terrorism. Theoretically this would be easier since it doesn’t need Congress, but rather a decision from the secretary of state in coordination with the White House. Syria can condition that its name be removed before entering into the peace talks again, or wait until a peace treaty is signed then automatically its name will be crossed off.

Send an ambassador to Syria to fill a post that has been vacant since 2005. Unlike what most people believe, this cannot be done by Obama or Clinton alone; it needs the Senate which has to date not named a potential ambassador, nor has it suggested any potential candidates.

Help Syria deal with the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria’s territory, and publically acknowledge Syria’s cooperation with refugees and the security situation in Iraq, mainly border security. Under Bush, the US fully grasped Syria’s cooperation but refused to acknowledge it in public. That needs to come to an end.

Support Syria’s application to the World Trade Organization. It has already lifted the veto it once had on Europe signing the Association Agreement withDamascus. That agreement, frozen in 2005, was initialed by both sides last December and is expected to see final ratification in the first half of 2009, according to Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdullah Dardari.

Initiate an international peace conference, chaired by Obama, to bring all parties to the negotiating table with Israel in something that resembles Madrid II. Syria would condition, just as it did at Annapolis, that the Golan Heights be given top priority. Syria needs the US to broker a deal, but has stressed that it will not be accepting economic aid from the US, like Jordan, Egypt and Palestine. Strings come attached with such aid, the Syrians have always said, and the only requirement would be for the US to lift any kind of restrictions on Syria to enable investment, since the Syrian market is ripe and remains virgin. Syria can support itself, through commercial investment, banking, tourism and technology, and does not need American money.

As for Syria, it can:
Reopen the American Culture Center and the American school that were shut down after a US air raid on a Syrian town on the Syrian-Iraqi border last October.

Use its considerable influence with Hamas to bring an end to the fissure in the Palestinian Territories between the Islamic group and the West-backed Fateh party of President Mahmud Abbas. It has already done a good job at channeling messages back and forth between Hamas and the Europeans.

Take part in talks with Iran over its nuclear issue after the upcoming Iranian presidential elections next summer.

Continue to support the political process in Iraq, through Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Malki who has managed in recent months to restore a certain degree of normalcy to Iraq. This would require Syria to invest in its strong relations withheavyweight Sunnis, tribal leaders and former Ba’athists. Results were clear in the provincial elections, when Sunnis took part, even in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, unlike the elections of 2005, when they collectively boycotted.

Syrians want to be seen as problem-solvers rather than problem-seekers. They want to show the world – mainly the US – that just as they can deliver on Palestine, they can deliver in Iraq and Lebanon. Syria has said these words in every possible language, and it will continue to show the West that it can deliver in the Middle East. For years the Syrians have been saying that reforms cannot be made unless there are no regional and international threats threatening Damascus.

When regime-change was on the table in Washington back in 2005, reforms were slowed down on more than one level, politics included. The Syrians always said that reforms cannot be made only because they are a requirement of Europe or the US; they cannot be parachuted on the Syrians. If Syria feels comfortable, as it does now, then the reform process might be given a facelift.

Last week, speaking at the Arab Writers Union Congress in Damascus, Haitham Satayhi, member of the Regional Command of the ruling Ba’ath Party, announced that there were instructions to improve relations between the security services and Syrian citizens. There was a determination to combat corruption and “achieve more democracy in the political domain”.

Satayhiadded that a special committee has been set up to study and prepare a political party law in Syria to allow for more political pluralism, as promised by the Ba’athParty Congress of 2005. If anything, this shows that Syria feels very confident, and is not worried, as many in the Western press had speculated, about the internationaltribunal that will begin on March 1 for the murder of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafiq al-Harriri. …

The Syrian bread and cereals price index marked a 27 percent increase over January 2008 price

Drought blamed for food scarcity
Photo: Abigail Fielding-Smith/IRIN

The Syrian bread and cereals price index marked a 27 percent increase over January 2008 prices
DAMASCUS, 22 February 2009 (IRIN) – Two years of drought has left many farmers and herders without an income and has severely limited cereal production in Syria, pushing up local food prices and putting pressure on basic food supplies, according to UN and Syrian government officials.

In 2008, Syria had to import wheat for the first time after a shortage caused by a second year of drought, which the Syrian government says has affected about a million people so far. Emergency wheat stocks have been depleted though adequate supplies remain.

“There is still enough food in Syria to go round,” Abdullah Mawazini, Public Information Officer for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Syria, said. “But we are worried about the provision of basic materials. It is a dangerous indicator for Syria that last year we had to import wheat.”

Syria usually keeps three years’ worth of wheat stocks, Mawazini said, but in 2008 it agreed to sell supplies to countries struggling with a lack of food, including Egypt and Tunisia.
”There is still enough food in Syria to go round. But we are worried about the provision of basic materials. It is a dangerous indicator for Syria that last year we had to import wheat.”

Syria is usually self-sufficient in providing food for its 21.6 million population. UN agencies warn that the country could become more food insecure if rainfall over the next two months remains as low as it has been at the start of 2009.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calculates that wheat production in non-irrigated areas of Syria dropped by 82 percent compared with the previous season, while the barley harvest in non-irrigated areas failed entirely. Overall wheat and barley yields dropped by 47 and 67 percent respectively compared to the previous year, said the FAO.

Because of a high level of subsistence farming in Syria, many families have lost not just their income, but their means of feeding themselves. “Many farmers’ crops failed entirely,” Abdulla Tahir Bin Yehia, FAO representative in Syria, said. “It hits them very hard. No crop means no income. And on top of that they need to buy food and seeds which are at higher prices because of the crop failure.”

Knock-on effects

The knock-on effects of reduced food production include a rise in food prices, malnutrition, migration from the countryside, an increased school dropout rate and added pressure on the job market as farmers seek other employment.

“The reduced availability of wheat and barley has contributed to increases in the prices of food items in the Syrian market,” Mawazinisaid. The Syrian bread and cereals price index marked a 27 percent increase over January 2008 prices. This, a joint UN report said, has outstripped household incomes and the purchasing power of the general population, especially in the drought-affected areas.
Failed crops have led to a higher school dropout rate and greater migration from the country to urban areas

Herders have also been affected. With reduced pasture, there is less space for their animals to graze. The cost of animal feed has soared. Some 59,000 small herders (those with less than 100 animals) lost almost all their livestock. This has led to drastic measures.

“Herders and farmers have sold off their assets: land, animals, houses, furniture, jewellery – all for low prices,” Bin Yehia said. “The poorest are affected most. These include many women-headed households.”

Many of those affected have migrated to urban areas, causing rural school dropout rates to rise. According to the UN, migration rates from rural to urban areas have increased by 20 to 30 percent year-on-year from 2007 to 2008.

Drought appeal

A drought appeal was launched by UN agencies in Syria in September 2008. A US$1.8 million emergency operation by the FAO identified 9,630 farmers to receive 300kg of wheat seeds or 150kg of barley seeds – enough for each farmer to plant a two-hectare crop. These were distributed in December and January.

It also helped stall migration. “Many farmers came back to the villages when they heard they were eligible for seeds,” Bin Yehia of FAO said. “It is imperative to future food security that they do not give up farming.”

The joint FAO-WFP response continues until May 2009. But if rainfall continues to be low, a new appeal will be launched.

US Senator: plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria dire

VIENNA – A U.S. senator says the plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria is desperate.

Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland says he met some of the refugees this week on a visit to Syria and saw what they’re going through. He says he’s urging the U.S. and the international community to do more to alleviate what he calls a humanitarian crisis.

Syria has taken in the largest number of refugees fleeing Iraq and has long demanded greater international support to handle the strain on its housing, health care and educational system. Syria estimates there are 1.1 million refugees in the country.

Imad Moustapha in the following article in Arabic explains that his invitation to talk at the State Department this week is a courteousinvitation and not a summons. He will be discussing various topics of mutualinterest to both countries and not being dressed down for failure to comply with the UN non-proliferation treaty.

عماد مصطفى: لا صحة لما تناقلته الفضائيات.. و مصدر امريكي يؤكد : دعوة السفير مصطفى هدفها التباحث في قضايا تهم دمشق وواشنطن أكد السفير الدكتور عماد مصطفى أنه لا صحة لما سوقته الفضائيات بشأن استدعاء وزارة الخارجية الأميركية له بشأن ما سمته المخاوف الأميركية من عدة قضايا بينها معلومات وكالة الطاقة الذرية و قال :” الصحيح هو أنه تمت دعوتي إلى وزارة الخارجية الأميركية للانخراط في نقاش حول جميع الأمور المتعلقة بالعلاقات السورية ـ الأميركي و أكد صدر أمريكي أن ما تناقلته وسائل الإعلام عن استدعاء السفير مصطفى إلى الخارجية الأمريكية غير صحيح. وأوضح المصدر الأمريكي أن ما تلقاه السفير السوري في واشنطن من الخارجية الأمريكية ليس استدعاء بل دعوة للقاء من أجل التباحث في قضايا تهم البلدين.

وحسب المصدر ذاته فأن كلمة استدعاء تحمل معنى احتجاجياً، في حين أن اللقاء سيكون لاستعادة الحوار بين سورية وأمريكا عبر القنوات الدبلوماسية المعتمدة

Katyusha Attack: Iranian Reaction or Message to Syria!

A weekend rocket attack on Israel from southern Lebanon was seen as an Iranian reaction to remarks by hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu who has named Tehran as Israel’s main threat.
The daily An Nahar on Sunday quoted high-ranking officials up-to-date with Saturday’s incident as saying that evidence show that the motive behind the rocket attack that injured three Israeli people was “an Iranian response to Netanyahu’s remarks.”

Netanyahu’s statement on Friday came after accepting the task of forming a new government in the wake of the tight elections.

“Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony at President Shimon Peres’s official residence.

“The terrorist forces of Iran threaten us from the north,” he said in reference to Lebanon and Syria, where Israel says Tehran supplies arms to Hizbullah and Hamas.

The sources told An Nahar that the rocket attack could also possibly be a “message” to Damascus, which at the time of the assault was receiving U.S Senator John Kerry as the new U.S administration reviews its policies towards such states in the Middle East.

Syria willing to help on Palestinian unity says Kerry
Sat Feb 21, 2009, By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria has indicated it is willing to help bring about a Palestinian unity government that could restart peace talks with Israel, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Saturday.

Syria, which is under U.S. sanctions, hosts the exiled leadership of Hamas and has influence on the Palestinian group which controls Gaza.

“Syria could be, in fact, very helpful in helping to bring about a unity government,” Senator John Kerry told reporters after meeting President Bashar al-Assad.

“If you achieve that, then you have made a major step forward not only in dealing with the problems of Gaza but you have made a major step forward in terms of how you reignite discussions for the two-state solution … I think that Syria indicated to me a willingness to be helpful in that respect.”

Syria takes cautious path on stocks
From Institute for War and Peace Reporting

The Syrian authorities are hoping that the country’s first stock exchange will boost the emerging private sector, although it could hardly have started up under more adverse market conditions.

…The official inauguration is scheduled for March 9. The trial also gave the Egyptian-trained brokers and other staff an induction period, including opportunities to practice dealing with emergencies such as systems breakdowns.

As Syria attempts to shift from a centralized socialist system to a “social market economy”, the authorities have introduced legal and regulatory reforms to get the financial sector into better shape. Private banking was legalized in 2001, and more recently private ownership rights were increased. The stock exchange is the latest step in this process, and there are hopes it will stimulate investment in the private sector.

The way was paved for the DSE by a presidential decree issued in 2006, but it has been delayed repeatedly because of problems in acquiring the right technology. A report by Oxford Business group published last year said a United States economic embargo had hampered Syria’s attempts to purchase electronic-trading systems.

The DSE, which is operating under the aegis of the government, will trade only on Mondays and Thursdays, and will be subject to restrictions designed to restrict speculative trading and abrupt changes in share prices. “The Damascus stock exchange will not be open to gambling or risk-taking,” said DSE board chairman Ratib al-Shalah in remarks quoted by the SANA news agency. “Shares can only be traded by those who want to invest money, not for speculation.”

DSE deputy chairman Saqr Aslan has made it clear that the value of shares in any company listed on the exchange will not be allowed to rise by more than 2% in the course of a day’s trading. Nor can shares be bought and resold on the same day.

The pilot phase involves just five companies, most of them local banks withforeign capital. The DSE says that about 30 companies, half of them in the banking and insurance sectors, are at present eligible to take part once the exchange is fully up and running. For a company to qualify, it has to be at least one year old, have a minimum capital of 100 million Syrian liras and at least 100 shareholders.

The DSE’s Aslan told the Syria News website that he expected 15 companies to be listed, with totalcapital of some 28 billion liras.

Comments (62)

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51. jad said:

Dear Alex
I to, do share Mr. Armanazi’s opinion and I also agree that Alhayat is not bad at all. I like Mr. Al khazen articles he is neutral when he writes.
The unusual thing I was talking about is reading something more realistic (at least from my point of view) than the usual articles I read there regarding Syria, the writers of such issue are usually Lebanese, Egyptians or Saudis telling Syria that it sucks, nothing works regardless of what we do and there is no hope whatsoever to improve or develop.

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February 27th, 2009, 3:39 am


52. Alex said:

سفيرنا في واشنطن عماد مصطفى لـ «الثورة»:الوضع تغيـر.. ونفتح صفحة جديدة مع إدارة أوباما
طباعة أرسل لصديق
هيثم يحيى محمد
26/ 02/ 2009
الحوار مع السفير السوري في واشنطن د. عماد مصطفى له نكهة خاصة هذه الأيام ولاسيما بعد رحيل بوش الابن وإدارته الحمقاء التي مارست كل أنواع الضغوط على سورية دون أن تتمكن من تغيير ثوابتها الوطنية والقومية.
وبعد مجيء إدارة جديدة برئاسة أوباما واستقبال دمشق للعديد من المبعوثين والموفدين الأميركيين.‏‏
وبعد الدعوة التي وجهتها وزارة الخارجية الأميركية له للقاء والاجتماع من أجل بحث القضايا المطروحة بين سورية والولايات المتحدة الأميركية.‏‏
قضايا وموضوعات عديدة كانت محور اللقاء الذي أجريناه في دمشق بعد ظهر أول أمس الاثنين مع السيد السفير الذي غادر أمس إلى واشنطن لمتابعة مهامه والبدء بعقد اللقاءات مع الخارجية الأميركية بناء على الدعوة الموجهة له فماذا كانت نتائج حوارنا معه؟.‏‏
قانــون المحاسبــة وضــع لابتزازنــا ونحــن لــم ولــن نتفـاوض مــن أجلــه‏‏

شوشرة إعلامية على الدعوة‏‏
الأمر ببساطة شديدة أن الخارجية الأميركية اتصلت بالسفارة السورية في واشنطن ودعت السفير للقاء مع القائم بأعمال مساعد وزيرة الخارجية لشؤون الشرق الأدنى (نظراً لعدم وجود مساعد أصيل حالياً) وعندما استفسرت السفارة عن أجندة اللقاء كان الجواب جميع الموضوعات ذات الأهمية بالنسبة للطرفين وهذا أمر عادي وروتيني يحدث دائماً.‏‏
وعندما بدأت الشوشرة الإعلامية حول الدعوة قمنا بتجاهلها لأننا لا نعتقد أن العمل السياسي والدبلوماسي يجب أن يرتهن لأغراض مشبوهة في وسائل إعلامية ذات انتماءات تثير الكثير من التساؤلات.‏‏
على أي حال يبدو أن رئيس لجنة العلاقات الخارجية في مجلس النواب الأميركي هارود بيرمان قد وصل إليه من السفارة الأميركية في دمشق هذا اللغط الإعلامي فجاءني شخصياً وطلب مني بشكل واضح وضوحا مطلقا ألا أهتم بما تردده وسائل الإعلام، وأكد أن الهدف من الاجتماع هو البدء في حوار جدي حول جميع القضايا المطروحة بين سورية والولايات المتحدة فقلت له إنني لم ألق بالاً لهذه الطروحات.‏‏

لا نتفاوض على قانون المحاسبة‏‏
بافتراض النيات الحسنة لدى إدارة الرئيس باراك أوباما للحوار مع سورية وتطوير العلاقات معها، ما الإجراءات التي ينبغي لهذه الإدارة اتخاذها في هذا الاتجاه ولاسيما من خلال علاقتها بالكونغرس، وبما يخص قانون محاسبة سورية الذي أقره سابقا؟‏‏
نحن في سورية لا نرهن سياستنا الخارجية بردود الأفعال على أي تصرفات أو تشريعات تقوم بها دول أخرى.‏‏
من هذا المنطلق نرفض رفضاً تاماً مناقشة ما يسمى بقانون محاسبة سورية مع أي موفد أميركي ولا ننوي القيام بذلك مع إدارة أوباما وعلّة ذلك أن هذا القانون قد وضع لابتزازنا فإذا تفاوضنا حوله نعطيهم فرصة لابتزازنا وإذا تجاهلناه نفوت عليهم هذه الفرصة.‏‏
لكن رغم ذلك فالكرة في ملعب إدارة أوباما فطالما تريد تصحيح مسار العلاقة مع سورية فإنها تعرف ما الذي يجب أن تفعله أما إذا كانت تريد أن تسير بمسار إدارة بوش فهذا خيارها.‏‏

إجراءات الإلغاء‏‏
مع ذلك أود أن تحدثنا عن الإجراءات الواجب اتخاذها لإلغاء قانون محاسبة سورية؟‏‏
القانون شرعه وسنه الكونغرس الأميركي فلا يستطيع الرئيس أوباما إلغاءه ولابد من إحداث قانون جديد من الكونغرس يقضي بإبطاله ولكن يحق للرئيس أوباما تجميد أو إبطال تنفيذ بعض بنوده أو جميعها.‏‏
وهنا أقول: هناك كتلة صهيونية متطرفة ضمن الكونغرس ولا يجوز الاستخفاف بعدائها لنا .. لذا يجب أن نركز جهودنا على إقناع إدارة الرئيس أوباما بتغيير جذري في السياسة الاميركية تجاه المنطقة.. لاننا نعتقد أن العمل الاميركي الدؤوب والجاد من أجل إنهاء الاحتلال وتحقيق السلام في المنطقة سيؤدي بصورة طبيعية وتلقائية إلى زوال مثل هذه القوانين التي سنت أصلاً لممارسة الابتزاز السياسي على سورية – كما ذكرت-.‏‏

دبلوماسية الموفدين‏‏
إلى أي مدى تؤثر دبلوماسية الموفدين والمبعوثين الاميركيين إلى سورية في إعادة بلورة القرار السياسي الاميركي تجاه سورية؟‏‏
د. عماد: هذا سؤال مهم جداً.. والاجابة عليه تتعلق بالدرجة الاولى بخلفية الوفود ودوافعها وأهمية الاشخاص المشاركين فيها إذ لا يمكننا أن نجمل عموماً.. فقد يأتي أشخاص نواب أو شيوخ بهدف استطلاعي صرف في محاولة لتحقيق فهم شخصي أفضل لقضايا الشرق الأوسط .. وقد يأتي موفدون آخرون بنوايا غير طيبة بل وخبيثة .. والبعض يأتي تدفعه رغبة عارمة لإيجاد قواسم مشتركة مع سورية وللانخراط في حوار عميق وجدي مع البلد الذي يعتبرونه بلداً محورياً في منطقتنا.. ويمكنني القول إن الغالبية العظمى ممن جاؤوا إلى سورية في الشهر الماضي وهذا الشهر إنما جاؤوا بحثاً عن طرق لإعادة الانخراط السياسي والدبلوماسي مع سورية ولاسيما الزيارتين فائقتي الأهمية لرئيسي لجنتي العلاقات الخارجية في مجلس النواب والشيوخ فهما أهم شخصيتين مؤثرتين في الكونغرس (بمجلسيه) على السياسة الخارجية الأميركية.‏‏

نقلة نوعية‏‏
ما انطباعاتك عن جو اللقاء بين السيد الرئيس بشار الأسد وهذين الموفدين؟‏‏
د. مصطفى: أستطيع أن أقول بدقة وموضوعية أنني لم أشهد من قبل أبداً رغبة لدى أعضاء الكونغرس الأميركي في أن تتسم حواراتهم مع السيد الرئيس بالعمق والجدية اللذين شهدتهما اللقاءات الأخيرة، ومن هذا المنطلق يمكنني القول إنهما قد يشكلان نقلة نوعية في طريقة مقاربة الولايات المتحدة للمسائل الخلافية بينها وبين سورية.‏‏

نوعية المبعوثين‏‏
وهذه الوفود التي تأتي إلى سورية هل تأتي بتكليف من أحزابها أم من الإدارة الأميركية أم من خلال موقعها في الكونغرس برأيك؟‏‏
هي تأتي من منطلق المهام المكلفة بها ضمن اللجان الفرعية التي تعمل فيها .. فوفد الكونغرس الذي تزعمه عضو الكونغرس ( آدم سميث) متخصص بقضايا مكافحة الارهاب والاخطار غير التقليدية… جاء إلى سورية للتباحث حول هذه الامور وللعمل على إيجاد طرق لتقريب وجهات النظر بين البلدين في هذه المسائل… أما اللجنة التي يرأسها السيناتور/ بنيامين كاردن/ فهي تدعى مجموعة هلسنكي وهي تختص بقضايا الامن والتعاون الدوليين… لكن رئيسي لجنتي الشؤون الخارجية في مجلس النواب والشيوخ جاءا بالدرجة الأولى بسبب موقعهما الخاص لدى الادارة الاميركية… فعلى سبيل المثال لا يستطيع الرئيس أوباما تعيين وزير للخارجية أو مساعد له أو حتى تعيين سفير في إحدى الدول دون موافقة اللجنة التي يرأسها السيناتور /جون كيري/ ..وأيضاً لا يستطيع أن يصرف نفقة أو ميزانية لتغطية نفقات مبعوثه ميتشل.. أو مصاريف للسفارات.. دون موافقة( هارود بيرمان) ولجنته فهما مفتاحان أساسيان من مفاتيح السياسة الخارجية الاميركية… صحيح انهما ليسا في الذراع التنفيذية لكن نفوذهما كبير على هذه الذراع.‏‏

آلية صنع القرار‏‏
ما الفرق بين آلية صناعة القرار الاميركي جمهورياًوديمقراطياً …هل المؤثرات في كلا الحزبين هي نفسها أم هناك فوارق؟‏‏
آلية صنع القرار متشابهة وليست متباعدة ..لكن العقائد والمنطلقات التي تدفع وتحرك الغالبية من الحزبين مختلفة على جميع الاصعدة السياسية والاقتصادية والاجتماعية… فالجمهوريون يميلون إلى التشدد السياسي والمحافظة الاجتماعية وفرط التحرر الاقتصادي- والديمقراطيون يميلون إلى الاعتدال السياسي وفرط التحرر الاجتماعي ..والاعتدال الاقتصادي.. وهذا هو الفيصل في التمييز بين الحزبين..‏‏
مستقبل العلاقات‏‏

د. عماد .. ما رؤيتك لمستقبل العلاقات الاميركية -السورية؟‏‏
تعتمد الاجابة على هذا السؤال بالدرجة الأولى على رؤية الرئيس الاميركي أوباما لموقع الولايات المتحدة في العالم ولدورها في حل أزمة ساهمت هي بدرجة كبيرة جداً في صنعها( أزمة الاحتلال الاسرائيلي للأراضي العربية وحرمان الشعب الفلسطيني من حقوقه الاساسية).. فإذا كان الرئيس أوباما وإدارته يرغبان حقاً وبشكل جدي بإيجاد حلول لهذه المسألة، فالمنطق الحتمي للأمور أن تتحسن العلاقات بين البلدين … أما إذا كان يريد إدارة الأزمة على غرارما قام به جورج بوش الأب وبيل كلينتون فلن تحصل تغيرات جذرية في طبيعة العلاقة بين سورية والولايات المتحدة لكن حدة العداء و شراسة المقاربة ستختفي بسبب الطبيعة والمزاج المعتدلين لمجمل إدارة الرئيس أوباما.‏‏

سفير أميركي بدمشق‏‏
متى تتوقع إرسال سفير أميركي جديد إلى دمشق أو إعادة السفير الذي تم سحبه؟‏‏
هذا الامر لا دلالة له بالنسبة لنا إطلاقاً ..فلا يهمنا إن أرسلت أميركا سفيراً لها أم لم ترسل إلى دمشق .. إنما الذي يهمنا هو هل ستغير أميركا سياستها تجاه قضايانا أم لا.‏‏
أما بالنسبة لمسألة السفير وعودته فإن السفير عادة يمثل مصالح الدولة التي أوفدته، ففي حال غيابه تتضرر مصالح تلك الدولة في حال قيامه بدور فاعل على الساحة السياسية التي يعمل فيها.. تخدم مصالح دولته. وعندما يغيب السفير الاميركي عن ساحة سياسية ما فهذا يضعف من قدرة أميركا على التأثير في هذه الساحة، بالتالي فإن عودةالسفير إلى دمشق وعدمها تخدم أو تضر المصالح الاميركية وليس السورية… وهذا ينطبق على جميع دول العالم وليس أميركا وحسب!‏‏

مهمة ميتشل صعبة‏‏
هل تتوقع نجاح المبعوث الاميركي ميتشل في مهمته التي كلفه بها الرئيس أوباما؟‏‏
ميتشل مكلف بمهمة صعبة جداً جداً.. ولكنه رجل يتسم بالاعتدال والمنطق والانصاف ولا يعرف عنه وجود حسابات سياسية خاصة به… محركه الاساسي اليوم هو سمعته السابقة في تحقيق السلام بإيرلندا ورغبته الانسانية في ألا تخيب امال رئيسه الذي كلفه بهذه المهمة رغم صعوبتها…‏‏
طبعاً ستكون يده مقيدة بالتاريخ الطويل للانصياع السياسي الاميركي لرغبات إسرائيل وهذا سيحد كثيراً من قدرته على التحرك والتحدي الحقيقي ، هل سيتمكن بما له من رصيد- ومن ثقة الرئيس أوباما من تجاوز أغلال وقيود اللوبي الصهيوني في أميركا.. أم سيهزم أمامه؟‏‏

دور الجالية العربية‏‏
بالنسبة للجالية العربية في الولايات المتحدة هل تحسّن دورها عما كان عليه عام2004 عندما التقيناكم في واشنطن في إطار تغطيتنا للانتخابات الاميركية؟‏‏
وضع الجالية بشكل عام شائك معقد… الامور تتحسن لكن الطريق طويل للغاية… إذا نظرنا إلى الواقع كما هو فهو لا يسعد المحب لنا كعرب.. لكن إذا نظرنا إلى مسار تطوره خلال السنوات الأربع الماضية فعلى الاقل هناك معطيات تشير إلى تحسن مضطرد لدور الجالية العربية… غير أن الصعاب كثيرة والتحدي كبير في هذا السياق وأهمها غياب تقاليد وثقافة العمل السياسي الجماعي لدى هذه الجالية في الولايات المتحدة الاميركية .‏‏
وهل تحسنت إمكانات سفارتنا البشرية والمادية في واشنطن للتواصل بشكل أفضل مع أبناء الجالية والعمل مع فعالياتها المؤثرة هناك لتطوير دورها في المجتمع الاميركي؟‏‏
د. مصطفى: سفارتنا تحظى بالدعم والرعاية لتمكينها من القيام بدورها.. لكن لاتستطيع أي سفارة أن تقلب المعادلات السياسية القائمة بين البلدين إنما تستطيع أن تبذل جهداً كبيراً في التهيئة للوصول إلى واقع يسمح بتغيير هذه المعادلات.‏‏
لايوجد نقص لدى سفارتنا بالامكانيات بحيث تعجز عن القيام بدورها المطلوب لكن كما هي سنة الامور في الحياة فإن تزويد السفارة بمقومات وامكانات أكثر لتمكينها بعملها سيؤدي بشكل منطقي وطبيعي إلى حصول تحسن بأدائها.‏‏

كانت المقاطعة اجتماعية‏‏
يبدو أن مقاطعة الخارجية الاميركية لكم قد انتهت مع رحيل بوش وإدارته؟.‏‏
د. عماد مصطفى: المقاطعة كانت عن المناسبات والولائم التي كانت تقام للسلك الدبلوماسي.. وهذا لم يكن يزعجنا لانه لم يكن من اللائق على السفارة السهر مع إدارة كإدارة بوش الابن ،والحقيقة لم نكن ممنوعين بالاصل إنما كنا مقاطعين اجتماعياً.‏‏
الآن الوضع تغير… ونحن نفتح صفحة جديدة مع إدارة الرئيس أوباما… وحتى هذه المقاطعة الاجتماعية انتهت ومنذ فترة قصيرة تمت دعوتي وزوجتي لحضور وليمة إفطار أقامها الرئيس أوباما وزوجته بحضور نائبه وزوجته .. على شرف السلك الدبلوماسي.. علما اننا لم نتلق مثل هذه الدعوة منذ(4) سنوات . ورغم ذلك فإن تلبية هذه الدعوة لم يتعد المجاملات الاجتماعية اللطيفة… ولم يؤد إلى تغيير جدي في جوهر العلاقات .. والمهم إذا لم ادعَ لا كارثة على السفارة ..لكن الاصول تقتضي الدعوة لكافة السفراء…‏‏

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February 27th, 2009, 5:25 am


53. Alex said:

Netanyahu to U.S. envoy: I’ll honor Israel’s previous commitments
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies
Tags: Barack Obama, Israel News

Likud Chairman and Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday told the special U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, that as Israel’s prime minister he will honor all commitments or international obligations taken on by previous Israeli administrations.

This remark is unusual for Netanyahu, and the event marks the first time he voiced such a sentiment since the Feb. 10 elections. Apparently, Netanyahu aims to communicate a message to the U.S., and to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, of his moderate approach to the peace process with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu is currently negotiating to form a government with Kadima, whose chairwoman, Livni, has made the final-status talks a condition for her entry into the coalition. Hence Netanyahu’s statement was seen as a nod toward her as well as Washington.

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February 27th, 2009, 5:27 am


54. Alex said:

Lieberman: I support creation of viable Palestinian state
By Haaretz Service
Tags: Israel news, Lieberman

Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman published an article on Wednesday in the New York weekly newspaper The Jewish Week in which he stated that he advocates the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In the article, Lieberman expresses puzzlement at the fact that he is widely viewed as extremist, and that he has been labeled a member of the “far right” and an “ultra-nationalist.”

“I want the State of Israel to remain a Zionist, Jewish and democratic state. There is nothing ‘far’ or ‘ultra’ about those ideals. I also advocate the creation of a viable Palestinian state,” Lieberman wrote.

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February 27th, 2009, 5:28 am


55. norman said:

Israel will not leave the Golan until Syria fights for it,

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m


Last update – 10:29 27/02/2009
Can Israel make peace with Syria without leaving Golan?
By Aluf Benn

U.S. President Barack Obama wants to create a new order in the Middle East, one based on diplomacy and dialogue, not on boycotts and bombs. Israel wants to shatter the threatening “axis of evil,” which is headquartered in Iran and has branches in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and is opposed to withdrawal from the territories. Syria wants to improve its relations with the United States and strengthen its control of Lebanon, without bowing to Israel.

Is there a formula that can satisfy Israel, Syria and Obama’s United States? Is there any point in trying to move ahead on the Syrian track, after prolonged stagnation and all the disappointments and failures?

Close associates of prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu are tossing around the idea of an interim agreement between Israel and Syria, in which the two countries would declare a “state of non-belligerence” in return for an Israeli withdrawal from a small part of the Golan Heights.

On the eve of the election, while visiting the Golan and planting a tree for Tu Bishvat (Hebrew Arbor Day), Netanyahu declared that, “Gamla will not fall again” and “the Golan will remain in our hands.” According to him, “For 35 years this has been the quietest border we have because we are on the Golan, not below it.” On other occasions, he has declared that withdrawal from the Heights would turn it into “an Iranian base.” He sees the indirect negotiations Prime Minister Ehud Olmert conducted with the Syrians as having offered concessions without recompense, as a useless move that served only to extricate Syrian President Bashar Assad from international isolation. An agreement that would include only a limited withdrawal, however, in which Israel would “remain on the Golan,” does not contradict Netanyahu’s principles.

All efforts to achieve peace between Syria and Israel since the 1991 Madrid peace conference have been based on the same formula: Israeli withdrawal from all of the Golan Heights in return for peace, normalization of relations, and security arrangements that would distance the Syrian army from the border and would afford Israel early-warning intelligence.

That formula seemed simple, in comparison with the complex negotiations with the Palestinians. In the Syrian track, there is no doubt that “there is a partner,” one that is capable of making and following up on decisions. Furthermore, there are no fraught emotional and religious issues with the Golan, unlike the situation with the Palestinians, with thorny issues such as Jerusalem, the refugees and the Jewish settlements that have been built on biblical sites in the West Bank. The strategic benefit of the accommodation with Syria also seemed obvious: Shifting that country from the “resistance camp” into the group of moderate nations in the region would once and for all obviate the danger of “the big war” between Israel and its neighbors, and would also afford Syria an opportunity for modernization and economic development.

Nevertheless, all efforts to achieve a settlement have come to naught. Six Israeli prime ministers have negotiated directly or indirectly with Syrian presidents Hafez Assad and his son Bashar: Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Olmert. Only prime minister Ariel Sharon did not want to enter into talks. With the exception of Shamir, all agreed in principle to withdrawal from the Golan; indeed, in Barak’s day, the dispute over the border boiled down to a 200-meter-wide strip. But the gap was never closed.

The common denominator of all the failed attempts was that both sides hesitated to take the final step that would burst through the psychological barriers, but also put them in great political danger. Israel refused to withdraw to the line that the Syrians demanded, which would have given them control of the northeastern shore of Lake Kinneret. Damascus refused normalization measures and public diplomacy, which might have softened Israeli opposition to a withdrawal.

In 1998, Netanyahu held secret negotiations with Hafez Assad, while seeking a route that would bypass talks with the Palestinians. There is disagreement concerning the proposals he conveyed to Assad via his envoy, American businessman Ronald Lauder. Netanyahu and his aides say he received Syria’s agreement to allow Israel to remain on the “cliff line” (overlooking the Hula Valley), though this too would necessitate evacuation of all Israeli settlements on the Golan.

Associates of Barak, who succeeded Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office and saw the relevant documents, assert that Netanyahu was more generous, and that he proposed that the border with Syria be drawn “on the basis of the international boundary and the 1967 lines” – a rather vague formulation that leaves a lot of wiggle room for both sides.

According to both versions, Assad asked to see a map, Netanyahu refused, and the negotiations thus ended inconclusively. Their talks were not publicized, and came to light only on the eve of the 1999 election, in the television debate between Netanyahu and the defense minister he had dismissed, Yitzhak Mordechai (at the time also a candidate for prime minister), who said to him, “Bibi, look me straight in the eye,” in reaction to Netanyahu’s response to a question about the Golan. The details came to light only after Netanyahu fell from power. It is clear that despite his declarations, however, he was prepared for a significant withdrawal from the Golan in return for necessary security accommodations.

In the latest attempt to negotiate with Damascus, during Olmert’s tenure, the two sides made do with indirect exchanges via Turkey. The efforts reached a peak during Olmert’s visit to Ankara just prior to the start of Operation Cast Lead, when his counterpart, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spoke to Bashar Assad by phone and tried to figure out a formula for direct talks. Erdogan claims that he nearly succeeded, but the operation in the Gaza Strip ruined those chances.

Olmert sought a Syrian commitment to cool relations with Iran and to end its support of Hezbollah and Hamas. The Syrians refused, hinting that, at most, this stipulation could be an indirect result of an agreement, but not a precondition.

An interim agreement would bypass the obstacles that thwarted negotiations in the past, without breaking the basic rules of the Israeli-Arab peace process. Each side would simply postpone making its maximum demands and make do with less. Israel would, for the meantime, give up “the plate of hummus in Damascus” and the Syrians would give up “wading in Lake Kinneret.”

Ground rules

How would such an arrangement look on the ground? Israel would withdraw from all or some of the Druze villages in the northern Golan. Syria could then claim it was repatriating citizens “liberated from the Israeli occupation,” after having encouraged them “to resist” in recent years. The apples grown by the Druze would be transported to markets in Damascus without having to pass through United Nations checkposts, and without Red Cross mediation, as is presently required. To add to the credibility of the Israeli withdrawal, perhaps the possibility of evacuating a Jewish settlement or two would be considered. This would be harder for the right-wing parties to digest. Mount Hermon and its early-warning apparatus would remain under Israeli control, and the territory Syria would receive would be entirely demilitarized, the way Quneitra has been since Israel withdrew from it, in 1974. Israel would certainly offer citizenship to those Golan Druze who might prefer to remain within its territory.

According to Central Bureau of Statistics data from September 2008, there are 40,000 people living on the Golan Heights: 21,500 Druze in four villages (9,300 in Majdal Shams), and 18,500 Jews (6,500 in Katzrin and the rest in the 31 settlements of the Golan regional council).

The entire area is located in sovereign Israeli territory under the Golan Heights Law of 1981, but Israel has desisted from implementing some large-scale development and settlement plans, apparently because the idea of withdrawal is discussed every few years. There are no diplomatic pressures on Israel to “freeze the settlements on the Golan.” The annual rate of population growth in the regional council, according to the CBS, is 3.6 percent – higher than the national average. This amounts to several hundred people, and in a peripheral area where there are few jobs.

The Golan Referendum Law of 1999 requires a majority of 61 Knesset members to agree to any concession involving sovereign Israeli territory, and confirmation of such a decision by national referendum, in accordance with rules that were to be established in separate legislation (which has not completed to this day). However, it can be assumed that if Netanyahu agrees to an interim arrangement, he will obtain a majority for it in the Knesset, with the help of the left-wing parties – as prime minister Menachem Begin did for the withdrawal from Sinai, and Sharon did for the pullout from Gaza.

Achievement of an interim agreement and its success would depend on Syria’s willingness to distance itself from its “natural partners” in Iran, Lebanon and the Palestinian organizations, and to relinquish its central position in the “resistance camp” vis-a-vis Israel. It also would depend on the willingness of the United States to offer Syria sweeteners, in the form of recognition of its status in Lebanon, seeing to the closing of the international investigation of Syrian involvement in the murder of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri, and provision of economic aid.

Such a move has a clear precedent: the 1975 Israeli-Egyptian interim accord, in which the two countries initially agreed that the conflict between them, and in the entire Middle East, would not be resolved by military force, but rather via peaceful methods. They also affirmed they were “determined to reach a final and just peace settlement.” Israel withdrew from key strategic points in Sinai – the Mitla and Gidi passes, which control the routes to the Suez Canal, and the Abu Rodeis oil field. Security arrangements were made in the evacuated areas, among them an important early-warning station operated by American crews (a precedent suggested later vis-a-vis Mount Hermon, in negotiations with Syria).

Ford’s ‘reevaluation’

The interim agreement was a natural continuation of the 1974 separation of forces agreements that ended the Yom Kippur War in Sinai and the Golan Heights, and included a small-scale Israeli withdrawal (from the Suez Canal and from Quneitra) and security arrangements, but no political requirements. The negotiations that preceded the agreement with Egypt were indirect, and carried out via the shuttle diplomacy of then-U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

The negotiations were difficult and circuitous, and spurred a severe crisis in relations between Israel and the United States, when Kissinger announced a “reevaluation” of America’s policy in the Middle East as punishment for Israel’s intractability. Prime minister Yizhak Rabin had difficulty dealing with his defense minister, Shimon Peres, who represented the hawkish line in the government. The right, headed by opposition leader Menachem Begin and the Gush Emunim settler organization, led the protest against the agreement, which involved insulting remarks about Kissinger (who was described as a traitor to the Jewish people).

The disappointment in Israel was profound. Even Haaretz reporters Matti Golan and Dan Margalit, who wrote a detailed postmortem about the negotiations and the agreement, lamented that, “Egypt received nearly everything it wanted, at a minimal price. The passes and Abu Rodeis are gone – and there is no trace of the cancellation of the state of war or elements that bring this cancellation any closer or advance a state of peace.”

The accord effectively moved Egypt from the Soviet bloc into the U.S. camp, and the Soviet Union punished Egypt by canceling outstanding arms deals. From Israel’s perspective, as well, the 1975 agreement presaged a step up in U.S. military aid and strategic cooperation, which was especially important to Rabin.

One of the sweeteners then-president Gerald Ford offered Rabin at the time was described in a famous letter, where he promised that the United States would “give great weight to Israel’s position that any peace agreement with Syria must be predicated on Israel remaining on the Golan Heights.” In his second term as prime minister, Rabin went back to the idea of drafting interim accords as a prologue to peace. He obtained such an agreement from Jordan’s King Hussein (the Washington Declaration), in which the two undertook to end the state of war between their countries, a few months before a final agreement was cemented, in October of 1994.

When the negotiations with the Syrians stalled, Rabin brought up the idea of “Majdal Shams first” as an interim step. However, Hafez Assad would not hear of it, and reminded the Americans of “how Kissinger had deceived him” when luring him into believing, in 1974, that after the separation of forces agreement, he would eventually be given all of the Golan.

Prof. Eyal Zisser, head of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, believes that the younger Assad, like his father, will also refuse a partial deal. He thinks Bashar Assad will not be willing to give up the alliance with Iran, and at most would want to improve relations with the West while maintaining a close connection to Tehran. In Assad’s view, there is no justification for interim measures that would only perpetuate and legitimate the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights. Syria would agree to taking the big step toward rapprochement with Israel only if it receives in return a full withdrawal to the lines of June 4, 1967.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Uri Saguy – who as head of Military Intelligence identified a turnaround in Syria’s position and a willingness to make peace with Israel, and was involved in talks with Damascus and in other unofficial contacts – is also not enthusiastic about an interim agreement on the Golan. Saguy believes that a peace agreement with the Syrians is possible today, and finds it hard to see how Israel would benefit from a partial move. Such a move would be difficult to push through politically, because the public would prefer to support a comprehensive package including normalization, he observes.

In a situation, though, in which regional diplomacy is focusing on restraining Iran’s mounting strength, and in which Israel will have a government that has reservations about a comprehensive withdrawal from the Golan, an interim agreement might be “the third way” that would reduce the danger of a conflagration and create a platform for progress. Especially in light of the fact that the comprehensive track has been tried again and again – and has always failed.



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February 27th, 2009, 12:27 pm


56. Chris said:

Bringing Syria in

Feb 23rd 2009
From The Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire

A new phase in relations between Syria and America

The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, is being bombarded with successive visits by senior US congressmen, setting the scene for a new phase in relations between Damascus and Washington. However, as Mr Assad himself has acknowledged, the process of détente is still in a period of gestures and signals. The Obama administration has made clear that it is interested in direct discussions with Syria about Middle East policy, but seems to be reluctant to make the first move. Mr Assad, for his part, has indicated that he sees no need to make concessions, as he views the US shift towards accepting the need for high-level dialogue with Syria as a correction to the discredited policies of the Bush administration.

The congressional caravan got off to a bad start. The first visit, on February 18th, was from Benjamin Cardin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, who provoked some negative comment when he said at a press conference after being received by Mr Assad that “Syria had isolated itself by its partnership of terrorism”, in reference to the presence in Damascus of offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Palestinian groups that advocate armed resistance against Israeli occupation. Wadah Abed Rabbo, the editor of Al-Watan, a newspaper owned by a group of well-connected Syrian business people, described Mr Cardin’s remarks as being “far from the Arab, international and American reality and very close to Israel’s logic and agenda”, and he accused him of appearing to be intent on dictating to the Syrian government rather than listening or even engaging in a dialogue. He wrote that if the subsequent delegations from the US Congress held the same views “it would perhaps be better if they didn’t bother making the trip”.

The next visitor will be John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is scheduled to be in Damascus on February 21st (it is not yet clear when the final planned delegation, led by Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will arrive). Mr Kerry will have had the benefit of having had greater exposure to the region’s realities, having visited Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and, most importantly, the Gaza Strip before he arrives in the Syrian capital. Mr Cardin was taken to task by Mr Abed Rabbo for presuming to give advice on the Palestinian question without having witnessed the results of Israel’s recent onslaught against the Gaza. However, Mr Kerry made clear in remarks prior to his arrival in Damascus that the US administration expects Syria to reciprocate for any positive diplomatic moves from the American side, an expectation that clearly rankles with Mr Assad. Mr Abed Rabbo was undoubtedly reflecting official Syrian thinking when he wrote that “the Syrians are today looking forward to a change in American policy, not to a change in Syrian policy”.

An ambassador for an ambassador
The first change that the Syrian government can realistically expect is the appointment of an ambassador to Damascus. The previous ambassador, Margaret Scobie, was withdrawn in 2005 after the assassination in Beirut of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister. By recalling Ms Scobie, the US was clearly signalling its suspicion that Syria was implicated in Mr Hariri’s murder. Syria has engineered an improvement in its relations with the EU, and France in particular, through making selective concessions to longstanding Western demands for it to respect Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty. This process culminated in October last year in an agreement for Lebanon and Syria to establish formal diplomatic relations for the first time. Since then, embassies have opened in both Beirut and Damascus, and Lebanon has appointed an ambassador to Syria. However, Mr Assad has delayed the appointment of an ambassador to Beirut, prompting speculation that he is looking for some form of diplomatic reward for taking this step—such as an assurance that the US president, Barack Obama, will appoint a US ambassador to Damascus.

Syria has also appealed to the new administration to review the Syria Accountability Act, which was put into effect by the Bush administration in May 2004 and which provided for the imposition of economic sanctions. The sanctions have entailed a ban on the export of US goods and services (excluding food, medicine and some other specified items, such as aircraft parts needed to ensure the safety of flying, but including products by non-US companies that contain more than 10% US-made content) and a severing of all ties between US firms and the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria. The sanctions have hampered operations in Syria’s oil and gas sector to some extent, and they have prevented Syrian Arab Airlines from upgrading its fleet. In a possible indication of a more lenient approach by the new administration, a request to import spare parts for the national airline’s Boeing 747s (from a Boeing affiliate in Saudi Arabia) was approved by the US Department of Commerce in early February, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency.

Mr Obama is likely to send an ambassador to Damascus in due course. He can also be expected to approve including Syria on the itinerary of US officials visiting the region. These would be likely to include, in the first instance, the assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, a post for which an appointment has yet to be announced (one of the names said to be in the hat is Jeffrey Feltman, a former US ambassador in Beirut and something of a bête noire to Syria’s Lebanese allies). Mr Assad has also expressed interest in receiving David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, which suggests that he might be ready to offer some co-operation to the US in ensuring an orderly exit of its troops from Iraq.

The timing of an American ambassadorial appointment will be critical. Mr Obama could offer this move as an early gesture of goodwill. He could alternatively hold it back as means to maintain pressure on Syria in a number of sensitive areas. One of these is the Lebanese general election, which is scheduled to take place on June 7th. The election could see a shift in the balance of power towards Syria’s allies, led by Hizbullah, a Shia political and military group that the US wishes to be disarmed. If such a shift should occur as a result of what the US perceives to be Syrian interference, relations between Washington and Damascus could revert to their former coolness. The US would also look askance at any moves by Syria’s allies to subvert a pro-Western government if the Hizbullah-led opposition were to fail to secure a majority in the new Lebanese parliament.

The US administration will also be looking at several other benchmarks of what it might describe as Syrian good behaviour. These include the negotiations about a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip; the US expects Syria to use its influence on Hamas and Islamic Jihad to secure a favourable outcome. The US has also declared its full support for calls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Syria to co-operate further in the investigation of the September 2007 Israeli bombing raid that destroyed a building suspected of being a covert nuclear reactor. The IAEA has said that it has found evidence strongly suggesting that the building did house such a reactor, but that it requires more documentation from Syria and more access to that and other sites before it can reach a definitive conclusion. Syria maintains that the target of the Israeli attack was a conventional military building. Another awkward event for Syria will be the opening of a mixed international/Lebanon tribunal in The Hague on March 1st.

Israeli carrot
Mr Assad’s trump card is the role that Syria can play in an overall Arab-Israeli peace settlement. He has already gained some diplomatic traction in the West through engaging in indirect peace talks with Israel since May 2008, although this initiative was suspended after Israel attacked Gaza. Once Israel’s newly nominated prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, finishes the laborious process of stitching together a coalition government, these talks are likely to resume. Mr Assad had indicated prior to the Gaza war that he was ready to move to the phase of direct talks. Mr Netanyahu pledged during his election campaign that he would not countenance an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. However, he has been involved in direct talks with Syria before, during the Clinton era, and he could see some advantage in reviving the Syrian-Israeli peace process, if only as means to ward off US pressure on the Palestinian issue.

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February 27th, 2009, 1:35 pm


57. Akbar Palace said:

Although in Freeman’s case, I am not sure if Obama will be able to explain his appointment of “a China-coddling Israel basher .. with outlandish perspectives and prejudices.”


If Obama can explain $1 Trillion+ in spending, he can explain anything. Obama, because he’s new, can pretty much do anything he wants. At some point, the American people will turn on him if they don’t see results (like they did with Bush).

I gave Obama a month, and already I’m sick of him.

But my prediction is there still will not be a peace agreement between Israel and the remaining stalwarts. And if there won’t be a peace with Obama as president, then there just won’t be a peace.

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February 27th, 2009, 2:34 pm


58. Alia said:


I do not appreciate Mr. Freeman’s position on the chinese handling of Tiananman square but his appointment would not be a bad thing for the Arabs esp. since the recent Assad-Saud rapprochement- let see if the right wing cum AIPAC muscleflexing is going to be effective.

I must say that I more than chuckled reading his 2006 infamous speech :;

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February 27th, 2009, 3:08 pm


59. Chris said:

Akbar Palace,
“But my prediction is there still will not be a peace agreement between Israel and the remaining stalwarts. And if there won’t be a peace with Obama as president, then there just won’t be a peace.

I agree. I have my doubts as to whether the regime sees peace and reconciliation as in its interests.

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February 27th, 2009, 10:59 pm


60. norman said:

Syria upbeat after first talks with Obama team

Syria sounded upbeat on Thursday after holding its first high-level talks with the US since US President Barack Obama took office, saying the “very constructive meeting” will pave the way for more. Syrian Ambassador Imad Mustafa told reporters that he discussed “the way forward” between the two countries at his meeting on Thursday in Washington with Jeffrey Feltman, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Middle East. US-Syrian ties were especially tense during former US president George W. Bush”s administration, which accused Damascus of supporting terrorism. “I… …

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February 28th, 2009, 2:31 am


61. norman said:

Ap > Headlines
Focus in Hariri assassination shifts to courtroom

Sheik Husam Qaraqirah, center, who heads the Association of Islamic Philanthropic Projects, an orthodox Sunni Muslim group in Lebanon also known as the Habashis, holds up the hands of Lebanese brothers Mahmoud, left, and Ahmed Abdel-Al, right, as they celebrate their freedom at the headquarters of the pro-Syrian Al-Ahbash group in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009. Three men jailed for more than three years in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri were set free on bail on Wednesday, days before an international tribunal was to begin trying the case. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Tawil)
Published: Saturday, February 28, 2009 3:45 AM CST
BEIRUT – Investigators have pored over evidence for four years _ a human tooth found at the bombing site, a suicide truck that was stolen in Japan and made its way to Lebanon, reams of phone records and hundreds of interviews.

Now the focus in one of the Mideast’s most dramatic political assassinations is shifting to prosecution, with the convening Sunday of an international tribunal on the slaying of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Despite the start of proceedings in the Netherlands, it is still not known who will be accused in the suicide truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 other people on a seaside street in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.

Also unknown is the most politically explosive question _ whether the proceedings will implicate Syria’s government, which many Lebanese believe was behind the murder of a man who led opposition to the long Syrian military occupation of Lebanon. Syria has denied any involvement.

Most likely the first defendants before the court will be four pro-Syria generals who led Lebanon’s police, intelligence service and an elite army unit at the time of the assassination. They are the only people in custody, though they have not been formally charged.

Some in Lebanon doubt the court will ever bring out the full truth, believing it might avoid digging deep to ensure Syria does not react by stirring up trouble in Lebanon and other parts of the region.

Trials could also further polarize Lebanon’s politics, feeding the power struggle between pro- and anti-Syria factions. The U.N. Security Council had to impose the mixed Lebanese-international Special Tribunal after Lebanon’s parliament was too divided to approve it.

Edmond Saab, executive editor of the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, contends the tribunal will be immune from politicization. “Being an international court is a guarantee in itself against that, and the United Nations’ credibility is on the line,” he told The Associated Press.

Administrators have said the tribunal will take up to five years to finish its work, and the top U.N. prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare of Canada, said in a statement Saturday that it will be thorough.

“We will not be deterred by the obstacles or the size of the challenges,” Bellemare said. “We will go wherever the evidence leads us. We will leave no stone unturned.”

As prime minister, Hariri, a billionaire businessman, was credited with rebuilding downtown Beirut after the 1975-90 civil war, and with trying to limit Syria’s influence.

In a country known for political assassinations, his killing stands out for its far-reaching impact. It galvanized opposition to Syria and helped force the end of a 29-year military presence that dominated Lebanese affairs.

But his death also threw Lebanon into turmoil. Anti-Syria factions supported by the West won control of the government but were unable to exert any authority while locked in a struggle with Syria’s allies, led by the Hezbollah militant group.

The first U.N. investigator into the killing, Detlev Mehlis of Germany, said the assassination plot’s complexity suggested a role by the Syrian intelligence services and its pro-Syria Lebanese counterpart. Lebanon’s pro-U.S. government detained the four generals.

But the two chief investigators who followed Mehlis have worked quietly and have not named any individuals or countries as suspects.

Last April, Bellemare said investigators had evidence Hariri’s killing was done by a “criminal network” also linked to a series of bombings and shootings that have killed seven anti-Syria figures and caused other deaths since Hariri’s assassination.

The U.N. team worked under tight security for fear of attacks or intimidation, living in fortified compounds in Beirut and traveling in heavily protected motorcades.

The team also kept tight control of information about the investigation.

One piece of evidence is the tooth of the suicide bomber. Forensic examinations determined the truck’s driver was a man in his 20s who was not from Lebanon, according to Bellemare’s predecessor as top investigator, Serge Brammertz of Belgium.

Investigators interviewed hundreds of people, including the presidents of Lebanon and Syria. They acquired records listing more than 5 billion telephone calls and mobile phone text messages. They determined the truck used in the bombing was stolen in Kanagawa, Japan, in October 2004 and purchased two months later near the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

The probe has also seen numerous twists.

Husam Husam, a Syrian barber and self-proclaimed intelligence operative, at first implicated Syrian officials in testimony to investigators. Then he left Lebanon for Syria and appeared on TV, recanting and saying the Hariri family paid him to frame Syria. Lebanon’s government dismissed the claim.

Another purported Syrian intelligence officer, Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq, was at first said to be a key witness, then a suspect _ then he vanished while under house arrest in France.

A Lebanese man who was questioned about the sale of cell phone chips allegedly used for communicating in the bombing was found dead in what was ruled a car accident.

Syria’s interior minister, Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan, died in his Damascus office in late 2005 about a month after speaking with investigators. Syrian officials said he shot himself to death, but some in Lebanon believe he was killed. Kenaan ran Lebanon for two decades until 2003.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)

Copyright © 2009 –

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February 28th, 2009, 1:07 pm


62. norman said:

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m


Last update – 14:59 28/02/2009
Netanyahu: Palestinians should govern their own lives, but not threaten ours
By Haaretz Service

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu says he believes in the Palestinians’ right to self governance, The Washington Post has reported.

In his first interview with the foreign media since he was chosen to head Israel’s next government, the Likud chair told The Washington Post: “I think there is broad agreement inside Israel and outside that the Palestinians should have the ability to govern their lives but not to threaten ours.”

Netanyahu further said he would continue peace talks with the Palestinians, while at the same time advancing “the economic development that has begun” in the Palestinian Authority.

The Likud chair added: “I personally intend to take charge of a government committee that will regularly address the needs of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank.”

Asked about Israel’s achievements in its three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip and whether he thought that Hamas should be toppled, Netanyahu said only that “Hamas is incompatible with peace.”

“I hope that the Palestinians in Gaza find the ability to change this regime because we want to have peace with all the Palestinians. Right now, what we should do is enable humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza but not in such a way as it enables Hamas to buy more rockets.”

During his interview, Netanyahu referred to recent reports about future dialogue between Israel and Syria, saying “Syria so far has been talking peace but has enabled Hezbollah to arm itself in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions.”

“I would talk to Syria about abandoning these courses of action and building confidence that they really want to move toward peace. So far they’re not giving that impression,” he said.

Related articles:

Netanyahu: Livni refused my offer for unity

Netanyahu vows to honor Israel’s ‘international commitments’

U.S.: No normal Syria ties until it stops backing Hamas, Hezbollah



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February 28th, 2009, 1:14 pm


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