Posted by Joshua on Sunday, May 10th, 2009
DAMASCUS (AFP) — Syria on Saturday dismissed a US decision to renew economic sanctions on Damascus for another year as a “routine” measure, even as the two countries are engaged in a dialogue to improve ties.
On Friday, the White House said President Barack Obama renewed the sanctions imposed by the previous administration amid continuing concerns about Syrian support for the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
It is also accused of turning a blind eye to insurgents entering Iraq through its border.
“The president felt it was necessary to take these measures. These are not new sanctions,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington.
“We have some very serious problems with the government of Syria. And we hope to be able to try to work out those differences, but a lot of it is going to be up to Syria,” Wood added…..
Syria rejected the Obama administration’s decision to renew economic and diplomatic sanctions against Damascus and urged Washington to abandon ‘foolish policies,’ a state-run newspaper reported Sunday. The State Department announced Friday that…
JERUSALEM (AFP) — The new Israeli government will not cede the strategic Golan Heights for the sake of peace with Syria, a senior official quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as telling his cabinet on Sunday.
The announcement comes after heated debate among ministers about the wisdom of pursuing the indirect contacts with Syria via Turkey launched by the former government of Ehud Olmert.
The return of the strategic plateau seized by Israel in the 1967 war is a non-negotiable Syrian demand.
“I have no intention of bringing Israeli forces down from the Golan,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying. “Everything that has taken place up to this point has no relevance.”
Hale suggests Mitchell may visit Lebanon and Syria
May 10, 2009
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Hale indicated that US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, may visit Lebanon and Syria during his next visit to the region, pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat reported on Sunday.
Hale, according to the newspaper, told Lebanese officials he met over the past two days, that Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman’s visit to Damascus demonstrated his country’s ongoing dialogue with Syria but he affirmed that there was “no new or significant progress in the relations between the two countries.”
He also told Lebanese officials that US President Barack Obama’s administration was concentrating its efforts on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, on European and international efforts exerted on this issue and the difficulties related to the contradicting signals being sent by new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Despite U.S. Outreach, Syria Affirms Iran Ties
By Andrew Lee Butters Thursday, May 07, 2009, Times Mag.
…The buzz in Washington [several months ago] was that a peace deal between Syria and Israel could give the U.S. leverage as it challenges Iran on a host of regional controversies, especially its nuclear weapons program. But more recently, Washington appears to have grown pessimistic — so much so that President Obama’s Middle East envoy, Sen. George Mitchell, didn’t even visit Damascus on his otherwise comprehensive tour of the region last month. The old-school rhetoric of the Ahmadinejad visit may be a further sign that expectations of an early breakthrough may have been unrealistic….
Syrian officials, however, insist that they have no intention of signing a separate peace with Israel that leaves Iran in the cold. Instead, they have been calling for a grand bargain that addresses the key points of contention between Iran and Syria on the one hand, and Israel and America on the other. In that context, a Syrian- Israeli deal would merely be a step in a larger process, a “cold peace” involving demilitarization and recognition but no normalization of relations between the two countries, and certainly no Anwar Sadat-style visits by Assad to Jerusalem. Indeed, Syria’s Foreign Minister has suggested that such an interim peace deal wouldn’t even require the Syrians to stop sheltering the Hamas leadership in Damascus.
Washington isn’t taking the bait….
…Instead of offering a grand regional bargain, Feltman has approached relations with Syria as a series of separate points of contention — support for insurgents in Iraq and for Hamas and Hizballah, attempts to overthrow the Lebanese government, hiding a possible nuclear weapons program. The U.S. demands progress on these issues as the price for easing Syria’s isolation by returning a U.S. ambassador to Damascus, ending economic sanctions and sponsoring direct peace talks between Syria and Israel. So far, Syria’s record in solving these problems has been mixed. The Syrians have helped seal the border with Iraq to prevent jihadist infiltration, but, according to U.S. officials, have dragged their feet almost everywhere else.
It’s way too soon to pronounce the Syrian track dead, because the going was always going to be painstakingly slow. Bashar al Assad, who is essentially president for life, operates a different time-frame from his term-limited American counterparts. The Assad regime will bask in the limelight of international diplomacy, but will also delay as long as possible the day of reckoning on which it has to chose between Iran and the U.S. And with Washington preparing to open talks with Tehran, Damascus may be hoping that day never arrives.
US Pursuing Cautious Engagement with Syria in Wake of Lebanese Elections
Joyce Karam, Al-Hayat, 06/05/09
…One of the most pressing issues today is the role of Syria in Lebanon, and the repeated calls from the Obama administration and Feltman himself to the Syrian leadership to avoid any meddling in the Lebanese affairs and implement UN resolutions 1701 and 1559 by securing its border and ending the flow of arms to Hizballah. Yacoubian expects the Lebanese situation to dominate Feltman talks especially that the visit comes four weeks ahead of the Lebanese Parliamentary elections on June 7. Yacoubian says that the message from the US to the Syrians is to secure non-interference from Damascus in Lebanon’s elections, and prevent another cycle of political violence.
The Syrians on their part and according to the spokesperson of the Syrian Embassy in DC Ahmed Salkini, maintain that “the Lebanese elections should take place within their legal framework, and without and violence”. Salkini adds that “we advised our friends and allies in Lebanon to ensure, in case they win, that they establish a unity government that includes the other side -one that is in accordance with the Doha Accords…we also asked the Americans to offer their friends and allies in Lebanon the same advice in case they win.”
A success of US efforts and Feltman’s visit in leading up to safe and democratic Lebanese elections might be a “turning point” in Syrian-US relations according to Yacoubian. The expert who previously worked as an analyst at the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (1990-1997), expects a “major milestone” for the US-Syria relations following the Lebanese parliamentary elections, only though if they “go of well without any meddling” from Damascus.
The milestone as Yacoubian points out could come in the shape of returning the US ambassador to Damascus after having been recalled in February 2005 and following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Another signal of Washington openness on Syria might be by including Damascus as one stop on Middle East envoy George Mitchell future itineraries. US officials confirm that Mitchell will visit “at one point” Lebanon and Syria, and they reiterate the administration’s determination to seek “comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors”. The Syrian government, however, and according to diplomatic sources, has asked US officials and congressional delegations to review the sanctions imposed on it since 2003 in the Syrian Accountability Act, a legislation that Shapiro helped in drafting as a former congressional aide to Senator Bill Nelson.
US officials have emphasized that any review of sanctions will primarily depend on the Syrian government taking measures mentioned in the Act, mainly ending its support to militant groups like Hamas and Hizballah, respecting Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, and controlling the flow of fighters into Iraq.
Netanyahu: Israel will never withdraw from Golan
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of Russian-language reporters Thursday that Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights.
“Remaining on the Golan will ensure Israel has a strategic advantage in cases of military conflict with Syria,” Netanyahu said during a briefing he gave to the reporters.
Mark Gopin on his excellent blog advises Syria not to take Netanyahu’s bait:
The problem is that those in Israel who do not want a new Middle East, who want and need a fierce Arab opposition in order to hold on to all the historic land of Israel are driven by ideology to elicit from the Arab world as much inflammatory and violent positions as possible. That is why Netanyahu chose today, the day that America is renewing sanctions on Syria, to pronounce that he will never give back the Golan. For sixty years there have been Israelis like him who hope and count on Arab anger, Arab rage, Arab violence. The greatest threat to his position is Arab nonviolence and Arab statesmenship and diplomacy. It would be very helpful to Netanyahu right now if Bashar takes some action to support militarily Hamas or Hezbollah because it would prove to the West that there is no Arab peace partner. But I say, don’t take his bait. Forge ahead with the Western relationship. Obama’s people are the greatest hope in sixty years for America to join the rest of the Quartet and the rest of the world in a forceful insistence on a real path to a real Palestinian state as the ultimate and most important solution to Middle Eastern, Arab and Muslim problems. Syria and the Syrian people can only benefit from that path.
I saw this response to the sanctions in the comment section of Haaretz. It is woth posting:
Are these 3 sanctions the only sanctions against Syria?!
– prohibit arms exports to Syria: No problem as Syria can rely on their long term supplier Russia.
– block Syrian airlines from operating in USA: No problem as I don`t think there were that many Syrian airlines operating in USA before anyway.
– deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system: well a citizen of any national (not only Syrian) suspected of being associated with terrorist groups are banned in the US and denied access to all US systems (financial or otherwise) anyway.
So these look like “token” sanctions and shouldn`t affect the progress in US-Syria relationship. I am sure the top US diplomats (who visited Syria yesterday) would have told the Syrian officials about the up coming sanction renewal: “Oh BTW, tomorrow will renew the yearly sanctions against you, don`t worry about it, these are just formalities and should be abolished by next year anyway…blahblahblah
By John L. Allen Jr., CNN, John L. Allen Jr. is the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and senior Vatican analyst for CNN.
AMMAN, Jordan (CNN) — Given the delicate balancing act with Muslims and Jews facing Pope Benedict XVI in the Middle East, it can be easy to forget there’s also a third faith with antique roots in the region wanting some attention from the pontiff: Christianity.
After two days devoted largely to outreach to Muslims, Benedict finally focused on his own Christian flock on Sunday, celebrating Mass in a soccer stadium in downtown Amman. The event drew Christians not only from Jordan, but also from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and other countries in the neighborhood.
The Christians of the Middle East certainly could use the shot in the arm. At least demographically, Christianity today stands on the brink of extinction in the land where Jesus Christ lived, and where the faith first took hold.
In 1948, Christians represented 20 percent of the population in what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories; today they’re less than 2 percent, some 150,000 believers amid seven million Israelis and four million Palestinians. The pattern holds all across the Middle East, with Christians fleeing traditional strongholds such as Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt in massive numbers. As recently as 1975, estimates were that 25 million Arab Christians called the Middle East home; today the best guess is 12 million…….
Turkish-Syrian ties no strategic shift
Published: May 08, 2009
WASHINGTON, May 8 (UPI) — Though improved in recent years, a strategic alliance between Turkey and Syria does not reflect a troublesome shift in regional foreign policy, an analyst said.
Both countries approached the brink of war in 1998 following Ankara’s displeasure with Syrian support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Ankara and Damascus, however, signed a bilateral agreement in 2002 that allows both countries to coordinate their military activity.
Turkey, a NATO member, and Syria conducted their first-ever joint military exercise April 27, coordinating border forces during a three-day operation.
Both governments, meanwhile, signed a bilateral agreement on technical military cooperation in the defense sector the same day.
That effort is, in part, a reflection of the move by Syrian President Bashar Assad to ease at least some of the isolationist policies in his country.
While the joint efforts point to a growing shift in regional alliances, there is little to suggest it is part of a broader strategic alignment, Bilal Saab, a research analyst at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, writes for Jane’s Foreign Report.
The cooperation makes sense as Ankara gets Arab help in controlling its Kurdish problem while Damascus can assert its position in opposition to Israel while easing border concerns with Iraq.
“Turkish-Syrian relations have come a long way since 1998, but they still fall short of a strategic alliance, lacing as they do the requisite parallel political visions for, and positioning in, the Middle East,” Saab concluded.
المهندس رامي مخلوف يقبض على القابضتين عبر شادي كرم all4syria.info
Rami Makhlouf holds the reins at two holding companies through Shadi Karam
Syrian spend half their income on cloths and food. 3% goes to culture and education
The Power of the First Impression By ELLIOTT ABRAMS in WSJ
When President Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, behind the diplomatic niceties, their encounter will have profound implications for confronting the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Hamas Claims U.S. and Europe are Reaching Out
By Marc Perelman/Beirut Friday, May. 08, 2009
The idea that there can be no Israeli-Palestinian peace that bypasses Hamas has lately emerged as conventional wisdom among a broad range of Washington foreign policy experts — and it appears that the U.S. and some of its key European allies may be quietly in agreement. A senior Hamas official has told TIME that Western powers publicly committed to boycotting Hamas, which is officially designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, have nonetheless initiated discreet contacts with his organization. Osama Hamdan, the organization’s top leader in Lebanon, said in an interview in Beirut that Hamas had in recent weeks established “solid, direct contacts” with four European Union countries, and that there had been unofficial talks between Hamas and the team of President Barack Obama’s Middle East special envoy, George Mitchell. Hamdan refused to elaborate.
“We are not aware of any contact between Hamas officials and staff of Senator Mitchell,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Robert Wood said in response to a query from TIME on Hamdan’s claim. And State Department spokesman Darby Holladay declined to comment on alleged contacts with Hamas, but stressed that the U.S. has not changed its policy of refusing to deal with the organization until it agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence and endorse past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. (Hamas continues to refuse to make those concessions.) (See pictures of life under Hamas in Gaza)
Hamdan declined to identify the European countries with which he claimed Hamas has held talks, but said they were “significant” nations, and described the discussions as substantial. “I think there is a shift in [the Europeans’] position [on boycotting Hamas],” said Hamdan, who was recently elected to the organization’s top political body. “It’s not enough, but it’s encouraging� I think if that shift happens, this will help create stability and maybe peace in the region.”….
Hamdan makes clear, however, that the only shift Hamas has so far seen from Washington is a “very, very slight” change in the language emanating from the White House, and no substantial change on the ground. Still, he boasted, “maybe Obama himself and the whole Administration know the facts and the reality of the Palestinian situation� And one of those important facts is that [Mahmoud Abbas] is not in charge anymore� If they need leaders, real leaders, they can talk to Hamas.”
Hamas’ diplomatic game may actually have been helped by the election in Israel of a government that has refused to explicitly back a two-state solution to the conflict. That has allowed Hamas to argue that Israel is the party not ready for peace, and that Abbas’ recognition of Israel has not gained the Palestinians anything….