Posted by Joshua on Saturday, March 1st, 2008
U.S.-Saudi Effort Seeks to End Syrian Interference in Lebanon
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 1, 2008; A10
The United States and Saudi Arabia have launched a joint campaign to pressure Syria to end its political interference in Lebanon, including the U.S. deployment of the USS Cole and two other warships off the Lebanese coast, according to U.S. and Arab officials.
The new military, economic and diplomatic steps include the toughest actions taken by the Bush administration against the regime of President Bashar Assad, such as a recent presidential executive order allowing sanctions against Syrian officials meddling in Lebanon and a member of Assad’s family. Saudi Arabia is withdrawing its ambassador from Damascus and pressed for an Arab League meeting, to be held next week, to discuss the political vacuum in Lebanon brought on by its inability to elect a new president since November, U.S. officials said.
The Lebanese parliament has not elected a new president because of an enduring standoff that pits the Syrian-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah and its Christian allies against a coalition gathered around the government, which is backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and France.
President Bush and King Abdullah first discussed a joint effort on Syria during the president’s trip to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in January. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal then discussed details at a White House meeting on Feb. 15 attended by Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, according to U.S. and Arab officials.
The proposal led to serious debate within the administration, which held back its plan from key European and Arab allies, the officials said.
“It’s likely the Syrians will see this in the context of measures we are taking in order to discourage their unhelpful behavior in Lebanon,” said a senior administration official, speaking anonymously because of the sensitive diplomacy.
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that the USS Cole, a guided missile destroyer, and two other ships will remain in the eastern Mediterranean “for a while.” He added: “It does signal that we’re engaged, we’re going to be in the vicinity and that’s a very, very important part of the world.”
But Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said yesterday that his government had not requested a U.S. naval presence off its coast, and summoned Ambassador Michele J. Sison to ask for clarification of U.S. intentions.
The presence of the three warships has also sparked anger from militant groups and suspicions in the Lebanese media about long-term U.S. plans, even though the State Department said the ships are about 60 miles offshore — well beyond the 12-mile limit of Lebanese territorial waters.
“The American move threatens the stability of Lebanon and the region and is an attempt to spark tension,” Hassan Fadlallah, a Hezbollah member of parliament, told Reuters. “The administration has used the policy of sending warships to support its allies in Lebanon before, and that experiment failed.”
The deployment of U.S. warships off the Lebanese coast dates to 1983, when Navy ships opened fire on Muslim militias. Retaliation included the suicide bombing of the Marine compound in Beirut and the death of 241 U.S. military personnel, which eventually led to the Marines’ withdrawal.
“U.S. gunboat diplomacy in Lebanon did not, does not and will never work. If there is one way how not to help your allies, this is it,” said Bilal Y. Saab of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center.
Some Middle East experts and both European and Arab allies doubt that the U.S.-Saudi effort will have serious impact on Damascus. “The Syrian regime is playing for time, and reasons that a new administration will be forced to jettison the current policy of isolation,” said Emile el-Hokayem of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a defense think tank.
U.S. "muscle flexing" won't work in Lebanon: Syria
Mar 1, 2008 2:43pm EST
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria on Saturday accused the United States of prolonging a crisis in Lebanon by deploying a warship off the country's coast and said that Washington could not impose a solution by "flexing its muscles".
In the first reaction by the Damascus government to Washington's announcement on Thursday of the deployment of the USS Cole, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said force was not the answer to Lebanon's political problems.
"We have been saying that the United States was obstructing the political solution in Lebanon and the existence of this ship affirms this," Moualem said after meeting Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League.
"Those Lebanese who are betting on the United States flexing its muscles will be disappointed. Washington cannot impose the solution it wants. The way out has to be based on a Lebanese consensus," Moualem told reporters.
Lebanon's 15-month power struggle has turned into a test of wills between the pro-Western government and Hezbollah-led opposition. Syria and Iran support the Shi'ite movement.
The United States had suggested that the Lebanese parliament majority it backs could elect a president on their own. The post has been vacant since November.
Moualem said this would be counter to an Arab initiative for a comprehensive solution to the crisis.
"I cannot predict the intentions of the United States but I can say that this show of force will lead nowhere," he said.
A Western diplomat, however, said the deployment could help deter escalation in regional tension after the assassination of a Hezbollah commander in Damascus last month.
Hezbollah said Israel was behind the killing of Imad Moughniyah and welcomed "open war" if Israel wanted one.
A U.S. defense official said the USS Cole, which was attacked by Islamist militants in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000, would not be visible from the Lebanese coast.
U.S. forces are already deployed on Syria's border with Iraq, another point of tension between Damascus and Washington.
He said the deployment was to signal U.S. concern over Lebanon's political crisis, which Washington blames on what it describes as Syrian interference.
Syria said achieving political stability in Lebanon was in its national interest and that it was still hopeful the crisis would be solved in time for a summit of Arab leaders in Damascus on March 29-30.
Hezbollah said on Saturday the warship's deployment "prevents the Lebanese from agreement, hinders initiatives and incites groups against each other."
Fadlallah says Arab initiative was doomed from the start
By Nafez Qawas
Saturday, March 01, 2008
BEIRUT: Senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah said on Friday that the Arab initiative failed to broker an agreement among feuding Lebanese groups "because it was born dead." "The initiative did not offer a clear-cut and well-defined plan of action to solve the political deadlock in Lebanon and thus it is as if it was born dead," Fadlallah said during the Friday sermon at the Imam Hassanayn Mosque in Haret Hreik.
The Arab League's three-point initiative to end the deadlock calls for the election of the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, as the new head of state, the formation of a national unity government and the drafting of a new electoral law. The sayyed added that all Arab efforts to solve tension in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon "have all failed so far and this has alarming connotations."
Fadlallah slammed Arab states for their stance against Israel and described it as "all talk and no action." "Their stand concerning the resistance in Lebanon clearly reflects their overall policy concerning Israel," he added. Fadlallah said a solution to Lebanon's 15-month-old political deadlock was not an "imminent" one, adding that regional as well as international "tensions and struggles reflect on the situation in Lebanon."
Washington : A senior US official has indicated Washington will continue to exercise anti-Syria sanctions saying Damascus should be punished for its role in Lebanon and Iraq.
"We have every reason to believe that continued pressure on the Syrian government, in the type that was announced by the US Treasury Department, is the right way to go for our country," said the US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicolas Burns, referring to the Treasury department's action to freeze the assets Syrian President Bashar al Assad's cousin, Rami Makhluf, on the grounds that he was involved in public corruption.
"Syria needs to understand it needs to play by the rules in the Middle East, " said Burns, late on Thursday — and cited the treasury acted with good reason.
The US accuses Syria of sponsoring terrorist groups in Iraq, meddling in Lebanon's political affairs and it's close relations with Lebanese Hezbollah, a party with close ties with Iran that has been listed as a terrorist organization by the US. "We have been disturbed to see the union between Syria and Iran in support of some of the most vicious terrorist groups in the Middle East" like Hezbollah, according to Burns, who characterized the countries and terrorist organizations as quite "nefarious." Both Iran and Syria's presence in the region "runs counter to the hopes and dreams that Lebanon may be free and independent from Syria's domination; that the moderate Palestinians will have a chance to seek peace with Israel; that the people of Iraq should be free of the terrorism that Iran has been fueling by sending sophisticated explosive technology to Shiite terrorist groups," Burns said.