Posted by Joshua on Friday, September 5th, 2008
Syria details its stance on peace talks
By Yoav Stern and Barak Ravid – Haaretz
yrian President Bashar Assad revealed details on the peace process with Israel yesterday, presenting Turkey with a document of principles, one of whose points discusses the desired extent of the withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The Syrian leader also said indirect negotiations with Israel were on hold until the latter chooses a new prime minister. He said direct talks would have to wait until a new U.S. president takes office.
But Israeli and Turkish sources said they expect the talks to be resumed by the end of the month. "We want the support of all states, basically France, Qatar and Turkey, in order to be assured that the next [Israeli] prime minister follows the same direction [Ehud] Olmert followed in his readiness for a complete withdrawal from the occupied territories for peace to be achieved," Assad said. He was speaking at a press conference at a four-way summit in Damascus this week, attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Assad said Syria gave Turkey a document with six points that detail its position of departure in the negotiations. He said his country is now waiting for Israel to present a document of its own to the Turkish intermediaries.
"Any direct talks would also have to wait until a new American administration is in place," Assad added.
According to State Department spokesman Robert Wood: "Overall what we'd like to see out of Syria is for it to play a much more productive role in the region. It hasn't until now. We'd like to see it not meddle in the affairs of the sovereign government of Lebanon."
In an interview with French television, Assad ruled out any recognition of Israel before a peace agreement. "But when there is a peace accord, of course there will be reciprocal recognition. This is natural," he said.
The Syrian leader also said he would not break off ties with Hezbollah and militant Palestinians, a key Israeli demand.
Mr. Assad did not disclose details of the Syrian proposals, and little information has emerged from four rounds of indirect talks with Israel over the past year. "We are now discussing a document of principles which talks about general principles of the peace process which will be the basis for direct negotiations," Mr. Assad explained.
He said Syria outlined six points on the issue of the "withdrawal line," a reference to the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and a major sticking point over which direct negotiations collapsed in 2000. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.
Mr. Assad said the Syrian points were given to the Turkish negotiators "as a deposit." When Israel gives its own proposals to the Turkish side, then the two sides could move to direct negotiations "after a new American administration convinced of the peace process is in place," he added. Mr. Assad has previously said American sponsorship of future negotiations was necessary, but after November's U.S. elections bring a new administration to office.
Christian Science Monitor: Joshua Mitnick
Middle East analysts concede that substantive progress from the indirect talks hosted by Turkey has been modest at best.
"It will not happen in the present circumstances except as part of a larger reorientation of Syrian policies. For that, you need a US administration that is in the game," says Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and a top negotiator in Israeli-Syrian talks during the 1990s. "For now, everyone is keeping the ball in the air and trying to improve their position."
The Syrian side is trying to publicize that there are no big reasons that there can't be an agreement in the near future," says Rime Allaf. …. She added, however, that the US and Israel shouldn't expect a radical realignment of Syria's ties with Iran. Syria is unlikely to cut ties with Hamas, as well. "It is naive to image that just because Israel and Syria sign a peace deal the relations between Syria and Iran to come to a standstill." ……
"The blueprint is known. [Israeli President Shimon Peres] said the other day. You need 24 hours to sign," says Moshe Maoz, a political science professor from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "The question is whether the parties are ready."
Time Magazine: France's Fling with Syria, Sep. 4, 2008 | By Bruce Crumley / Paris
"There has long been a view within French diplomatic circles that Bashar al-Assad really wants to end Syria's habit of trouble-making and re-enter the community of nations, but until recently had been undermined by the older elements of the regime left over from his father's days," says one French official involved France's evolving relationship with Damascus. "He's not perfect, and there are still real problems with human rights and the treatment of political prisoners in Syria. Still, there are enough signs of change and a willingness to work together that we can't let that kind of opportunity pass by."
Whereas Chirac had relied on Saudi Arabia as his primary Arab interlocutor, Sarkozy appears to have turned to Qatar as the key intermediary to re-establish contacts and prepare visits and exchanges between Paris and Damascus. ….
Still, he notes that despite the signs of wanting to improve its behavior, no one is naive enough to believe Syria can be entirely trusted yet. "This is an exercise in confidence-building, and demonstrating there's more to gain by being a part of the solution rather than the problem," he notes. "It's a long work in progress."
Sarkozy interview: "The Road to Peace in the Region Passes Through Both Our Countries"
The Syrian daily Al-Watan published an interview with French President Nicolas Sarkozy today, in advance of his visit to Damascus.(1)
Interviewer: "What message would you like to communicate to the Syrians on your first visit there as president of France?"
Sarkozy: "My first message to the Syrian people is one of friendship. Throughout history, our countries have maintained close and warm ties, although it must be admitted that these were sometimes fraught with complications. Nevertheless, in spite of the difficulties that have attended these ties, the friendship between our people has never been severed. This is a most precious asset, and we must guard it at any cost…
"This visit is taking place under special circumstances, for our countries intend to turn over a new page in our relations. This new page is very dear to my heart, since within its framework Syria has been gradually making choices that the world expects from it – [and] in this way it will reinstate its position among the nations. By visiting Damascus, I would like to convey to the Syrian authorities how crucial it is for them to continue on this course. Syria is an important country, capable of making an indispensable contribution to the settlement of problems in the Middle East, and it is essential that its role in the region should be positive.
"I envision a future in which [we] follow the course of cooperation between France and Syria. True, we are independent countries, and at times each of us has its own private interests. However, I am convinced – as I mentioned to [Syrian President] Bashar Al-Assad on July 12, when he arrived in Paris – that the road to peace in the region passes through both our countries."
France Must "Regain Its Place on the International Chessboard"
Interviewer: "Some publicists have been discussing strategic ties between Paris and Damascus. Are we in a position today to speak of France's forceful return to the Middle East chessboard?"
Sarkozy: "Since I was elected president of France 15 months ago, I have wished for France to regain its place on the international chessboard. As for the Middle East, a region close to my heart, I want my country to assume the highest responsibility in serving the cause of peace. To this end, we must gain the trust of all sides. Accordingly, I have instituted several significant reforms in our Middle East policy – including even breaking away from [the Middle East policy of previous French president Jacque Chirac].
"I have acted in the same way with regard to Israel as well, since the intensity of the friendship between France and Israel is no different from that between France and Israel's Arab neighbors, or from our steadfast commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
"I treat Syria the same way as well: From my point of view, the main thing is to create an opening for dialogue – but it must be a determined dialogue, which will enable genuine progress.
"Our return to the Middle East was also heralded by the Mediterranean summit, held July 13-14 in Paris, which proved to be a great success. All but one of the leaders of the countries that lie north and south of the Mediterranean attended the opening of this great cultural project, which I believe signifies that France, and certainly Europe, has returned to the region.
"In a July 12 joint French-Syrian declaration, France committed to take steps essential to the ratification of the cooperation agreement between Syria and the European Union."
"We Are Working On The [Syria-E.U.] Cooperation Agreement" …….
DJ Sarkozy Heads To Syria To Rebuild Top-Level Ties After Freeze
September 3, 2008
PARIS (AFP)–… Sarkozy said on the eve of his visit to Damascus that peace in the Middle East "passes through" Syria and France. "As I told President Bashar al-Assad when he came to Paris on July 12, the path of peace in this region passes through our countries," Sarkozy told Syria's al-Watan daily, which is close to government circles. "Syria can provide an irreplaceable contribution to solving Middle East issues. It is important that Syria plays a positive role in the region," he said, according to an advance copy of the interview.
Syria 'informs Sarkozy it is holding Lebanon's most wanted man'
DPA, 04 Sep 2008
Beirut – Syria informed French President Nicolas Sarkozy it has arrested Lebanon's most-wanted terrorist suspect, Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker al-Abssi, the Lebanese website Naharnet said Thursday. It quoted what it called "reliable Syrian sources" as saying Abssi was in Syrian custody and that contacts were under way between security agencies in Damascus and Beirut to determine whether he be extradited to Lebanon or tried in Syria.
The report came hours after the United Arab Emirates daily al- Bayan quoted a senior official of a pro-Syrian Palestinian faction as saying Abssi was picked up after illegally entering Syria.
Abssi mysteriously fled the northern Lebanese refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared during a crackdown by the Lebanese army last September after troops crushed a Fatah al-Islam rebellion.
The 15-week battle in and around the camp resulted in the deaths of more than 400 people, including 162 troops.
On June 21, 2007, Abssi and 15 other Fatah al-Islam members were charged by Lebanese state prosecutor Saeed Mirza with carrying out bus bombings on February 13 that year in the village of Ain-Alaq.
Al-Abbsi was also charged with bombing two buses on the eve of a Cedar Revolution rally planned to mark the second anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Some Lebanese and Syrian officials have cited links between Fatah al-Islam and al-Qaeda.
In 2004, a Jordanian military court convicted al-Abssi and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in absentia for the 2002 murder of Laurence Foley, a US diplomat who was gunned down in front of his Amman home.
Al-Zarqawi, who later became leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was killed in a US airstrike north of Baghdad in 2007.
Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr has repeatedly said that he wants al-Abssi "dead or alive."
Sarkozy wound up a two-day visit to Syria Thursday with a four-way summit, including Turkey and Qatar, which aimed at boosting the roles of France and the European Union in Middle East diplomacy.
Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, hopes France and the EU can rank alongside the United States as peacemakers, notably between Israel and Syria.
Lebanese officials expressed hopes the visit would help chances of achieving peace in the Middle East region.
France started talks with Syria, after Syrian President Bashar al- Assad announced he was embarking on indirect talks with Israel and eased his stands towards Lebanon, which helped end an 18-month political crisis in the country.
Syria was Lebanon's power broker until 2005 when Hariri was assassinated. Hariri's allies and their western backers blamed Syria for the assassination, but Damascus has denied all the charges.
Assad: 'Possibility of peace' with Israel
The Associated Press
IHT, September 2, 2008
PARIS: Syrian President Bashar Assad said Tuesday that indirect negotiations with Israel have brought "the possibility of peace," though the two countries still have quite a way to go toward that goal.
Syria's foreign minister said last week that the talks had not made enough headway for the two sides to hold direct negotiations. In an interview with France-3 television, Assad said officials were working to make them happen.
"Today there is a possibility of peace," Assad said. "But nonetheless, we cannot say that we are close to achieving peace. We are preparing for direct negotiations. When we reach that step, we will be able to say that we are approaching peace.
"Today, we can only say that we have opened the door to peace," he said, ….
Despite his comments about potential peace, Assad said he believes that Israel "could try to launch different attacks, maybe against Iran, and maybe also against Lebanon, and of course it could launch an attack on Syria." He said such attacks would have "catastrophic results."
….. "Of course we have to wait for the new administration to know what its orientations are," he said. "Afterward we can speak of direct negotiations."…..
A US role in Syrian-Israeli peace
By Robert Pelletreau and Edward S. Walker
Boston Globe, September 2, 2008
….. The United States stands to gain a great deal from an Israeli-Syrian agreement. Having served as US ambassadors to five Middle East countries, we are convinced that a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace is essential to American national security interests. …… The Bush administration should start this process. If it can dispatch the third highest person in the State Department to participate in a meeting with Iranian officials, it can certainly encourage the talks between Israel, its friend and ally, and Syria. …
Syria impacts many American interests. Chief among them currently is Syria's engagement in Iraq and stabilizing the Iraq-Syria border. As Iraq shows signs of gradual stability, American-Syrian talks in parallel with Israel-Syria talks might yield agreements producing substantial benefits for Baghdad while helping to relieve Syria of the enormous Iraqi refugee burden it is carrying.
Additional American interests include Hezbollah's role in Lebanon and in the Israeli-Arab conflict, and Iran's ability to undercut American efforts on the Israeli-Palestinian peace track, the core challenge of the Arab-Israel peace process.
If an Israeli-Syrian agreement is reached, the United States will emerge as one of the winners, along with Israel and Syria. Iran and Hezbollah will be the losers…..
But such an agreement cannot be achieved without the United States.
…. An Israeli-Syrian agreement must necessarily pull Syria out of the Iranian orbit. Such an outcome would significantly improve the chances of reaching a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of its neighbors. An agreement would bring considerable additional benefits to the United States and to Israel, including:
Iran's posture would be weakened.
Syria would no longer provide support for armed action by Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups.
It would clear the way for Israel's formal peace with Lebanon.
It would end arms shipments to Hezbollah.
It would strengthen Lebanon's independence, supporting an exchange of Syrian-Lebanese ambassadors and official delineation of Syria-Lebanon boundaries.
Comprehensive peace on all tracks would trigger Israel's normalization with the entire Arab world in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Bush administration should open the diplomatic tool box for the Israeli-Syrian talks as it seems to be doing for Iran and North Korea. If it chooses not to, the next occupant of the Oval Office should pursue a peace whose achievement would mark the way toward broader peace and reconciliation in the region and disappoint only extremists and their sponsors.
BBC MidEast: President Al-Asad Says he will not Abandoning "Resistance"
Text of report by Lebanese Hezbollah Al-Manar TV on 4 September
[Exclusive interview with Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad by an unidentified correspondent in Damascus, date not given]
[Correspondent] Your excellency the president, before the Franco- Syrian summit was to be held, we heard many reports of concessions that Syria will make to France. With regard to the Iranian file, the picture has become clear, but there are those who speak of Syrian concessions over the resistance movements, especially those in Lebanon and Palestine. How do you view these reports, and are they true to begin with?
[Al-Asad] The fact that I am giving an interview to Al-Manar television should be an answer in itself [laughs]. No, this matter was not brought up. I believe that this issue has become clear for many countries. We are not a state that offers gifts. We are a state that speaks the language of interests. We ask any other state to present its interests to us so that we would look for common interests.
We do not see an interest in abandoning the resistance. Our position has always been clear and in our political discourse, we always reaffirm our firm position for resistance against occupation, wherever it may be and whatever the occupation -be it in Iraq, Lebanon, or Palestine. Our position is firm and has not changed. Syria has not changed this political discourse and it does not appear that it would change unless the state of occupation changes.
Europe focuses on the Iranian nuclear file. As for Syria's position, it is a long-standing one [opposed] to weapons of mass destruction and their proliferation, including in Israel. Therefore, the position on the Iranian file is within the context of the Syrian position; we do not consider it separate from the Syrian file [as heard]. Therefore, the Western perspective is limited to a single file, while the Syrian perspective underscores the need to see the big picture when dealingwith the Iranian nuclear file. I am not saying that differences exist; rather, some aspects of these two perspectives converge while others diverge. They do not pay attention to the Israeli issue, while we are concerned with the Israeli issue and Israeli nuclear weapons.
[Recording skips to Al-Asad apparently responding to an unheard question]
This administration does not work for peace and does not believe in it. How, then, can it believe in sponsoring the parties to peace? It does not see the whole picture. We distinguish between a mediator and a sponsor. Turkey is now playing the role of a mediator in indirect negotiations, which is similar to the role James Baker played prior to the Madrid Conference, when he shuttled between Syria and Israel in a bid to reach a common ground on which to launch the peace process from Madrid.
The same is happening today, but the two sides are in Turkey while the mediator is shutting between two different hotels in Istanbul. We will wait for the next US Administration to see what its directions would be. The US Administration is essential to the peace process, which cannot [move forward] without it regardless of whether or not we agree with it or like this reality. We have stated this position clearly to the United States. France can help in this sponsorship and so can Europe or any other interested state because, for while the US role is important and fundamental, it does not cover all aspects of the sponsorship. At the same time, any other role cannot substitute for a US role.
[Correspondent] So matters are on hold until a new US Administration arrives?
[Al-Asad] Definitely: We have stated this clearly, and – strangely enough -everyone agrees with us on this point.
[Correspondent] Thank you your excellency.
Originally published by Al-Manar Television, Beirut, in Arabic 1437 4 Sep 08.
“Arab-European Summit in Damascus"
Mideastwire.com, September 3, 2008
"Damascus welcomes its great guest Mr. President Nicolas Sarkozy,” Syria’s government-controlled newspaper Teshreen editorialized on September 3. “It confirms the desire of the Syrians to establish excellent and advanced relations with the great country France.”
The French president’s visit is aimed at restoring warmth to relations and opening a new page.
"We as Syrians, who are passionate about freedom and long for peace and the stability and prosperity and development and progress it provides, are placing many hopes in the European Union,” the paper said.
"France, and the entire world, namely the United States, realizes that Syria was honest in its peace approach, and that when it engaged in the peace process in Madrid in 1991, it was honest and loyal to peace,” Teshreen added.
Assad’s reckless behavior
By Farid Ghadry (Head of Syria Reform Party in Washington DC)
Ynet News, September 2, 2008
Maybe Bashar al-Assad is a chip off the old block, after all, judging from the diplomatic pageant in Damascus today. There he was, despite the Bush administration's vigorous five-year campaign to isolate Bashar, hosting an international summit on the Middle East being covered live on satellite channels including the BBC.
Not so long ago, the Syrian president and his regime seemed to be hanging by a thread. Trained as an ophthalmologist with little or instinct or stomach for politics, Bashar had come to power upon the death of his father Hafez in 2000 quite by accident, literally–the auto crash that killed his elder brother, the heir apparent in the Assad Dynasty…..
Thursday's scene of the four leaders on global television represents another defeat for the Bush administration's policies. It's policy toward Syria has now completely collapsed. If the Cheney strategists had their way, Bashar would have been removed from power, Syria would be a U.S.-friendly democracy, Lebanon would have become another jewel of the Middle East's democratic crown and the leaders of Hamas and Hizballah would be in Guantanamo Bay or worse. Instead, Bashar has put himself, Syria and its allies back at the center of events, as Washington watches it all from afar.
You can almost hear Hafez saying, "Way to go, kid!"
Next Hariri report 'in November,' not this month: Daily Star – An assistant spokesman for Ban said: "The Security Council has decided [Bellemare] should present his report every six months instead of three." "The forthcoming report is expected by the end of November," he said.
Arar in New York Times: The former leader of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police blamed political interference in the United States, not mistakes by his force, for the rendition from New York to Syria and subsequent torture of Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer. In the interview Mr. Zaccardelli said: “I feel very comfortable in stating what we did was, we made some mistakes. But what we did in no way influenced the American decision to send him to Syria.” Nor, he said, were his American counterparts to blame. “It’s clear to me that that decision went beyond the law enforcement agencies,” he said, adding, “a decision at a higher level, at a political level of some sort, had to have been taken.”
How Arab Normalization is Undermining the Boycott Movement
By Wassim Al-Adel
a London-based Syrian blogger http://maysaloon.blogspot.com/
Source: The Electronic Intifada, 29 August 2008
………..To gain an insight into how the Arab boycott has been weakened one need only look at the situation in Syria, the headquarters of the once highly influential Central Boycott Office. The changes since 2000 have been astonishing as we see products and companies which would have been banned outright only a short time before now made widely available. This is due in part to the slow but steady liberalization of the economy. In Damascus, the skyline is scarred by the enormous Four Seasons hotel, introduced by the billionaire Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal, and with branches throughout the world — including Jerusalem. In the trendy Abu Roumaneh district, the first official Kentucky Fried Chicken in the country has been opened and is a favorite haunt of the Damascene well-to-do (in sharp contrast with its image in the West as a fast food chain for the lower-income working classes). The launch of KFC was handled by the huge Kuwaiti group Americana, which handles other fast food chains throughout the region and accentuates the strong Gulf influence behind this effort to erode the boycott. The fact that KFC was once boycotted by the Central Boycott Office appears to be conveniently forgotten now. In both examples we see a silent collusion between the government and Arab big business at the expense of the boycott and resisting the occupation. ………..