Posted by Joshua on Thursday, November 20th, 2008
[Landis analysis] The UN nuclear investigation could be the new Hariri investigation for the “isolate-Syria” crowd. For several years the UN investigation into the Hariri murder gave neo-cons hope that they would be able to carry out regime-change in Syria on the cheap, by tripping up Syria’s leadership in a web of international sanctions, UN strictures, and legal snares. The Hariri investigation seems to have petered out and no longer inspires much enthusiasm, even in the most neo-con of circles. The American backed Israeli strike on the military plant on the Euphrates has opened up a new avenue for international probes. It is likely that Syria will reject further UN visits to Syria, which will leave the Security Council to decide whether to sanction Syria or not. The international community has lost its taste for hard ball, which the Bush administration used with such disastrous results.
All the same, the nuclear issue will give Obama’s new foreign policy team pause in re-engaging Syria. That may be all the anti-Syria crowd needs to trap the new administration in a cycle of confrontation. The first few months of the Obama presidency will be decisive in setting the agenda for the Arab-Israeli conflict. If Syria is ignored or if it senses that Obama may continue Bush hostility toward Syria, such as by pushing for a Lebanese confrontation with Hizbullah, blocking Iraqi rapprochement with Syria, teaming up with “moderate” against “trouble-making” Arabs, or by pampering Netanyahu obstructionism, Syria will consolidate its resistance alliances and become insensible to future backtracking by the West. Syrian distrust of the West’s intentions is so lively after eight years of Bush, that only a clean break from past policy will help lure it out of its defensive tuck.
It may turn out that the neo-conservatives have been successful at one thing, which is to push the center of US Middle East policy away from Israel and the traditional Arab-Israeli conflict toward the Gulf. With our troops on the ground, it may be too much to expect Obama to squander his domestic Jewish political capital, which he seems to have amassing with skill, on squeezing Israel. Perhaps the only hope is if Obama can get Hillary Clinton to accept the Secretary of State position so she spends her Jewish capital on a peace push.
The US will most likely continue to give international and political cover to Israel while settlers extend their grip on the West Bank. Hope for a two state solution is dwindling fast. Of course Obama will have to establish a mechanism to pretend to do something and perpetuate popular hopes that there is a solution, but I don’t suspect that the mechanism will mitigate Palestinian weakness. It may help bring the Saudis and “moderate” Arabs along on whatever course he decides on for security architecture in the Gulf. This is the direction indicated by the Saudi-Israeli dance over the “Arab” peace plan rather than pushing hard nosed negotiations directly between Syria and Israel.
U.N. Watchdog Finds Nuclear Threats in Syria and Iran
By JAY SOLOMON
The Wall Street Journal, 20 November 2008
United Nations investigators found “significant” traces of uranium used in reactors at the wreckage of a Syrian facility that Israel bombed last year, and Iran is rampingup production of nuclear fuel while denying investigators access, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Wednesday.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog’s findings about nuclear development in Iran and Syria underscore the proliferation threats President-elect Barack Obama will face upon taking office in January.
Tehran is running nearly 4,000 centrifuges and plans 3,000 more, despite U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for a suspension, the IAEA said, and inspectors aren’t being given access to sites or documents connected to possible military components of Tehran’s nuclear program.
The Syria discovery, which had leaked out last week, bolsters Bush administration claims that Damascus was covertly developing a nuclear reactor. European officials said their governments have begun briefing Mr. Obama’s advisers on how to jointly address the Iranian nuclear challenge. They expressed hope that the arrival of Mr. Obama, who has pledged to engage Tehran and Damascus more directly than his predecessor, could jump-start stalled diplomacy….
Iran, Syria Fail on UN Nuclear Cooperation, IAEA Says (Update1)
By Jonathan Tirone
Bloomberg, 20 November 2008
Iran and Syria have failed to provide sufficient assistance with two separate investigations into suspected clandestine nuclear work, the United Nations atomic agency said.
“Iran has not offered any cooperation with the agency” to clear up allegations that it has sought to develop a weapon, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report.
A Syrian site bombed by Israel in September 2007 on suspicion that it was an undeclared atomic reactor had “significant” quantities of uranium particles, and shared some characteristics of a reactor, the IAEA said. The UN agency said it hasn’t yet received documentation to support Syria’s stance that it was a conventional military facility.
Files on the two probes, transmitted to the IAEA’s 35-member board of governors, may increase pressure on the Middle Eastern countries to cooperate more extensively with the investigations. Iran has been under UN investigation since 2003 for allegedly seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge it denies.
AFP, 20 November 2008
“While it cannot be excluded that the building in question was intended for non-nuclear use, the features of the building … along with the connectivity of the site to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water are similar to what may be found in connection with a reactor site,” the IAEA said in a restricted report, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
Experts Urge Obama To Engage Early On Middle East
by Michele Kelemen
NPR, 19 November 2008
As President-elect Barack Obama’s transition staff looks at foreign policy, the Middle East and its many trouble spots will loom large. Some experts are advising Obama and his team to show early engagement in what they see as the region’s core issue: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There are growing doubts that a viable Palestinian state could emerge to live side by side in peace with Israel. President Carter’s national security adviser, ZbigniewBrzezinski, told a group at the Aspen Institute that “the two-state solution is beginning to run out of room for implementation.” He added, “Presidentialinvolvement here is essential.”
European foreign policy officials have put the Middle East peace process at the top of their wish list for a new U.S. foreign policy approach. The European Union’s ambassador in Washington, John Bruton, has encouraged the Obama administration to take a hard look at Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. He argues that as Israelis head to the polls in February, they “need to know that there is an administration in Washington that wants the two-state solution to work, not just in theory, but in practice and soon.”….
At the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, scholar David Makovsky predicts that the incoming Obama administration will want to facilitate talks between Israel and Syria, now an ally of Iran. “I see the approach to be somewhat like Henry Kissinger did with the Egyptians in the 1970s,” Makovsky says. “Namely, Kissinger was very skillful in prying Egypt away from the Soviet orbit.”
The question for the next administration, he says, is whether it can do anything comparable with a “willing Israeli government in prying away Syria from an Iranian orbit?”
Iran Is ‘The Greatest Danger’
A former undersecretary of state for political affairs, R. Nicholas Burns, warns that Iran is a major threat — not just because of its nuclear ambitions, but also for its support of terrorist groups and its overall influence in the region. “Iran has influence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and sometimes uses it against American interests,” he says. Iran is “the greatest danger and the greatest problem for the new administration, and it is going to have to be dealt with in an early stage,” says Burns,…
The administration will be torn in many directions, but needs to focus on all of these issues, from negotiations with Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a potential Israeli-Syrian track to helping Iraq as U.S. troops withdraw.
In the New York Observer, here (Via FLC)
“[Hillary's] top, top, top advisers told me, ‘Steve, she will animate things in the Middle East—she will deliver a Palestinian state. Gold-plated,’” said Steven Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington.
Latest poll gives Likud big edge over Kadima
By Yossi Verter
Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud have had a good three weeks, with no major slips, with brand new faces and with a good press, while Kadima is bleeding and Labor is disintegrating.
The opinion polls are responding in kind: Likud opened a large, decisive lead of six MKs over Kadima. The right-wing bloc, led by Likud, is also firming up in comparison to previous polls, with 64 MKs versus 56 for the center-left. In effect, the right is much stronger than the center left, since its count also includes 11 MKs from the Arab parties: They will not be asked to join the governing coalition and in the current political climate their only use will be as part of a “preventive bloc” in the Knesset.
Secretary Condoleezza Rice Says it is all about Lebanon (Via to FLC)
Washington, DC November 18, 2008
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Foreign Minister – British Foreign Minister Miliband has said today in Syria that Damascus has played a positive role in Lebanon and Iraq lately. What do you think?
SECRETARY RICE: I think we are all very much following what is going on in Lebanon, and I’m looking forward to listening to Mr. Jumblatt as he tells me about the preparations for the election. And we continue to support a democratic and sovereign and independent Lebanon, and everything that the United States is doing is to that cause. And anyone and any state that demonstrates its commitment to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence should be welcomed to that cause. I just think it’s important to demonstrate it.
Dallying with Syria
Financial Times, 19 November 2008
First France, and now Britain. The courtship of Syria proceeds apace. There is, of course, nothing wrong with engagement, as the Bush years have taught us. Ideally, however, robust diplomacy should be harnessed to a coherent strategy. That is what is lacking in the cosying up to Bashar al-Assad and his regime.
Mr Assad owes his re-entry into polite geopolitical society in the first instance to Nicolas Sarkozy. ….
Report: Lebanese spy trained in Israel (Thanks Danilo)
….His mission in Syria also focused on scouting the city of Damascus, including Kfar Soussa where top Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated. Cities like Tartous, Hama, Allepo and Homs also were scouted….
Bilal Saab on Syria’s recent tactical readjustments in foreign policy, which appeared in the most recent issue of Jane’s Foreign Report.
Iran Has Enough Fuel to Make Atom Bomb, Experts Say: NYTimes, 2008-11-20
Iran aims for 2009 launch of nuclear plant
Reuters, 18 November 2008
Iran is aiming to commission its first nuclear power plant in 2009 after years of delays, the official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday.
Russia has already delivered nuclear fuel under a $1 billion contract to build the Bushehr plant on the Gulf coast in southwest Iran. But the start-up timetable has frequently been put back because of issues such as a row over payments.
Russia agreed to build the plant in 1995 on the site of an earlier project begun in the 1970s by German firm Siemens. The Siemens’ project was disrupted by Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
“The commissioning stage of Bushehr nuclear power station has begun and we are hopeful the power station will be commissioned in 2009 as per the agreement we have had with the Russian party,” the spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohsen Delaviz, was quoted a saying.
He did not give a more precise date.
“There is a good environment prevailing in our relations with the Russians and we are hoping they will honor their commitments,” he added.
Atomstroyexport, the Russian firm building the plant, said in September the plant was nearing completion and that it would start “technological work” in December 2008 to February 2009 that would put the plant on an “irreversible final” course.
Analysts say Russia has used Bushehr as a lever in relations with Tehran. It had previously said it expected the plant to start up some time this year.
Iran is at loggerheads with the West over its nuclear program that Tehran says has only civilian aims but which the United States and its allies say is a smokescreen for building atomic weapons.
Peres: Turkey, Iran offer differing models
AP, November 18 2008
…. “Many Muslims will have to make their choice between the Iranian school of domination and the Turkish school of cooperation,” Peres said in a speech at Oxford University.
Peres ignored hecklers declaring their support for a Palestinian state and told an audience of around 1,000 university students that Israel was negotiating with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon to find peace in the Middle East…..
Earlier in the day, Peres had spoken on Syria and said making peace with Syria depends on whether Damascus is prepared to rein in Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Peres said in a BBC radio interview Tuesday morning that Syria cannot expect Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights while Iran furthers its influence in Lebanon with the help of Syria. Israel is not prepared to tolerate an Iranian presence on its border, Peres said…
Berri urges Kuwait to mediate between Syria, Saudi Arabia
By Hussein Abdallah
The Daily Star, 19 November 2008
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri urged Kuwait’s emir on Tuesday to play a role in achieving a rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia. Following talks with Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah in Kuwait City, Berri said that relations between Arab states should improve, stressing that a “Syrian-Saudi rapprochement is a must.”…
Kuwaiti Speaker Jassem al-Khorafi, who attended the meeting, praised Berri’s concern for Arab unity as well as the “resistance’s victory against Israel in the summer war of 2006.”
Late on Monday, Berri told members of the Lebanese community in Kuwait that he was confident that the situation in Lebanon would improve, adding that Lebanese parties were committed to forging political reconciliations…
Iraq: “Worse than the occupation itself!” – On the US-Iraqi security agreement (mideastwire.com)
On November 20, Syria’s state-controlled Teshreen daily ran a column by Ezz al-Din al-Darwich saying that whatever one chose to call the US-Iraqi security agreement, it “contradicts with the sovereignty of countries and does not conform to the provisions of international law”.
“In addition, it provokes the fears of the Iraqis, or at least most of them, and pushes Iraq’s neighbors to raise dozens of questions about the content, the timing, and the short and long term purposes of this agreement.”
Some say it is merely a gift to outgoing US President George Bush, who caused Iraq’s problems.
“Iraq’s neighboring countries have the right to express their fears and to take necessary cautionary steps and exercise vigilance, since their experiences with the Americans are very bitter,” al-Darwich wrote, in a reference to Syria.
“The US raid on the Boukamal area in Syria is still in the minds of the Iraqis, the Syrians and all the Iraqi neighboring countries. Thus, the Iraqis affirm that this agreement is worse than the occupation itself.”
Petition will urge Damascus to free imprisoned dissidents
By Dalila Mahdawi
The Daily Star, 19 November 2008
The Samir Kassir’sEyes (SK EYES) organization announced on Monday that it was launching a petition calling for the release of 12 Syrian dissidents jailed for having signed the Damascus Declaration. SK EYES, which is dedicated to defending cultural and media freedom in the Arab Levant, was initiated by the Samir Kassir Foundation but officially launched as an independent organization earlier this month. It collects and distributes information about attacks against writers and journalists in the region.
Speaking at a press conference, internationally acclaimed Lebanese novelist and journalist Elias Khoury, who heads the SK EYES coalition of journalists, activists and intellectuals, told reporters “the campaign also aimed to support Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa, detainees who have still not been released despite the decision of the Syrian Court of Cassation to overturn their sentences”.
Kilo and Issa are both signatories to the Damascus Declaration, issued in 2005 by a number of Syrian opposition parties and intellectual figures seeking to “establish a national democratic regime [for] … change and peaceful political reform based on dialogue.” Since then, many of the Declaration’s signatories have been imprisoned, put under house arrest or dismissed from their jobs. In October, 12 of its signatories were sentenced to 30 months imprisonment for “inciting sectarian strife” in Syria.
Speaking to The Daily Star on Tuesday, Khoury said that “the oppression of culture and media is a sign of the decadence in the Arab world.” He added, “Without freedom in the region, its societies are condemned to become prisons.”
Ammar Abdulhamid’s al-Tharwa organziation has put together a most useful and enlightening series of interviews with poor Syrians. Also see the interview with David Commins: Syrian Identity Through History