Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, July 11th, 2012
Syrian opposition leaders are visiting Russia shortly after Russia announced that it will dock warships in Syria. Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of State, explains (below) why he believes that Russia is reassessing its commitment to Assad because it no longer believes that Assad can subdue the rebellion. SNC leader, Abdelbaset Sieda, says that after talks with Russia’s foreign minister he sees “no change” in Moscow’s stance toward Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Russia circulated among U.N. Security Council members early Wednesday a draft resolution to extend a U.N. mission in Syria for three months. Critics say this is so it can shift focus from monitoring a non-existent truce to securing a political solution to the conflict, as violent crackdown left more deaths across the country. Meanwhile, Western Powers to Circulate UN Chapter 7 Resolution on Syria.
From the AFP: An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on July 10, 2012 allegedly shows a tank from forces loyal to the Syrian government being hit by a projectile in the town of Izaz, outside of Aleppo and on the Turkish-Syrian border. We don’t know whether the tank was destroyed or if this anti-tank weapon is a RPG or something new being supplied by western companies through the Gulf countries.
Stratfor’s Bokhari and Bella remind us why a Sunni win in Syria is likely to impact the balance of power in Iraq more perhaps than in Lebanon. After all, the Sunni insurgency in Iraq is active and believes it can gain politically through violence against the Shia-dominated government. If the Sunni insurgency in Syria takes power, it may be willing to support the Iraqi Sunnis, particularly if Saudi and the Gulf states fund Jihad there in a continuing effort to limit Iran’s influence in the region and encourage regime-change in Tehran.
Release Rami Makhlouf: Buying Syria One Bank at a Time – Wikileaks
Wikileaks has published Rami Makhlouf statements of syp 135 million stock purchases through his Cham Capital, which is owned by his Ramak Group. This is Jan 2011 before the revolt and a small sum. All the same, the wikileaks allows others to track his money moves.
SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ DEFECTED TO KURDISTAN’S IRBIL:ARABIYA
“… Turkey depends on natural gas imports from Russia and Iran and a reminder on that may be a way to move Erdogan away from supporting the insurgents. Russia also has troops in Armenia, another neighbor to which Turkey is rather hostile, and is said to increase its troop size there to divisional strength. (The Armenia – Azerbaijan conflict is heating up and, with western support for Azerbaijan, may become one of the hot spots if the conflict over Syria or Iran escalates.) The Russian troop increase and the next two items seem intended to keep any western power away from stupid ideas….”
Considering a Sunni Regime in Syria | Stratfor
July 10, 2012 | Stratfor By Reva Bhalla and Kamran Bokhari
As one astute observer of the Syrian conflict explained, the al Assad regime is like a melting block of ice. The Alawite core of the block is frozen intact because the minorities fear the consequences of losing power to a Sunni majority. We have not yet seen the mass defections and breakdown in command and control within the military that would suggest that large chunks of this block are breaking off. But the Sunni patronage networks around that core that keep the state machinery running are slowly starting to melt. The more this block melts, the more fragile it becomes and the more likely we are to see cracks form closer and closer to the center. At that point, the al Assad regime will become highly prone to a palace coup scenario….
A Revival of the Mesopotamian Battleground?
It is safe to assume that Syria, between the fall of the Alawite regime and the turbulent emergence of a new, Sunni-empowered regime, would experience an interregnum defined by considerable chaos. Amid the sectarian disorder, a generation would remain of battle-hardened and ideologically driven militants belonging to Sunni nationalist and transnational jihadist camps who in the past decade have fought against regimes in Baghdad and Damascus. These jihadists harbor expectations that they will be able to aid their struggling allies in Iraq if they gain enough operating space in Syria. Under these circumstances, it is easy to imagine a revived militant flow into Iraq, and this time under much looser control.
Thus, the regional campaign against Iran is unlikely to end in Syria. Should Sunnis gain the upper hand in Syria, the Shiite-led bloc in Lebanon (led by Hezbollah and its allies) will likely lose its dominant status. Turkish, Saudi and Qatari backing for Sunnis in the Levant and the rise of Islamists in the Arab states will be focused on creating a more formidable bulwark against Iran and its Arab Shiite allies.
The most important battleground to watch in this regard will be Iraq. There are a number of regional stakeholders who are not satisfied with Baghdad’s Iranian-backed Shiite government. There also likely will be a healthy Sunni militant flow to draw from the Syrian crisis. These militants will not only need to be kept occupied so that they do not return home to cause trouble, but they can also serve a strategic purpose in reviving the campaign of marginalized Sunnis against Shiite domination. Iran may feel comfortable in Iraq now, but the domino effect from Syria could place Iran back on the defensive in Iraq, which has the potential to re-emerge as the main arena for the broader Arab Sunni versus Persian Shiite struggle for regional influence.
Syria: portrait of a town divided and gripped by civil war
Linking the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, Atarib is a vital supply line for whosoever controls it in Syria. Ruth Sherlock meets some of the residents who have suffered.
By Ruth Sherlock, Atarib – Telegraph
That is the question beyondbrics found itself asking after it had a look at Turkey’s latest trade figures.
According to data released by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), Turkey’s trade with Iran in May rose a whopping 513.2 per cent to hit $1.7bn. Of this, gold exports to its eastern neighbour accounted for the bulk of the increase. Nearly $1.4bn worth of gold was exported to Iran, accounting for 84 per cent of Turkey’s trade with the country.
So what’s going on?
In a nutshell – sanctions and oil.
In recent months, western powers, notably the US and the European Union, have tightened financial sanctions on the Islamic regime in an attempt to force Iran to scale back or halt its efforts to enrich uranium.
In March, Iran was cut off from from Swift, the global payments network, effectively blocking the country from performing any international financial transactions.
With Tehran struggling to repatriate the hard currency it earns from crude oil exports – its main foreign currency earner and the economic lifeblood of the country – Iran has began accepting alternative means of payments – including gold, renminbi and rupees, for oil in an attempt to skirt international sanctions and pay for its soaring food costs.
“Iran is very keen to increase the share of gold in its total reserves,” says Gokhan Aksu, vice chairman of Istanbul Gold Refinery, one of Turkey’s biggest gold firms. “You can always transfer gold into cash without losing value.”
Turkey’s gold exports to Iran are part of the picture. As TurkStat itself noted, the gold exports were for “non-monetary purpose exportation”. Translation: they were sent in place of dollars for oil.
Iran furnishes about 40 percent of Turkey’s oil, making it the largest single supplier, according to Turkey’s energy ministry. While Turkey has sharply reduced its oil imports from Iran as a result of pressure from the US and the EU, it is unlikely to cut this to zero. The country pays about $6 a barrel less for Iranian oil than Brent crude, according to a recent Goldman Sachs report.
According to Ugur Gurses, an economic and financial columnist for the Turkish daily Radikal, Turkey exported 58 tonnes of gold to Iran between March and May this year alone.
“I saw the surge back in March, when gold exports increased by 36 times compared to March of 2011,” Gurses told beyondbrics. “I waited to see if the trend would evolve. Effectively, Iran converted $3bn of its reserves into gold through financial operations with Turkey, bypassing sanctions.”
Iran’s woes have proved to be a boon to Turkey’s current accounts. Turkey’s trade deficit narrowed by $1.6bn in May, compared to the same period last year. For the year to end of May, the deficit narrowed by $8.3bn, compared to the same period last year.
The Russian government shares many of the U.S. concerns about the continuing violence in Syria, but Moscow is reluctant to embrace Washington’s proposals.
10.07.2012 Northern Fleet (NF) destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and three Russian amphibious assault ships left NF Main Base Severomorsk on July 10. The high official from Russian Ministry of Defence told Central Navy Portal.
Three amphibious assault ships transport Marine Corps submits on-board. Baltic Fleet guard frigat Yaroslav Mudry and auxiliary ships, based in Baltiysk, will join Admiral Chabanenko later. According to information available to Central Navy Portal, naval ships move into the Mediterranean Sea, into Syria water area.
À crew member from one of the ships confirmed the information. He also noticed, that the three-months mission in the Mediterranean Sea for Admiral Chabanenko and three Russain amphibious assault ships was planned in advance.
Russia said on Tuesday that it had dispatched a flotilla of 11 warships to the eastern Mediterranean, some of which would dock in Syria. It would be the largest display of Russian military power in the region since the Syrian conflict began almost 17 months ago. Nearly half of the ships were capable of carrying hundreds of marines. …
But the unusually large size of the force announced on Tuesday was considered a message, not just to the region but also to the United States and other nations supporting the rebels now trying to depose Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.
Tartus consists of little more than a floating refueling station and some small barracks. But any strengthened Russian presence there could forestall Western military intervention in Syria. …
Russia’s Mixed Signals Regarding Syria
July 11, 2012 | Stratfor
…So as the al Assad regime’s prospects for survival have become increasingly hazy, Russia has had to adjust its calculus. On one hand, Moscow would prefer to prop up its ally al Assad, or at least the government he has come to represent. On the other hand, Russia has interests in the country that transcend al Assad and the ruling Alawite regime.
Therefore Russia has sent — and will continue to send — mixed signals regarding its intentions with Syria. From hosting Syrian opposition delegations in Moscow to following a weapons moratorium announcement with a large-scale naval deployment to the Mediterranean, Russia is keeping its true intentions hidden.
Moscow’s Marines Head for Syria
The Russians have dispatched a naval task force to Syria. As if the place wasn’t enough of a mess already.
BY MARK KATZ | JULY 10, 2012
Ahmet Davutoglu – Turkey’s Foreign Minister talks to Marc Perelman of France 24: Davutoglu calls on the international community to act more firmly to usher in a transition in Syria without Assad.
Al-Assad and the Alawites
By: Abdullah Al-Otaibi | Asharq Alawsat
…Al-Assad’s marked bias towards his Alawite minority and his family – an attribute which he inherited from his father and which he thinks could be the way for his salvation – may in fact accelerate his downfall. Syria is a country of multiple religions and ideological sects with ethnic and tribal loyalties. Therefore, in view of the blatant Alawi sectarian orientation adopted by the regime, there is a strong endeavor to unify all these variant categories and the Sunni majority to face the regime.
The al-Assad regime is almost over, and now it is only a question of time before the regime’s illusions collapse on its head. If Bashar al-Assad is to find shelter in the outskirts of Tehran or Moscow, his Alawite sect will still remain in Syria. Hence today it is the duty of rational Alawites to side with the people and the country, and announce their complete disavowal of al-Assad’s sectarian and blood-thirsty policies; otherwise the son’s legacy in Syria will be even worse than his father’s.
The future of our Arab republics seems to be full of sectarianism, fractured social loyalties, and the ideologies and organizations of political Islam. However, the future is not promising in terms of development, civilization, awareness and advancement.
Syria’s Deadlock Can Be Broken Only By an Arms Embargo
By: Jonathan Steele | The Guardian
Russia and the west must use their leverage to bring about a ceasefire and halt Syria’s descent into full-scale civil war
As Islamists Gain Influence, Washington Reassesses Who Its Friends Are
By Scott Shane | The New York Times
Long-held beliefs about allies and potential enemies have been upset as the Obama administration navigates the tumultuous events of the Arab Spring.
Syria’s many new friends are a self-interested bunch
The National 21/7/12 – Charles Glass
In France, representatives of the US, Turkey, Britain, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, South Korea, the UN and the rest demonstrated their friendship in a communique as vague as it was biased. The group urged more economic sanctions, humanitarian assistance to victims of violence and “stronger United Nations Security Council action.” It promised punishment for government war criminals, while neglecting to suggest that rebels who violate the Geneva Conventions should receive so much as a parking fine
NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: CNN on the topic of whether Elections are stopping US Intervention in Syria. Is Russia stopping it? Does US support Democracy in Egypt or the Military?
AMANPOUR: Let’s go straight to the heart of the matter. We’ve been seeing signals from Russia over the last 24 hours, at least, that there seems to be some kind of shift, at least publicly, the Russians agreeing to host the Syrian opposition, the Russians saying that they wouldn’t be sending new weapons to Syria and basically a call for Assad to talk to his adversaries.
What do you think that signifies?
BURNS: Well, Christiane, I think it’s apparent that the Russians are now reconsidering whether or not they believe that Bashar al-Assad can stay in power. As long as they believe that he might weather the crisis in Syria, they were supporting him with everything they had, including blocking Security Council resolutions put forward by the U.S. and others.
But since the defection of that senior military officer in Damascus, and the continued ferocity of the opposition in Syria, the Russians appear to be hedging their bets now. As you said, tomorrow there will be a meeting in Moscow with the Russian foreign minister and the leading anti- Assad coalition group.
And the F-130s, the advance military jets that were promised to Syrian Air Force will now not be coming. So the Russians are sending a quite powerful message to Assad that they can’t — that he cannot bank on their support, and I think that’s highly significant.
AMANPOUR: Or, as I explained in the lead-in to you, we had talked yesterday to Dimitri Simes, who I know you know. And let me just play you what he told us about this very relationship.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIMITRI SIMES, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR THE NATIONAL INTEREST: Russia would not welcome such an intervention; Russia would not approve such an intervention. It would not resist such an intervention and this intervention would not become a major issue in the U.S.-Russian relationship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Ambassador, he’s basically saying that he had hosted a top-level meeting, including a Russian delegation. And the very question of intervention was raised, and it was very strongly addressed as he put it. That seems to me a green light now for the U.S., likeminded international capitals, to decided to do what they want to do.
BURNS: Well, President Putin gave a speech this — yesterday morning, I should say, in Moscow, where he was very clear that he felt that there had to be a diplomatic solution, some kind of an agreement between Assad and the opposition as opposed to military intervention. So I would, with respect, I don’t agree with Dimitri Simes.
I think the Russians still would block any kind of planned international military intervention. They’d use their veto in Security Council for that. I just think that Russia is trying to put itself in the driver’s seat to be a potential peacemaker between Assad and the opposition, and they’re trying to preserve their influence.
AMANPOUR: Absolutely. I’m sure that’s all true. But of course, you know better than all that President Putin often says things in public. In fact, many leaders do for domestic consumption.
What he was talking about, Dimitri Simes, was not so much a U.N. Security Council resolution, but a Kosovo-style act. I mean, you were in the Clinton and Bush administrations. You remember when President Clinton went around Russia, intervened in Kosovo, and Russia did not stand in the way. Might not have liked it; Milosevic was much closer of an ally than Assad is.
So is it feasible to say, as Dimitri Simes has, that actually the U.S. and the West is hiding behind Russia, and using that as an alibi to take even stronger measures, even short of intervention?
BURNS: I don’t agree with that. I don’t think so. I think Dimitri’s not correct about that. I do think there is still, in effect, a Russian and Chinese veto.
The Chinese also, as a matter of precedent, don’t want to see United States march into another country to overthrow the regime and second, Christiane, as you know well and you’ve covered on your show, there are really important problems about any kind of military intervention. Libya was relatively easier for a variety of reasons.
Syria, because it’s dense urban warfare would be a very, very difficult undertaking. I think there are a lot of reasons why the United States has been reluctant.
AMANPOUR: How much do you think U.S. presidential elections are playing into this? And let’s be very frank. President Obama has essentially staked his presidency — well, no, even before. He took a position that he wanted to end these American military interventions and adventures. He has done in Iraq. He’s talking about withdrawing from Afghanistan. I mean, it’s on track. He obviously doesn’t want to get into another adventure.
How much are these elections playing into a decision right now?
BURNS: You know, it’s hard to say what’s — what factor the elections are going to play in a specific foreign policy case like Syria. I do think you’re seeing a great deal of caution from the United States.
And, frankly, I think it’s warranted, because Syria, of course, an explosion in Syria or a further problem in Syria caused by a U.S. intervention, would have repercussions for Lebanon, for Jordan and for Israel. So I think there is a premium here to be very cautious as they move forward.
Having said that, obviously the United States would like to see the continuation of efforts by countries like Turkey and Qatar (ph) and Saudi Arabia to put pressure on Assad. I still think the U.S. prefers a scenario where Assad leaves voluntarily rather than he leaves because the U.S. 82nd Airborne has marched into Damascus.
AMANPOUR: All right. But you know that nobody’s going to be marching in anyway, and nobody’s made that suggestion. But you do — you raise an interesting point. You talk about what could be a possible deal for Assad to step down. What do you think the United States should do diplomatically to facilitate Russia’s diplomacy?
BURNS: Well, you know, I think that Russia is a key country here. It obviously has a lot of interest in both Syria and Iran, and those are two key actors, and the Iranians have a lot of influence on Damascus. President Putin, if he chooses to play this, could become, in effect, the lead international diplomat in trying to convince President Assad to leave power, to exit Syria, to go into exile in some third country, perhaps in a deal to be forgiven any possibility of imprisonment or being tried for war crimes.
If President Putin wanted to be the one to make that happen, I think that you’d find a lot of countries supporting him, including possibly the United States and the European countries themselves.
AMANPOUR: Let’s go back to the role of U.S. elections and a more robust effort to find a solution to Syria. You talk about President Putin. You don’t really believe that he wouldn’t oppose — he wouldn’t oppose intervention.
But what about what the Turks are trying to do? And you just mentioned Turkey. As you know, the Turkish foreign minister came to Washington, met with secretary of state, met with a lot of State Department and other officials and presented a slew of alternatives, all the way from a coalition of the willing, with the Arabs on board, buffer zones at Syria’s border — which, by the way, the defectors have told us, if only there were buffer zones, you’d see the whole army defecting — humanitarian corridors to the besieged cities and a joint effort to help organize the army defectors.
He said that the U.S. basically said, no until after November, again raising this specter, that it is U.S. politics at the moment, despite the difficulties, as we know, that’s standing in the way. What do you make of the Turks saying that? It’s not Simes now, or Putin.
BURNS: Well, I didn’t hear the Turks say that, but you know, I think the Turks have been — you know, their relationship fell apart with Syria. There has been — there’s very bad blood between Prime Minister Erdogan and President Assad. The Turks are obviously trying to push the United States.
But the U.S. has to calculate not just the domestic impact in our elections here, but how about the foreign policy impact in countries that really matter to us? I’m thinking first and foremost of Israel, the importance of stability on the Golan Heights and Israel’s northern border, and of course Jordan and Lebanon, which are much more unstable countries.
I think the U.S. is trying to do no harm here. They obviously — we obviously want to see Assad leave power. They want to see the opposition strengthened. They want to see Assad out the door. I think the U.S. is still of a mindset they’d prefer to see that happen because Syrians make it happen rather than the United States taking a lead in a Kosovo- or a Libya- style military coalition.
AMANPOUR: And just before we switch to Egypt, Ehud Barak, the defense minister of Israel, told me in no uncertain terms that they think it’s time for some kind of intervention and to get rid of Assad like that.
But, look, let’s move to Egypt. What we’ve seen today is — and I know that you were a member of the staff of the embassy there in the `80s, so you know that country very, very well. There was a consultation (ph) today between the new president, Mohammed Morsi, and essentially the military, when he reconvened parliament for a very short period of time.
The military has now said — or rather the courts — that they stand by their decision; parliament is dissolved. So let’s see what happens. But in the meantime, why is the United States, the bastion of democracy, continuing to pay the military $1 billion a year with no conditions attached in terms of democracy?
Don’t you think it’s time for the U.S. to say, look here, we like you; we support you. You’re our ally (ph), but you can’t go around hijacking democracy if you want our billions.
BURNS: Well, I think United States is trying to preserve the influence that it does have with the Egyptian military at a really critical time.
Here, again, Christiane, I suspect that the motivation in Washington and some other capitals is, again, can we work with both sides — in this case the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi and the Egyptian military — to try to get them to work out some modus vivendi, some way for them to coexist, live together, share power and have Egyptian democracy evolve in a positive direction.
I think the fear is that if United States comes down on one side or another and begins to pick winners and losers, it actually might exacerbate the problems in Egypt itself. And it was an extraordinary day in Egypt today.
And you saw a very bold move by Mohammed Morsi to, in effect, try to take back some of the powers that the military took from him just before the presidential elections. But I think the U.S. hopes it sees the Muslim Brotherhood rising in influence. It wants to have a relationship with them. It wants to retain influence with the new leadership.
But it understands that the military will have a say on certain questions, and particularly on security, the U.S. interests are paramount. The peace treaty with Israel and of course Egypt helping to block Iran. So the U.S. is trying not just to have it both ways, to have influence in two camps that may be sparring in Cairo for months into the future.
AMANPOUR: In one word, you said U.S. doesn’t want to come down on one side or the other. Doesn’t the U.S. have to come down on the side of democracy? The freely elected president?
BURNS: Well, I think — I think they did. When President Obama called President Morsi on the day of his election, the president and the White House have made very clear that we support the legitimacy of this new government, the Muslim Brotherhood government, that we want to see the results of the elections actually take hold and not be stolen by the courts.
I think the U.S. has actually stood up for democracy, whether we use our influence, Christiane, with the $1.3 billion, I think if the military began to act in clearly anti-democratic ways and tried to arrest the movement of this new government, then you might see some consideration of that in Washington.