Posted by Joshua on Monday, June 14th, 2010
Tit-for-tat Diplomatic War between Syria and US:
Syrian Visas for Americans are no longer being issued at the border with Lebanon, Jordan, or Turkey. They must be procured in Washington. For the last few years Syria did issue visas at the border, but made Americans wait between an hour to seven hours before issuing them. Now they are not being issued at all. This appears to be part of the tit-for-tat diplomatic war being waged between the two countries. Washington recently refused to confirm Ambassador Ford as the new US envoy to Damascus. Fulbright graduate students have also been running into increased troubles. A fairly large number of graduate Fulbrighters have been denied entry back into Syria once they leave the country at the end of their grants. Faculty Fulbright Grants seem no longer to be advertised at all. One recent recipient was denied permission by the Syrian government and is seeking permission to go elsewhere even though her topic on Syria is fairly advanced.
Addendum: A WORD OF ADVICE TO FUTURE FULBRIGHT SCHOLARS IN SYRIA:
Dear Professor Landis,
I commend you on having addressed a troubling trend which has become apparent in the Fulbright program in Syria. Over the past two years, most of the American Fulbright fellows who were in Syria were either deported or prevented from returning to Syria upon the completion of their grants. This occurred in the cases of all Fulbright grantees who studied in Syria in 2007-08, no exceptions. Most were informed that they were banned from reentering Syria upon leaving the country; others were either deported or prevented from reentering the country after their departures. The only two Fulbright fellows who studied in Syria in 2008-09 who attempted to return to Syria after the completion of their grants were denied entry. We can only assume that the same pattern will be repeated with future groups of Fulbright fellows. I advise all future Fulbright fellows to Syria to think twice before accepting the grant, because they might end up in a situation in which they can never return to Syria, one the main cultural and historical centres of the Middle East. Unfortunately, the Fulbright program and IIE have not done enough to solve problems surrounding the Fulbright program. We can only hope that this situation will improve pending ambassador Ford’s confirmation. Sadly, scholars pay the price for the sins of politicians, and being a scholar in the Middle East has never been more difficult. I hope, at the very least, that this note will help open people’s eyes to the reality of a situation which has inflicted untold damage on the academic and professional lives of scholars from diverse backgrounds who are committed to studying Syrian history and culture with an open mind and in the spirit of mutual exchange and cooperation.
BBC MidEast: Syrian, US sources deny reports Syrian envoy withdrawn from Washington [JL – Word has it that Ambassador Moustapha is now enjoying himself on the French Riviera]
2010-06-14 Excerpt from report by London-based independent newspaper Al- Quds al-Arabi website on 14 June
[Report by Kamil Saqr in Damascus: “Following Senate’s Refusal To Appoint Robert Ford Ambassador in Damascus, US and Syrian Sources; Ambassador Mustafa’s Long Vacation Does Not Mean a Call Back From his Duties”] The sparse information from US and Syrian sources in the Syrian capital Damascus about the issue of the long stay which the Syrian ambassador to the United States is spending inside Syria has resulted in an almost identical denial that this long stay implies a decision by the Syrian leadership to withdraw its Ambassador in Washington Imad Mustafa following the US Senate’s rejection of Robert Ford who was nominated by President Obama’s administration to be its ambassador in Damascus.
In the details that “Al-Quds al-Arabi” has obtained, a high- level Syrian source with connections to the Syrian Foreign Ministry expressed its surprise at the reports that Syria had withdrawn Imad Mustafa, its ambassador in Washington, in response to Washington’s delay in sending its ambassador to Damascus. It pointed out that Amb. Mustafa “is having a working vacation” in Syria and took part in several official occasions and meetings in Damascus. When the same source was asked if matters had recently reached what could be a dead end in the prospects of the political dialogue and thus prompted Syria to withdraw its ambassador, the source said contacts were continuing between the Syrian and American capitals and there was no blocked prospect between the two countries…..
Three Opposition rights activists Freed
Three opposition rights activists Freed who called for democratic change in Syria were freed on Sunday after serving out their full jail terms, a human rights group said
Sunday, June 13, 2010
By: AP writers
DAMASCUS, June 13, 2010 (AFP) – Three opposition rights activists who called for democratic change in Syria were freed on Sunday after serving out their full jail terms, a human rights group said.
“The Syrian authorities today released Akram Bunni, Jabr al-Shufi and Ahmed Tomeh after they had served their sentences” for signing the so-called Damascus Declaration, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.
The three were among 12 signatories of the Damascus Declaration, which calls for democratic change, who were sentenced to 30 months in jail in October 2008 in a court in the Syrian capital for “damaging the state.”
“The remaining Damascus Declaration leaders will be released in the coming days,” the SOHR said in a statement.
Those still in jail are author Ali Abdullah, Dr Walid Bunni, former MP Riad Seif and Fidaa Hurani, Yasser al-Iti, Mohammed Haji Darwish, Marwan al-Ish, Fayez Sara and Talal Abu-Dan.
Akram Bunni, freed on Sunday, is a brother of human rights lawyer Anwar Bunni, who is serving a five-year jail term. The rights group welcomed the releases, and urged the government to “free all prisoners of conscience in Syrian prisons to bring an end to this issue.” It also urged Damascus to “allow the return of all exiles who fear being jailed” if they come home, and to “pass a law allowing political parties and civil groups to operate in Syria in a way that would preserve national unity.”
Egyptian police seized Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian man, at a cyber-cafe in Alexandria and proceeded to beat him to death. The event sparked protest and condemnation, with protests at the Alexandria prosecutor’s office, widespread outrage in online forums, and calls by international human rights groups for a full investigation. On Sunday protests spread to Cairo, where police arrested dozens of demonstrators, reportedly beating many of them. The incident brings to the forefront concerns over Egypt’s record of torture and other egregious human rights violations. …
Ayman Abdalnour’s website – All4Syria – has published an article purporting to explain the The New Syrian Bourgeoisie. The author breaks down the new wealthy into sections, such as the military bourgeoisie, traditional, government, etc. It lists names and is controversial. One reader of Syria Comment writes:
Dear Joshua, I would not link to this article. There is a lot more credible news out there than this sensational populist leftist reporting. I cannot believe you are promoting anything from all4Syria, especially this leftist, communist propaganda. Who uses the term “bourgeoisie” anymore? I was once accused by a stupid university guard who was wearing flip flops and carrying a big Kalashnikov, of being a bourgeois because I took a taxicab to university in Damascus. Joshua, these are fighting words.
U.S. Deploys Tech Firms to Win Syrian Allies Article
By JAY SOLOMON in Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON—The State Department has dispatched a high-level diplomatic and trade mission to Syria, according to senior U.S. officials, marking the latest bid by the Obama administration to woo President Bashar al-Assad away from his strategic alliance with Iran.
The U.S. delegation comprises senior executives from some of America’s top technology companies, including Microsoft Corp., Dell Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Symantec Corp., according to the U.S. officials. All these companies’ businesses in Syria are constrained by U.S. sanctions.
The mission is controversial, given recent U.S. allegations that Syria transferred missiles to the Lebanese militant radical group Hezbollah. Syria, Hezbollah and Lebanon deny the allegations.
U.S. officials said the group will meet with Mr. Assad and his cabinet and seek to facilitate the flow of information technology into the Arab state, which is ranked by watchdog group Freedom House as among the most repressive in the world. The delegation will also meet with Syrian businessmen, members of the country’s civil society and travel to two leading Syrian universities in a four-day stay, ending Thursday.
Mr. Assad has previously expressed to the Obama administration his desire to develop Syria’s telecommunications infrastructure, which has been imperiled by U.S. sanctions since 2004, according to American officials involved in the trip.
“We’re going into this open-minded. This has never been done before with a country of this nature,” said a senior U.S. official. “We’re hopeful and optimistic that this will lead to collaborations. But that’s something we can’t be sure about until the trip is done.”
The delegation is being led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s point man on global promotion of Internet freedoms, Alec Ross…..
“I think the administration is fooling itself it believes that this type of engagement will bring about a more democratic Syria,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian dissident based in Washington. “Assad has shown absolutely no signs of loosening his grip on society, and in many ways he’s gotten worse.”
Mrs. Clinton has made the spread of information technology a cornerstone of her foreign-policy mandate, arguing it can aid the global development of democracy and civil society.
In recent months, the Obama administration has taken steps to ease exports of certain types of telecommunications equipment and antifiltering software that were previously banned from entering countries such as Iran, China and Sudan out of concern they would be used as tools of government oppression.
Syria is Iran’s closest strategic and diplomatic ally. U.S. officials have publicly voiced their interest in driving a wedge between the two, in part by appealing to Mr. Assad’s desire to modernize his economy.
U.S. sanctions ban the sale of virtually all high-technology equipment and parts to Syria. But the legislation provides the White House with waiver powers that can allow U.S. companies to sell certain products to the Syrian market.
Over the past year, U.S. officials said they have facilitated the sales of spare airplane parts to Syria’s national carrier as part of the process. Members of the current U.S. mission to Syria said it is aimed at assisting companies such as Microsoft and Cisco to more easily enter the Syrian market.
Opposition among Republicans on Capitol Hill toward the Obama administration’s engagement policy with Syria remains strong. A number of leading Republican senators have threatened to place a hold on the White House’s nominee for ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, until they are given a clearer reading on Syria’s alleged arms transfers of missiles to Hezbollah.
U.S. officials said they briefed lawmakers in Congress ahead of the trip and believed the State Department had their support.
Turkey, the 16th largest economy in the world and the 6th largest economy in Europe, has proposed a free trade zone with Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Turkey’s trade with Arab countries topped USD 29 billion in 2009. Its trade with Iran was $10 billion in 2008. Erdoghan recently said that he expects Turkey to be the 10th largest economy in the world by 2025.
Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to Set Up Free Trade Zone
Written by Adam Gonn
Published Sunday, June 13, 2010
As Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria sign free trade agreement, analysts discuss whether a new regional trading zone is in the cards.
Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria have agreed to set-up a regional agreement that would allow for free trade and travel between the four countries.
The news, first reported by the Lebanese business website iloubnan.info, would mean the removal of visas for travel between the four countries, as well as the establishment of a joint cooperation council to develop a free trade zone.
The deal, signed by the foreign ministers of the four countries on the sidelines of the Turkey-Arab Cooperation Forum in Istanbul, comes only one week after Turkey presented a range of measures to strengthen its economic ties with its eastwards neighbors, including Syria, Iraq and Iran. ….
* Major Arab banks setting up branches in Syria
* Bankers see opportunities if reforms continue
* Private bank assets may reach $30 bln in 3 years
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis DAMASCUS, June 14 (Reuters) – After decades of state control and isolation, Syria’s moves to ease restrictions on its banking sector offer international banks a potentially lucrative opportunity in one of the last untapped Arab markets.
Big regional banks, which include Jordan’s Arab Bank, Qatar National Bank and Lebanon’s Bank Audi, boosted branch numbers to 145 last year from 83 in 2008, despite currency and financial restraints.
And though Western banks are still steering clear, 13 newer entrants have increased their assets in Syria to $9 billion — out of total bank assets of $43 billion — and one banker said he expected that figure to triple in three years.
“Conditions in Syria are not perfect, but if reforms continue it will be one of the most important Middle East markets in the next five years,” said Hassan Heikal, chief executive officer of Egypt’s EFG-Hermes which plans to launch a $250-300 million private equity fund in Syria.
The expansion has been spurred by Syria’s cautious steps towards liberalisation started by President Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his late father, Hafez al-Assad in 2000.
New regulations have allowed foreign majority shareholding of banks and trade finance, but foreign banks cannot open branches outright in Syria. Banks can also adjust interest rates within an expanded four percentage point margin set by the central bank, but the Syrian pound is not fully convertible.
The central bank says reforms can only be gradual, pointing to regulations limiting exposure to outside markets that have helped Syrian banks weather the financial crisis.
But financiers say the banking sector will not thrive if the state keeps maintains its dominant role in the economy, a legacy of four decades of Baath Party rule that discouraged foreign investment and caused capital to flee.
Bassel Hamwi, who heads the Syrian unit of Bank Audi, said he expected private sector bank assets to grow to $23-35 billion over the next three years and predicted a “bonanza” if U.S. sanctions were lifted, Syria privatised state assets, issued treasury bills and allowed private sector banks to compete with state banks for government business….
NEW APPLICANTS – Western banks have stayed away from Syria, partly due to U.S. sanctions imposed on Damascus since 2004 for its support of militant groups. The U.S. Treasury also imposed specific sanctions on well connected Syrians for corruption.
But the central bank expects to receive applications for three Gulf bank licences, including Saudi Arabia’s Samba, and is working on an investment banking law.
Egypt’s state-owned Banque Misr said last week it has received approval to open in Syria. Turkey’s Akbank said it was also looking into the Syrian market, and Syria’s finance minister said on Friday Turkey’s state-run Ziraat Bank would take a stake of up to 60 percent in a joint bank in Syria…
Criticism of Israel permitted in US policy shift
Tuesday June 8, 2010
UNITED NATIONS, June 8 (Reuters) – Under President Barack Obama, the United States no longer provides Israel with automatic support at the United Nations where the Jewish state faces a constant barrage of criticism and condemnation….
In an article called “Joining the jackals,” Elliott Abrams, who advised two Republican administrations and is now at the Council on Foreign Relations, accused Obama of exposing Israel to a virtual UN “lynch mob.”
“The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel,” Abrams said. “Rather, its policy is one of distancing and pressure.”
Abrams also criticized the White House over the recent five-year review conference of signatories to the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that Israel, like nuclear-armed Pakistan and India, has never signed.
Washington backed a call for a 2012 meeting of all countries in the Middle East to discuss making the region a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction — a plan originally proposed by Egypt with Arab backing to add pressure on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons.
After allowing it to pass, the U.S. delegation criticized the NPT final declaration for “singling out” Israel, which neither confirms nor denies having atomic weapons.
This statement did not satisfy commentators like Abrams, who said Obama had “abandoned Israel in the U.N. and in the NPT conference in the course of one week.”
Some analysts say Washington wants to improve ties with Arab nations and regain lost status as a neutral peace arbiter while being careful not to alienate pro-Israel voters.
“During the George W. Bush years, Washington’s automatic siding with Israel on any issue seriously eroded what had been America’s long-standing posture as an honest broker in the Middle East,” said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
“Obama has been trying to reclaim that status, while keeping in mind the domestic political need of not being seen as anti-Israel,” he said….
American Enterprise Institute: On June 10 a Whose Who of neocons praised Syria and the accomplishments of President Bashar al-Assad on the occasion of his 10th anniversary as president. See Elliott Abrams, Tony Badran, Scott Carpenter, Danielle Pletka, David Schenker, Brian Fishman, William D. Wunderle, Bill Harris, Andrew Tabler, and Michael Rubin spoke on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Bashar’s ascension to power. See their remarks by clicking: Click full video and you will be taken to a link where you can select to view any specific speaker’s comments.
Turkey’s shift spurs concern on Capitol Hill
Flotilla clash draws scorn
By Rowan Scarborough
8:38 p.m., Sunday, June 13, 2010
Rep. Mike Pence said on the House floor that Turkey’s actions are “deeply troubling.” (Associated Press)PrintEmailView 10Comment(s)Enlarge Text|ShrinkClick-2-
The deadly May 31 flotilla clash off Gaza has prompted some in Congress to condemn Turkey, not Israel, and to note with concern Ankara’s steady shift in favor of U.S. adversaries Iran and Hamas.
While the world press reported international criticism of Israel, away from the headlines was a bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers criticizing Turkey for home-porting the flotilla that Israel says carried terrorist-linked activists. The ships were organized by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), whose leaders acknowledge their aim was to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
For years, Turkey has held a special place on Capitol Hill as a NATO ally and Muslim country maintaining close economic and military ties to the Jewish state. Turkey has acted as a go-between in Israel-Arab dialogue. But that relationship started to sour several years ago, and now some in Congress are taking a second, more critical look at Turkey.
“I urge you to condemn Turkey’s support of IHH which has been known to maintain ties to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Al Qaeda,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey Democrat, wrote in a letter to President Obama. “I also ask that you condemn Turkey’s reaction to the incident involving the flotilla. Rather than engaging in an open dialogue, Turkey has chosen to recall their ambassador from Israel and disrupt diplomatic relations. … Turkey has chosen to ignore the facts and force its own view of events through threat. We can not allow these same old tactics to prevent us from taking the right position.”..
One of the harshest attacks came from the Republican House leadership.
“The complicity of Turkey in launching a flotilla to challenge the blockade in Gaza, the ensuing violence that occurred, the grievous loss of life is deeply troubling to those of us who have supported the U.S. Turkish alliance in the past,” Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who heads the House Republican Conference, said on the House floor.
“Hamas used the Gaza Strip to launch vicious and brutal attacks, thousands of rockets on civilians,” he said. “It cost lives in Gaza, it cost lives in Israel. Turkey needs to count the cost. Turkey needs to decide whether its present course is in its long-term interest.”
Rep. John Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat, said the U.N. inquiry should not look just at Israeli actions….
“ICRC says Israel’s Gaza blockade breaks law” by Imogen Foulkes (BBC)
Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a clear violation of international humanitarian law, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said…. “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law,” the agency said in the statement.
And the ICRC blames differences between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for some of Gaza’s shortages. But the key message from the body which rarely publicly criticises governments is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza must be lifted. That message is yet another indication of growing international concern over conditions in Gaza – just last week US President Barack Obama called the situation there unsustainable.
Egypt raises the retirement age to 65 from 60 for workers entering the workforce from 2012. It also stipulates the establishment of a pension and unemployment fund for each employee, in the public and private sectors, into which employers and employees will contribute, a parliament official said.
Israeli document: Gaza blockade isn’t about security
By Sheera Frenkel | McClatchy Newspapers
JERUSALEM — As Israel ordered a slight easing of its blockade of the Gaza Strip Wednesday, McClatchy obtained an Israeli government document that describes the blockade not as a security measure but as “economic warfare” against the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory.
Jordan’s Nuclear Ambitions Pose Quandary for the U.S.
BY JAY SOLOMON in WSJ
SAWAQA, Jordan—The Kingdom of Jordan is in a sprint to become the Arab world’s next nuclear power. And America wants to help it succeed.
U.S. and Jordanian officials are negotiating a nuclear-cooperation agreement that would allow American firms to export nuclear components and know-how to the Mideast country, America’s closest Arab ally in the volatile region.
The Obama administration views Jordan as a key potential partner in its global program to promote the nonmilitary use of atomic energy—part of a broader plan to increase pressure on other Middle East countries, particularly Iran and Syria, to bring transparency to their own …