Posted by Joshua on Friday, November 3rd, 2006
“Hezbollah is threatening street protests to force early elections in Lebanon if its demands are not met for a “national unity” Cabinet that would give the Islamic militants and their allies veto power over key decisions.” Amal Saad-Ghorayeb said the same in an interview on BBC World. She also pointed out that Hizbullah was not trying to take over the reigns of government, but just to get a “one third” blocking minority so that it would be able to veto cabinet decisions. (These quotes are thanks to t_desco, who copied them in the comment section)
David Stringer in the New Scotsman
Downing Street rejected suggestions the overture was part of an effort by the United States and Britain aimed at pressing Iraq's neighbours to assist with security duties, allowing coalition troops to withdraw.
"That is not part of the thinking," said Mr Blair's official spokesman. "We are very serious about revitalising the Midd
le East peace process, therefore it is the right thing to do to talk to all those who in some way have an influence. It is up to others to decide what role they play."
Dennis Ross, a former US Middle East envoy, also rejected suggestions the visit was part of a joint coalition strategy, saying it was "much more a British initiative, without the US".
He said holding the talks was a significant step, but cautioned against exaggerated hopes of a shift in relations between Syria and the West.
The obvious reason why one should not be high hoped is that Syria can only do so much to seal its border with Iraq. It is already doing a pretty good job according to US soldiers at the border. They are not so much worried about fighters getting across, but about money coming across. They claim Iraq already has plenty of arms. Here is a bit from a W. Post article on the border.
By Josh White, Washington Post, Wednesday, November 1, 2006; Page A12
"If 10 donkeys can carry 66,000 packs of cigarettes, how much money can they carry?" said Capt. Paul Curry, 32, of Huntsville, Ala. Curry commands Apache Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment at a U.S. camp just a few feet from the official Rabiyah point of entry into Iraq. Border controls have improved, he said, but "we have no idea what we have missed so far. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack."
Iraqi officials who control the gateway say that as many as 2,000 people with Iraqi passports and as many as 500 foreigners pass into Iraq through Rabiyah each day, in addition to nearly 300 commercial trucks, 80 cars and as many as 30 buses.
Raid Jamal, assistant manager of the border crossing, said that the border generates 3 billion Iraqi dinars each month — about $2 million — in customs duties and taxes but that the system has been mired in corruption for many years and needs to be cleaned up.
U.S. troops in the area are concerned that controls are too loose. For instance, the passport office is sparse and includes a single officer sitting at a desk behind a barred window where travelers line up to show their passports. The officer simply enters the information from each passport into a small ledger.
"The only thing he's really doing is nothing more than creating a historical log," said 1st Sgt. Richard DeLeon, 40, of Shafter, Calif., also a member of Apache Troop. "We can't scan your passport to find out if it's fake, we can't scan your photo. You can come in if you have a legitimate passport or a good fake. The weapons are already in Iraq. All you really need to do is bring money."
Lt. Col. Malcolm Frost, who commands 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, said the Rabiyah border entry needs shoring up. He cited plans to add high-tech passport technology, which would make it easier to identify foreign fighters, and a new, secure processing office in the next couple of months.
One of the few anti-smuggling measures the crossing already has is X-ray technology that scans trucks. It can detect trucks with false bottoms and compartments in which people and weapons can be hidden. On Monday, Frost watched as a truck was scanned and turned back for carrying used car parts, which are illegal to transport into Iraq and could be used to hide bomb parts.
"We're continually improving the ability to detect," Frost said. But the miles of earthen berm away from the crossing have proven difficult to monitor.
Tomlin, who trains border patrol officers, said that there are roughly 400 officers on his stretch of border and that they are getting steadily better at their jobs. They have new Chevrolet pickup trucks for patrolling and serviceable weapons. But he said they lack the infrastructure to support the equipment, and gasoline, food and electricity are hard for them to get.
He said he believes the units are about five months away from being able to operate as a competent border patrol. It could be years, however, before they can sustain themselves.
The British government recognizes that it doesn't have a lot to offer Syria and that Syria may feel that it doesn't want to offer the West very much either. Here is how the London Times quotes Downing Street on the subject.
As Downing Street accurately if somewhat lamely observed of this visit, “in the end the Syrian Government will decide what it believes is in Syria’s best interests”, and Mr Assad has so far appeared to relish being the bad boy on the Arab block.