Assad in Paris - Syria Comment

Assad in Paris

CNN: Syria’s Assad hopeful on Israel talks
2009-11-13

Syrian President Bashar Assad says peace talks with Israel could resume if the Jewish state showed willingness to fully engage in the process. “This peace process cannot only be relaunched by one party. Syria wants peace and we have a mediator, Turkey, which is ready to use its mediation role as well as the European partnership. What we are missing is the Israeli partnership, and we need it in order to renew peace talks and obtain results,” Assad told reporters…..

In Paris, Benjamin Netanyahu Finds Growing European Doubt on Middle East Peace
BY: ROBERT MARQUAND | THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

Europeans, and the French in particular, strong backers of Washington’s efforts to broker a Mideast deal, are starting to register frustration with the White House’s handling of Israel-Palestinian relations.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to quit in January, and efforts toward Israeli-Palestinian peace are completely stalled. Now the Europeans are searching for ways to push both Americans and Israelis to solve what they see as a deteriorating situation in the West Bank and Gaza, with the French leading the way.

Despite French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s close ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Paris on Wednesday, Mr. Sarkozy told the Israeli leader that progress on peace with the Palestinians remains a priority, diplomats said.

Europeans do not have a strong hand, diplomats here admit. Yet the recent shift by President Barack Obama from demanding a “freeze” on settlement expansion in June to a call for “restraint” on settlements, is regarded by many here as a step in the wrong direction.

In Paris, President Obama’s shift in position is seen as abrupt, and as the principal reason Mr. Abbas announced he was quitting, potentially depriving the peace process of the Palestinian leader that America, Europe and Israel must trust.

In Paris there’s both understanding that Obama is tackling a historically intransigent problem and keen disappointment.

“The disillusion with the Americans is growing stronger. We are starting to feel an opportunity is being squandered, and there is growing irritation with Israel’s stance,” says Dominique Moisi, the founder of the French Institute for International Relations. “Time is running short. Do we want Hamas to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people? If not, the only person who can do something about that is Netanyahu.”

While Mr. Moisi said the French are ready “in principle” to push their US allies, he asked “Will Netanyahu care?”

François Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris says the Europeans are trying to push the Americans to arrive at a two state solution. “But no one knows what the American policy is at this point. Obama’s position on a settlement freeze was unacceptable to Israel. Clinton’s 180-degree reverse was unacceptable to the Palestinians, and it may have destroyed the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Off to Gaza

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expects to travel to Gaza next week. He appealed Monday for Mr. Abbas not to leave his post as head of the Palestinian Authority, as he has threatened to do. Ahead of Netanyahu’s visit, Mr. Kouchner questioned publicly whether Israel is truly interested in making peace. One senior senator in Sarkozy’s party, Phillipe Marini, issued a report this week stating it was time to consider removing the diplomatic “cordon sanitaire” around Hamas and end its isolation, though he said talk should be considered later.

The report came in the wake of a proposal by Shaul Mofaz, a leading Israeli opposition figure and former military leader, who said he would consider talks with Hamas as part of a peace plan – breaking a taboo.

“The Europeans are not in a position to create a breakthrough, but they are in a position to exert pressure on both sides,” says Middle East scholar Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group in Washington.

If there is a consensus in Europe, it is against Israeli settlements. “Settlement activity is where Europe is united. If the fourth Geneva Convention means anything, settlements are a violation of international law,” says Nicolas Vercken, the French director of Oxfam who has been lobbying Israel to allow Kouchner unrestricted access to Gaza.

Abbas’ position has also been weakened. At America’s behest, he briefly opposed sending the Goldstone Report to the UN human rights council in October, which angered many Palestinians. That, plus the White House’s climbdown on a settlement freeze, has left Abbas “playing his last card,” as one French diplomat put it.

Jean-François Legrain, a French specialist on Palestine, assessed Abbas’ five year presidency this week as “catastrophic. I can think of no positive aspect. Gaza and the West Bank are separated from both a political and a humanitarian point of view. Negotiations with Israel are in a deadlock,” he said. “The Palestinian authority has regressed to the point that it is now in the situation of the PLO before the Six Day war. It is weaker and has become a receptacle for the diverging interests of the Arab states and Western powers.”

Newsweek: Barton Biggs on the Next Emerging Market
2009-11-13

…. This writer, under the auspices of a prominent Syrian expat, just visited the country and met with President Assad, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, and the finance minister. We also met businesspeople, academics, bankers, and leaders of the Baathist party. These sessions weren’t all hummus and chocolates by any means. Arguments were heated but frank, a few of the presentations were pathetic, and Syrians in general are angry about what they see as America’s one-sided support of Israel, the economic sanctions the U.S. has imposed, and the recent (and ridiculous) refusal to give Assad a visa so that he could attend the September U.N. meeting in New York.

Bashar al-Assad is a fascinating figure. …. Now in his mid-40s, he is articulate, enlightened, and very charismatic.

He makes no bones about the fact that his government needs to deliver rising per capita incomes and jobs to the Syrian people. He describes himself as an enemy of extremism, committed to a gradual liberalization of the economy, and to peace. He knows Syria needs  foreign investment to build power plants, dams, schools, and roads. Fortunately, it is in an excellent position to attract FDI. The currency is stable versus the dollar, and its external and internal debt is extremely low. FDI last year was a mere $2 billion and has been mostly from other Arab countries. The deputy prime minister for finance is bright and sophisticated, and understands what has to be done. Already in the last few months, a rudimentary stock exchange has been created.

The political system is not exactly -Western-style democracy. Security is tight, but Assad says he is committed to gradual political liberalization. However, he admits there are factions in the country opposed to change. As Syria bends away from Iran and toward Turkey and the United States, the Obama administration is beginning to smile. Bear in mind that a wise benevolent dictator has proved to be the best leadership for a developing country pulling itself up by its bootstraps. Singapore with Lee Kuan Yew and China are among the most obvious examples. This brief essay is a gross simplification of a complex situation, but keep your eye on Syria.

Biggs is managing partner of Traxis Partners hedge fund in New York.

US-SYRIA: Diplomatic Thaw Just Penetrating the Surface
Analysis by Ellen Massey, Nov 5 (IPS) –

Four months ago, the Barack Obama administration announced that it would appoint an ambassador to Syria, ending a four-year freeze on diplomatic relations between the two countries.

That announcement came as a part of a larger foreign policy rhetoric that emphasised dialogue with both friend and foe. But what real impact has this new approach had?

There have been measurable steps taken to unthaw a Syrian-U.S. relationship that has been decidedly chilly since early 2005 and the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Since the Obama administration moved into White House in January, there have been six high-level meetings between Syrian officials and the executive branch, including a visit to Washington by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad in September, the highest-ranking Syrian official to visit the city in more than five years.

While the fact that the ambassador to Damascus is yet to be named might be troubling at first glance, the still vacant post may be more a result of bureaucratic haggling than anything else.

“The progress towards an ambassador is still on,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of the widely-read blog, Syria Comment.

Landis noted that Imad Moustapha, Syria’s ambassador to the United States, went to the State Department at the end of last week and communicated that things were positive.

“Talking with the U.S. today is night and day between Bush and today,” Landis reported the ambassador as saying.

Yet despite the outward attempts at mutual rapprochement, deep undercurrents threaten the progress of this fledgling relationship. ….

Video of Imad Moustapha Debating WINEP’s Robert Satloff at American University

Der Spiegel: Disillusioned with Europe, Turkey Looks East
2009-11-12

Nostalgia for the Ottomans Disillusioned with Europe, Turkey Looks East By Daniel Steinvorth in Istanbul REUTERS A Turkish policeman stands guard on a boat in the Bosphorus during the Organization of the Islamic …

Hariri’s to Visit Damascus

Hariri’s Damascus trip would most likely take place two or three days after the government gets a vote of confidence in Parliament.

Why US Sanctions on Syria Will Kill American Soldiers
By AFSHIN RATTANSI

France speculated to broker between Israel, Syria
www.chinaview.cn 2009-11-12
by David Harris

JERUSALEM, Nov. 12 (Xinhua) — During a week in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pay visits to Paris successively, both men have talked about the possibility of renewing peace talks between their countries.

Arabic-language satellite TV channel al-Arabiya reported, citing “knowledgeable sources”, that Netanyahu told his host, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, on Wednesday to pass a message to Assad, calling for immediate and unconditional negotiations.

Meanwhile, also speaking on Wednesday, Assad talked of both peace and resistance. These developments have led to speculation among media and analysts that France tries to broker a peace agreement between the old enemies. ….

Ahmadinejad Wants a Nuke Deal with US – Reformists Oppose Him Because of Internal Political Rivalries

Ahmadinejad’s speech and tone Wednesday suggested that a deal is still possible. Powerful Iranian officials and even Ahmadinejad’s reformist adversaries have derided the fuel swap idea as being against national interests in what appears to be an internal debate over whether to accept, reject or attempt to modify the proposal.

Senior officials and leaders of Russia, Qatar and Turkey, all countries that maintain strong relations with Iran as well as the West, have met with Iranian counterparts in possible attempts to coax Tehran into cooperating.

Ahmadinejad said it was time for Iran to lock in its nuclear gains.

Syria: Restore Jailed Lawyer’s Credentials

Muhanad al-Hasani Disbarred for Monitoring Trials, Defending Political Activists

(New York, November 13, 2009) – The Damascus Bar Association should reverse this week’s decision to permanently disbar the lawyer and rights activist Muhanad al-Hasani, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch also urged Syrian authorities to free al-Hasani, who is in detention awaiting trial on charges of “weakening national sentiment” and “spreading false information.”
On November 10, 2009, the bar association’s disciplinary tribunal issued a decision to permanently disbar al-Hasani because he “headed an unlicensed human rights organization without obtaining the prior approval of the bar association” and “attended sessions of the State Security Court to monitor its proceedings without being appointed as a defense lawyer by the accused.” The State Security Court operates outside the ordinary criminal justice system, with its proceedings closed to the public and families of detainees.

“The Damascus Bar Association should be defending lawyers who try to promote the rule of law in Syria, not punishing them,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The bar association should immediately reinstate al-Hasani and work for his release.”

Following the decision, al-Hasani issued a public letter http://www.shril-sy.info/modules/news/article.php?storyid=4952from his cell in `Adra jail noting that his role as a lawyer requires “taking positions to promote the basic rights of the citizen, including civic, political, social, economic, and cultural rights.”….

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