Assad in Paris

Assad sits out Olmert speech at Paris summit
By AMY TEIBEL, Associated Press Writer Sun Jul 13, 6:00 PM ET

PARIS – Syria's president sat out the Israeli prime minister's speech to a Paris summit Sunday in an apparent rebuff just hours after Ehud Olmert urged Damascus to open direct peace talks, Israeli officials said.

Syrian leader Bashar Assad also did not shake hands with Olmert at a meeting of more than 40 European, African and Middle Eastern states in the French capital to launch a new Mediterranean union aimed at closer cooperation in the region.

"We are not seeking symbols," Assad said on French television, adding he avoided a handshake with Olmert because the two nations are still only in indirect peace talks.

Nevertheless, Assad agreed to sit down with Olmert at the same table in a historic first for the enemy states: Never before had the leaders of the two countries been so close.

Syria's Assad steals show at Paris summit: Reuters

It seems only yesterday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was persona non grata in the West.

But Assad was the star of the international show this weekend, invited by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to attend a Euro-Mediterranean summit in Paris with 40 other leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and even to stay on for Bastille Day, a rare mark of French distinction.

Sarkozy showered Assad with praise for helping resolve Lebanon's political crisis for now, a policy that in any case was to Syria's advantage, and for starting indirect peace talks with Israel.

The French president also sought Assad's help in using his good relations with Iran to resolve the stand-off over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, and with Palestinian Hamas militants to secure the release of a captured Israeli soldier in Gaza.

So are things finally looking up for Syria?

"This is a real win-win for Syria," said one EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Syria was the only country in the region with whom the EU didn't have a partnership agreement — and now it is the one that gets the special treatment."…..

On a domestic level, Assad's autocratic regime is being legitimized by the West despite its crackdown on dissidents…..


"The Syrians are trying to have the best of both worlds," said Philip Robbins, a Middle East expert at Oxford University.

"On the one hand there is no sign they are severing their relations with Iran, Hamas or Hezbollah, and on the other hand they have been quite successful in improving their relationship with the French and Western countries.

"Three years ago Bashar was embattled … he and the family came really under pressure after Hariri's killing. Now their position has improved," Robbins said.

More importantly, analysts say, the U.N. tribunal that could prosecute elements of the Syrian leadership its investigators identified as responsible for Hariri's assassination has been made to look irrelevant.

"It's a non-subject in French-Syrian relations," a French official said. "France has nothing to say on the subject — it is the international community through the Security Council that has taken this matter in hand." 

European officials dismissed criticism that Europe has upgraded Assad from pariah status without securing a real change in behavior…..

"If the Israelis have decided to talk to the Syrians, we have no cause to shun them, despite the past and certain unacceptable acts that, believe me, I haven't forgotten," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told Le Parisien daily.

A senior official in Sarkozy's office added: "The head of Hamas lives in Damascus. To think we can do anything without including the Syrians is to not want to do something."…..

Israel `Extremely Serious' About Peace With Syria, Olmert Says
By Gwen Ackerman

July 13 (Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel is “extremely serious'' about reaching a peace accord with Syria, ahead of a summit in Paris today at which he will have his first encounter with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Mediterranean summit / Sarkozy in the role of Bush
By Zvi Bar’el

The “handshake roulette” between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad, which has been keeping the Union for the Mediterranean and the Middle East preoccupied for weeks, will stop today. But even if a Syrian handshake does take place with an Israeli lame duck, or cooked goose, it will produce no thrill. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been working on the real thrill for almost two months: bringing Assad back into the international fold and replacing the U.S. president as the intermediary in the peace process.

Now that a Lebanese government has been formed, Assad and Sarkozy will be free to discuss the peace process with Israel, the international trial of the suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, and advancing the Israel-Palestinian negotiations.

It’s a two-way deal: Assad will push the peace process with Israel and Sarkozy promises to make a state visit to Damascus in September or October. Assad will see to the functioning of the Lebanese government and open an embassy in Lebanon, and Sarkozy will send a delegation of high-level business people and legislators to Syria in August. A deal to sell Airbus planes to Syria is also in the offing. American sanctions on Syria are clearly breaking down.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a last-minute decision to come to the conference, despite concerns that the Union for the Mediterranean will leave his country at sea, far from the warm shores of the EU. Turkey, also an intermediary in the Syrian-Israeli process, will push in two directions at the conference: toward direct talks, and bringing in Washington as a partner. A Turkish source told Haaretz Saturday that he did not discount the presence of an American representative at the coming round of talks.

“The Americans must accept that we are part of the solution not only in Lebanon but also in Iraq and Palestine,” Assad told Le Monde diplomatique. The Americans apparently realize that if they don’t hurry, Sarkozy will take the whole pot.

According to Arab press reports, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the conference’s co-chairman, has invited Assad to dinner. Yes, this inter-Arab conflict must also be solved if Egypt wants to advance negotiations between Israel and Hamas. So must the bad blood between Saudi Arabia and Syria, after the Hariri assassination in 2005 and Assad’s calling the Saudis “half men” for not sufficiently supporting Hezbollah in the Lebanon war. And Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah are not on speaking terms. If feathers can be smoothed over dinner, Assad can receive Arab approval and Sarkozy can chalk up another success in the face of American feebleness.

In Le Point, here

"…Damas joue sur tous les tableaux: Le pas de deux entre l’Iran et l’Occident ferait-il partie d’une subtilité orientale ou d’une duplicité syrienne ? Car Damas joue sur tous les tableaux…"

In Le Nouvel Observateur, here: "Nicolas Sarkozy se rendra en Syrie "avant la mi-septembre 2008"

Le président syrien Bachar al-Assad a par la suite confirmé l'échange prochain d'ambassadeurs entre Damas et Beyrouth….

U.S. PoliciesWeaken Influence In The Middle East
By Farooq Mitha: 
Tampa Tribune 07/10/2008, Page A09

Regional players in the Middle East are finding their own way to a future of peace and coexistence, but much of this is happening without a pivotal role for the United States. The United States, once seen in the region as a necessary party to peace and the beacon of democratic values, now seems to be moving towards the sidelines with decreased credibility. Failed policies and planning, from the war in Iraq, to the handling of Israeli-Palestinian talks, and the political crisis in Lebanon have left the United States out of touch with the changing realities in the region and have stagnated democratic reform……

Comments (15)

Alex said:

Assad: Syria Ready for Peace

by Alain Gresh
Le Monde diplomatique

Just before his visit to Paris for the Mediterranean Union summit, Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, said that economic relations between the countries of the Mediterranean could not be developed while there were ongoing regional conflicts — especially the Arab-Israeli conflict.

We talked for two hours. He thinks that if there is no political dialogue and peace between Arabs and Israelis, the region will move towards conservatism and extremism. Terrorism, he said, is a state of mind and has no borders: Syria now has home-grown al-Qaida terrorism, not related to the organisation but to a state of mind. If peace is not achieved, all the reforms the Arabs need (economic development, education, culture) will fail to come about and the whole region will be destabilised.

When the United States and Israel dismiss the idea that Syria really wants peace, they forget this real concern. The Syrian leadership knows that if the chance of peace is lost again, a new channel will open up for the extremists. Syria’s indirect negotiations with Israel are within this context. After 2003, Assad stated more often the need to restart negotiations with Israel. After the 2006 war in Lebanon, he clearly distanced himself from the statements of Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “I do not say that Israel should be removed from the map. We want peace, peace with Israel,” he said (Der Spiegel, 24 September 2006). Ariel Sharon and then Ehud Olmert were deaf to these wishes, and others (particularly in Washington) refused to trust Assad’s regime. In May, however, Israel and Syria announced the opening of indirect negotiations, with the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as intermediary.

The war on Lebanon, explained Assad, taught everybody that you can not solve the problem by war. Israel is the strongest military power in the region and Hizbullah is smaller than any army in the region. What did Israel achieve?

Assad thinks it is necessary to wait for a new US administration in 2009 before Syrian-Israeli talks will get anywhere, since their success will need a powerful intermediary, which Assad believes can only be the United States. Even so, there has to be progress during the waiting period, which is the point of the current indirect talks. After eight years of paralysis [since the end of negotiations between the two countries in 2000], after the war on Lebanon, and two attacks on Syria, there is no trust between the two countries. Syria now wants to test Israel’s intentions and understands that Israel too wants to test Syria’s.

During the talks between the late Hafez al-Assad and Ehud Barak (then Israel’s prime minister) in 1999-2000, several breakthroughs were made on the most tricky issues — including security, mutual recognition, water. Syria wants to start from where Assad père and Barak left off. It will be easier and avoid wasting time. Except in his insistence on recovering the whole of the Golan, Bashar shows great flexibility, and he reminded me that during 1999-2000 his father was flexible too: Israel had demanded that it keep a warning post on Syrian territory — an unacceptable condition since Syria cannot accept any Israeli military presence on its soil. But an agreement was reached, to station US military personnel in the post.

It is clear that Assad will not break his relations with Iran as a precondition for negotiations. After all, Iran is one of the countries that has continued to support Syria for all these years. But Assad understands that peace with Israel will change the whole region, because it will also bring peace between Lebanon and Israel, and this will solve the Hizbullah problem, helping to transform this organisation into a purely political one.

The alliance between Syria and Iran has never stopped Damascus from having its own policy – for example, participation in the 1993 Madrid conference and in this year’s Annapolis conference. The point of departure for Assad’s policy goes back to his perception of the dangers of extremism and conservatism. He seems convinced that a failure, this time, will mean chaos in the region — and chaos is already spreading from Afghanistan to Iraq.

Alain Gresh is deputy director of Le Monde diplomatique, Paris.

Copyright © 2008 Alain Gresh

Released: 14 July 2008

July 14th, 2008, 6:37 am


annie said:

“We are not seeking symbols,” Assad said on French television, adding he avoided a handshake with Olmert because the two nations are still only in indirect peace talks.

Right on Bashar. See what Bishara has to say about handshakes

“There has been a history of people shaking hands at summits; we have seen it today with Olmert, Abbas and Sarkozy. We have seen it for 15 years and it seems the more people shake hands, the worse it gets in the occupied territories.

July 14th, 2008, 6:56 am


Alex said:

Today Bahsar barely shook hands with Hosny Mubarak.

It was bizarre … Sarkozy pulled Bashar to stand next to Mubarak for this photo:

Few months ago the Egyptians said that their relations with Syria are bad .. because Syria was not doing enough to help solve the problem of Lebanon’s election of Michel Sleiman.

Now that Syria managed to do enough .. now that Sarkozy fully acknowledged this fact … what does Mubarak have as an excuse for not wanting to talk to Bashar who is standing next to him!!?

I know the real answer to that question, but … what would Mubarak answer if asked?

July 14th, 2008, 7:22 am


counter revisionist said:

uhm, maybe because Mubarak knows Assad?

July 14th, 2008, 9:36 am


Akbar Palace said:

Syrian Mythology Lesson 1:

Terrorism, he said, is a state of mind and has no borders:

Did anyone ask Dr. Bashar how this “state of mind” is influenced by the government controlled anti-Israel and anti-semitic press? Did anyone ask Dr. Bashar how this “state of mind” allows shipments of armament travel to through his country into Lebanon? And lastly, did anyone ask Dr. Bashar how this “state of mind” allows terror organizations safe haven and the freedom to keep offices within his country?

“State of Mind”? Really?

July 14th, 2008, 10:50 am


Innocent Criminal said:

interesting warning by the conservatives in iran to Syria in the below article. A guy like him wouldn’t make a statement like that on his own initiative. I wonder if this is just some hot air or a sign of things to come.

July 14th, 2008, 11:30 am


norman said:

Syria says to buy Airbuses, open to Total deals
07.14.08, 6:19 AM ET

PARIS, July 14 (Reuters) – Syria intends to buy Airbus aircraft and is open to signing contracts with French oil firm Total , Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday after a thaw in relations between Paris and Damascus.

France and Syria announced on Friday a plan to boost their ties as part of a package in which Damascus said it intended to normalise relations with neighbouring Lebanon. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would visit Syria by mid-September.

‘Syria intends to order Airbuses from France,’ Assad told France Inter radio.

‘Total was present in the past. We have invited the head of Total and they are interested in investments in Syria,’ he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has launched a drive to sell French nuclear technology to developing countries, but he had not done so with Syria, where Israeli jets bombed what Washington says was a secret nuclear reactor site.

‘Regarding nuclear energy, it has not been discussed until now despite the surge in oil prices,’ Assad said.

(Reporting by Thierry Leveque; writing by Francois Murphy) Keywords: SYRIA FRANCE/CONTRACTS



July 14th, 2008, 12:20 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I got the article you sent me about the German warning to Bashar on the sidelines of the summit, about allowing weapons to reach Hizbullah.

Come to think of it, this explains the heightened activity that the Israelis were talking about over the past several months and especially over the past few weeks, confirmed of course by Nasrallah’s bold statement that the resistance has exceeded its pre-war armament levels.

I guess the Syrians told them, “Look, at some point in the near future, we’re going to have to turn off the tap, at least for a while. So get all you can right now.”

Here’s the article:

Syria Must Now Prevent Arms Smuggling

And here’s the latest cover of The New Yorker magazine, which is causing a bit of a stir… Even if it is a satire, I think David Remnick and co. didn’t realize that the majority of America would not get the joke, and think that they were being serious. Stupid mistake.

July 14th, 2008, 1:08 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

For a second I thought the redhead next to him was Joshua.


I swear.

Here are some more relevant pics:

So close, yet….

Sarkozy seems giddy…

Umm, Monsieur Le Président, what are you doing?

“Why oh why, Bashar?! Why can’t we have direct talks?!”

“Group hug!!!”

July 14th, 2008, 1:26 pm


Nur al-Cubicle said:

I hope it was less than a second b/c the “redhead” is a middle-aged woman not a very attractive young male professor.

July 14th, 2008, 1:29 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

It was a split second, ya Nur.


Nice buttering up, I say…

July 14th, 2008, 1:35 pm


Naji said:

Michelle is looking pretty sexy in fatigues…! I’m glad she didn’t go for the burka… 🙂

July 14th, 2008, 2:17 pm


Alex said:


They always seat them “so close” for some reason.

July 14th, 2008, 2:52 pm


annie said:

Me too, I thought it was Josh for a sec

July 14th, 2008, 2:52 pm


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