“Dialogue is the Best Startegy,” Austrian F.M. Interview with Hamidi

Ibrahim Hamidi interviews Austria’s Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger. He is accompanying President Bashar al-Assad on his visit to Vienna and Bratislava.


Austrian F M : Dialogue with Syria is the best Startegy
By Ibrahim hamidi, In Vienna

1- President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Vienna is his first official visit to an EU state since 2004, when the US sought to isolate Syria. What does the visit mean?

We believe that dialogue is the best strategy to overcome the stagnation we experience in the Middle East. After the Doha Agreement and the following re-establishment of the constitutional order in Lebanon, Syria has shown readiness to contribute to stability and peace in the Middle East. The European Union and Austria want to respond to this welcome development by demonstrating preparedness for a serious dialogue.

A friendly, open and frank exchange between partners has been at the centre of my meeting with Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mouallem and of the meetings of President Mr. Assad with Federal President Fischer and other high-ranking Austrian political representatives. Austria with its traditionally excellent relations to the Arab world and Syria can serve as a door opener.

2- Is there a EU unified policy- to engage Syria? Is there a Political decision?

There have been a considerable number of visits to Syria by high-ranking EU officials in the recent past. We witness a gradual rapprochement which should be broadened in line with further steps taken by Syria. Syria has potential to be a constructive force in the Middle East and prove its commitment to regional cooperation and partnership.

3- Do all EU members want engagement at the same speed?

We cannot expect fundamental changes to happen over night. Instead, we are seeing a gradual approach which should be to the benefit of both the EU as well as Syria and the entire Middle East. After all, stability and prosperity in our neighboring region is as much in our interest as it is in the interest of Syria and its people.

4- What about the association agreement. Do you think that it will be signed in the coming months? In July?

A political decision is being prepared on the Association Agreement between the EU and Syria. But no final decision has been taken yet; the European Union is following Syria’s policies on the regional level as well as internally.

5- What is the Austrian role in making peace in the Middle East?

Austria is traditionally engaged in the Middle East and we have a keen interest in the positive development of the region. We have established trustful relations with all countries in the region.

Additionally, we are currently serving as non-permanent member on the UN Security Council. Literally from day one of our membership on the Council we have been involved in efforts to stop the escalation of the conflict in and around the Gaza-Strip, finally leading to the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009) that laid the ground for the current, albeit fragile, calm between Israel and Hamas.

We will continue our active efforts to further peace in the Middle East. The most visible contribution has been the presence of Austrian troops on the Golan Heights. More than 25.000 Austrian UN-soldiers have been deployed in the course of the last 35 years. Moreover, since January 2007 an Austrian, Major General Wolfgang Jilke, has been Force Commander of UNDOF.

6- Can Vienna play a role in the resumption of indirect talks between Syria and Israel?

Austria has always been ready to offer a platform and its good services to parties that are willing to engage in dialogue and negotiations. We continue to work in this tradition. We also support efforts by other countries, such as Turkey, that are aimed at bringing Syria and Israel back to the negotiating table. Nevertheless, in case we were asked to help, we would definitely do so.

7- What can the EU do to make the Israeli right-wing government commit to peace on all tracks?

The European Union and the other parties in the Middle East Quartet are continuously insisting on the parties to remain committed to the peace process and implement their respective obligations under the Roadmap. This includes in particular the freeze of all settlement activity in the occupied territories.

The Quartet and the international community can offer their assistance but they cannot replace the indispensable political will of the parties themselves. We call on all actors in the region to assume their responsibilities and return to the negotiating table. At the end the day, only negotiations can offer lasting and comprehensive peace, security and prosperity for future generations.

8- To accept two-state solution?

The two-state-solution continues to be at the heart of any durable peace settlement. On this, the international community is united and steadfast.

We also commend the Arab States on their strategic commitment in the Arab Peace Initiative. We hope that all parties concerned will play their part to make this important vision a reality.


From all4Syria منشقون عن “إخوان” البيانوني يشكلون حزب إسلامي سوري جديد

The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East
by Neil MacFarquhar

A New York Times correspondent’s affectionate, irreverent portrait of the Middle East he’s known since childhood—an unexplored place hidden behind the usual headlines.

Since his boyhood in Qadhafi’s Libya, Neil MacFarquhar has developed a counterintuitive sense that the Middle East, despite all the bloodshed in its recent history, is a place of warmth, humanity, and generous eccentricity.

In this book, he introduces a cross-section of unsung, dynamic men and women pioneering political and social change. There is the Kuwaiti sex therapist in a leather suit with matching red headscarf, and the Syrian engineer advocating a less political interpretation of the Koran. MacFarquhar interacts with Arabs and Iranians in their every day lives, removed from the violence we see constantly, yet wrestling with the region’s future. These are people who realize their region is out of step with the world and are determined to do something about it—on their own terms.

Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora (University of California Press, 2009)
by Sarah Gualtieri

This multifaceted study of Syrian immigration to the United States places Syrians- and Arabs more generally-at the center of discussions about race and racial formation from which they have long been
marginalized. Between Arab and White focuses on the first wave of Arab immigration and settlement in the United States in the years before World War II, but also continues the story up to the present. It
presents an original analysis of the ways in which people mainly from current day Lebanon and Syria-the largest group of Arabic-speaking immigrants before World War II-came to view themselves in racial terms and position themselves within racial hierarchies as part of a broader process of ethnic identity formation.

Comments (4)

Akbar Palace said:

Articles the Syria Comment authors never link to

Something Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may want to read:

While we were marking Memorial Day, the most moderate Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, stated that “the Palestinians will never recognize Israel as a Jewish State.” Perfect timing for him. This declaration joins previous statements he made in Jordan and Lebanon, saying that “there will never be peace with Israel without resolving the refugee problem,” and that “the Palestinians will never lay down their arms and won’t abandon the armed struggle.”


May 2nd, 2009, 1:36 pm


norman said:

It looks like ,the Syrian economy is not that bad,

BMW sales soar 116% in Syria

Syria: Saturday, May 02 – 2009 at 12:46
Syria’s exclusive BMW distributor, Bahi Motors has reported a 116% growth in BMW sales for Q1 2009, compared to its performance in 2008 during the same period. BMW 7 Series is the top selling model achieving 423% increase in sales, followed by the BMW 3 Series with a 127% sales increase.
See Also

May 3rd, 2009, 12:11 pm


norman said:

I see no peace in the near future , Israel is going to delay , delay delay ,

Without war on the Syrian front Israel will stay in the Golan for a long time , as long as Israel does not pay a price for being there , as they were always logical and predictable , without force we might as well forget the Golan.

I do not blame their leaders , they have to show a reason to their people for giving the Golan back ,

Israel Will Accept Palestinian State, Rejects Syria Peace Talks

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By Gwen Ackerman and Jonathan Ferziger

May 4 (Bloomberg) — The new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu gave the strongest signal yet that it would accept a Palestinian state, while rejecting peace negotiations with Syria.

“We do want to see peace and do understand that long-term peace and stability will entail a two-state solution,” Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said in an interview.

Israel will honor the previous government’s commitments and accept the internationally backed 2002 peace plan, or road map, which calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, Ayalon said, in the most explicit acceptance of Palestinian statehood since Netanyahu formed a government in March.

In an interview yesterday in his Jerusalem office, Ayalon, 53, said Iran is “vulnerable” and called for stronger sanctions against the country to halt its nuclear program. Iran’s links to Syria are “very, very worrisome,” he said.

“Under the present circumstances I think it would be ill- advised,” for Israel to hold talks with Syria, Ayalon said. “We would like to have assurances that at the end of the day the Syrians will stop supporting terror and also, no less importantly, the very radical regime in Tehran.”

Israel and Syria held Turkish-mediated, indirect talks last year that broke down after Israel launched a 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip. Talks in 2000 collapsed over terms under which Israel would return the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau it captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

Iran is “trying to derail” any progress toward peace, Ayalon said, by supporting the Gaza Strip-based Islamic militant Hamas movement and the Shiite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.

Netanyahu Skeptical

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that the resumption of peace talks with Israel is dependent on its acceptance of a two-state solution.

“Our conditions and requests are within the context of a two state-solution, the halt of settlements and the demolition of homes,” Abbas said in a statement after meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah. Abbas will travel to Egypt and some Arab countries before visiting the U.S. for talks on May 28.

Netanyahu has so far stopped short of endorsing Palestinian statehood. He was skeptical of peace talks held with the Palestinians by his predecessor Ehud Olmert and has said he will focus on improving the Palestinian economy in the West Bank.

U.S. President Barack Obama has stepped up pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to accelerate the peace process and last month invited leaders of both sides and Egypt to separate talks in Washington. President Shimon Peres is scheduled to meet with Obama on May 5 and Netanyahu will visit Washington later this month.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is starting a four-day trip to Italy, France, the Czech Republic and Germany this week.

Public Relations Stunt

Ayalon’s comments about a two-state solution may be aimed at “laying the groundwork for Lieberman to have more pleasant conversations and preempt pressure on Netanyahu,” said Mark Heller, a principal research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

“The major objective is to make sure Israel is not held responsible for a failure to get a peace agreement,” he added.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, a Jerusalem-based research center, called the acceptance of the two-state solution a public relations stunt. “People should look at the real story on the ground and not be influenced by the public relations campaigns going on,” he said.

Israeli leaders travelling to Europe and Washington this month will focus as much on Iran as on the Palestinians. European Union governments are set to back Obama’s bid to engage Iran in dialogue, a draft EU statement said April 27.

‘Iran is Vulnerable’

Talks with Iran “shouldn’t be open-ended,” said Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. “The time should be measured by months and not years.”

Iran has defied three sets of United Nations sanctions against its nuclear-enrichment activities, denying Western suspicions that it’s seeking weapons capability. Iran says its nuclear program is meant to produce electricity.

“Iran, with all due respect, is a very vulnerable country, vulnerable economically, vulnerable socially, vulnerable politically,” Ayalon said. “So far they have been able to show their intransigence because they were not presented with a dilemma.

“Once a price is exacted from Iran for their intransigence and flagrant violations of all their obligations I believe that could change their mind.”

Ayalon, a member of Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, says the Moldovan-born foreign minister could play a role in getting Russia to impose restrictions on Iran. “If Russia is on board, China will not stay behind,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Ferziger in Jerusalem at jferziger@bloomberg.net; Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at gackerman@bloomerg.net.

Last Updated: May 3, 2009 18:36 EDT

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May 4th, 2009, 12:05 am


Shai said:


I don’t know if Bibi will or will not get off the Golan. My hunch is still that he WILL. No doubt, if inside his head he’s thinking otherwise, that he won’t make peace with Syria, then everything we’re witnessing makes sense. But I claim that if inside his Hawkish head he IS interested in peace, and IS planning to go the necessary distance and pay the necessary price, then everything we’re witnessing ALSO makes sense! After all, how can Bibi set the stage for possible talks, if not by doing it this way? If he’s optimistic, pro-peace, he’s basically saying “I’m willing to start from where Barak and Olmert left off”. He knows his image amongst his voters will be destroyed in an instant, if some journalist reading our exchange here (:-)) writes one day in Ma’ariv: “Bibi no different from Barak and Olmert!”

Bibi must first convince his own people that he’s “not in a rush”, that he’s responsible, that he won’t risk their safety by “rewarding terror”, by appeasing members of “The Axis”, blah blah blah. His constituents need to feel that the best negotiator/protector is there ahead of Israel, safeguarding them into the future. To do that, Bibi must put on his shield and armor, not his fig-leaves. He must march towards peace with the drums of war in the background, not “make love, not war” slogans. It’s the Right he’s putting on a show for, not the rest of us.

Consider this – could Bibi have really changed (for the worse) since 1998, when he offered Hafez the entire Golan? Was it more urgent then, than it is now, for Bibi to make peace with Syria? Was the region less stable then, than it is today? Of course not. Bibi is pragmatic, he’s no fool, and no ideologue (though his voters foolishly think he is). He knows the ONLY way to safeguard Israel from Iran or anyone else, is by making peace with the entire Arab world. Measuring Iran’s regime as rational or not, Bibi certainly hears not only their leader’s belligerent words, but also his “soothing” ones, which claim that Iran will accept “any solution the Palestinian people accept”. In other words, if Israel and Palestine work out their differences, Iran will accept such an Israel. In other words, it won’t threaten its existence, and it won’t “drop a bomb” on us…

So Norman, I don’t know if Bibi’s our savior, and if I’m suffering from a bad case of wishful thinking. But from what I know of Bibi, from what I can gauge and hear of his behind-the-scenes talk (which is being told to us, by such people as Ben-Eliezer of this past weekend, and others), then I’d say the man wants to be a 2nd Begin. And that means giving back the Golan, and perhaps also the West Bank.

One thing I am absolutely convinced about, and that is, that all this talk about negotiating with the Palestinians, about a two-state solution, right now is purely “For The Masses!” Everyone’s playing us for fools – Israel, America (especially!), the Europeans, and even the Arab world. Everyone knows the chances right now to create two-states are lower than they’ve ever been before, while Fatah and Hamas are at such odds (and apparently keeping it that way). And everyone knows that giving back the Golan has nothing to do with the Palestinians. Syria supports the Palestinians, but it also supports its own legitimate rights. This is why Bashar has been pursuing peace with Israel for the past 5-6 years. This is why he has never made the Palestinian solution precondition to peace with Israel. And this is why Israel must NOT wait for the Palestinians to first create a Palestine, and only THEN withdraw from the Golan or Kafr Rajar, or whatever else.

If I had to bet on it, I’d say Bibi’s rep’s (American or otherwise) are already booking meetings with Muallem, or Bashar himself. He is not going to be another Olmert. He’ll do it Begin/Dayan style – quietly.

May 4th, 2009, 4:33 am


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