News Round UP (4 July 2009)

Asef shawkat is out of the Syrian military intelligence andl an abridged and rough English version

The draft Personal Status Law that has stirred such controversy has been rejected by the Syrian Parliament.


… diplomatic sources in New York reported that American officials are working behind the scenes to prevent new sanctions from being imposed against Iran. U.S. officials claimed that a tough stance toward Iran could backfire, bringing about an opposite outcome to that desired by those who support such measures.

Syria mends US, Arab ties as ally Iran in turmoil
By SAM F. GHATTAS, Associated Press Writer  Jul 3, 2009

BEIRUT – Syria’s leader sent a July 4 message full of praise to President Barack Obama on Friday and invited him to visit Syria — the latest signs Damascus is hedging its bets in Mideast politics, warming up to its rival the United States at a time when its longtime ally Iran is in turmoil.

The United States and its Arab allies have been hoping to pull Syria out of the fold of Iran and Islamic militant groups in the region.

Damascus so far appears unlikely to take such a dramatic step, but it does appear worried about Iran’s reliability and the long-term impact of that country’s postelection unrest. Also, its Lebanese ally Hezbollah suffered a setback when its coalition failed to win June parliament elections, beaten out by a pro-U.S. bloc.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has been expressing hopes for better ties with Washington for months. But the latest developments may make dialogue look even more attractive.

Assad sent a telegram to Obama on the occasion of the July 4 Independence Day holiday, saying, “The values that were adopted by President Obama during his election campaign and after he was elected president are values that the world needs today.”

“It is very important to adopt the principle of dialogue in relations with countries based on respect and mutual interest,” Assad said in the telegram, which was carried by state-run news agency SANA.

In an interview with Britain’s Sky News, Assad invited Obama to visit Damascus to discuss Mideast peace.

“We would like to welcome him in Syria, definitely. I am very clear about this,” Assad said in English. Asked whether such a visit could take place soon, Assad said: “That depends on him.”

He added with a smile, “I will ask you to convey the invitation to him.” The last time a U.S. president visited Syria was a 1994 trip by Bill Clinton.

For the U.S., even pulling Syria only partly away from Iran and its militant allies would represent a major shift and could help ease Mideast crises. The U.S.-Syrian rivalry has fueled instability in Lebanon, and the U.S. and Israel say Syria’s backing of the Palestinian Hamas undermines the Arab-Israeli peace process. Syrian cooperation could make Obama’s fresh push for a peace deal take off.

The Obama administration has stepped up its wooing of Syria. The U.S. is sending back its ambassador to Damascus after a four-year break over terrorism accusations. Obama’s special Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell, became the highest-level U.S. administration official to visit Damascus since 2005, and he acknowledged Syria’s clout, declaring Damascus has a key role to play in forging Mideast peace.

In a separate interview with Sky News, Assad’s wife, Asma, said she believed the Syrian and American leaders could work together.

“The fact that President Obama is young — well President Assad is also very young as well — so maybe it is time for these young new leaders to make a difference in the world,” she said.

In one sign of Syrian cooperation on regional issues, Damascus is believed to have played a behind-the-scenes role in ensuring Lebanon’s elections remained peaceful.

Damascus likely won’t move away from its Iran alliance easily. Iran’s regional clout has been key to boosting Syria’s status in the Middle East, and Tehran gives considerable financial and military backing. Assad was the first Arab leader to congratulate Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for winning the disputed presidential election.

But Iran is now mired in the fallout from that election, following the widespread protests that erupted amid claims Ahmadinejad’s victory in the June election was fraudulent. A heavy crackdown has largely quelled the protests, but the show of anger has raised questions over Ahmadinejad’s long-term legitimacy.

“All the world around Syria on which it built its policy is falling apart,” said Sateh Noureddine, managing editor of the Lebanese As-Safir daily, which tilts toward Syria’s Lebanese allies.

“Hezbollah lost the election in Lebanon, Hamas is being subjected to unprecedented attrition and Iran is drowned in its internal crises,” he told The Associated Press. “All the elements of strength they (Syrians) built on their foreign policy are collapsing, so for certain they are going to reassess and look for alternatives, without abandoning their past.”

Writing in the Saudi-owned daily Al-Hayat, Saudi analyst Dawood al-Shirian urged Syria to “take this opportunity and rid itself of having to pay a price for the Iranians’ reputation.”

U.S. ally Saudi Arabia — one of the bitterest rivals of Syria in the region since 2005 — has been working in recent months to thaw ties with Damascus in hopes of drawing it away from Iran.

The oil powerhouse sent a senior envoy to Damascus on June 28. Assad and Saudi King Abdullah have twice met in recent months in Riyadh and Kuwait, and there has been persistent media speculation that Abdullah will visit Damascus in July — perhaps as early as next week — to crown the renewed relationship.

Assad and Jordan’s king have also recently exchanged visits for the first time in several years.

Syria has several long-term aims in any reconciliation with the U.S. Assad has said he wants the U.S. to mediate Syrian-Israeli negotiations, in which Damascus seeks the return of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Syria also wants U.S. economic sanctions lifted and foreign investment, particularly Gulf Arab money for its economy. It is also wary of an international tribunal set up to try the perpetrators of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut at a time when Syria controlled the country.


Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

Incoming IAEA chief: No evidence Iran seeking nuclear weapons
By News Agencies

The incoming head of the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog said on Friday he did not see any hard evidence that Iran was trying to gain the ability to develop nuclear weapons.

“I don’t see any evidence in IAEA official documents about this,” Japan’s Yukiya Amano told Reuters in his first direct comment on Iran’s nuclear program since his election to head the International Atomic Energy Agency, when asked whether he believed Iran was seeking a nuclear weapons capability.

Current IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei told the BBC last month it was his “gut feeling” that Iran was seeking the ability to produce nuclear arms, if it desired, as an “insurance policy” against perceived threats from neighboring countries or the United States.

“I’m not going to be a ’soft’ director general or a ‘tough’ director general,” Amano told Reuters, when asked how he would approach issues like Iran and Syria, which are both subject to IAEA probes….

Iranian carmaker SAIPA inaugurated a car assembly line in Homs, Syria, on Thursday.

Rami Makhlouf says Pearl Airline will be back in the air soon because of improving US-Syrian relations. He blames the grounding of the airline on the Spanish company which should have made sure that US sactions against the Syrian use of Airbus planes did not apply.

Rami Makhlouf says Pearl Airline will be back in the air soon because of improving US-Syrian relations. He blames the grounding of the airline on the Spanish company which should have made sure that US sactions against the Syrian use of Airbus planes did not apply.

رامي مخلوف متفائل بعودة العلاقات السورية الأمريكية
ويقول: ما حصل مع اللؤلؤة ناجم عن خطأ من الشركة الإسبانية

بدا المهندس رامي مخلوف مطمئنا إلى شركة لؤلؤة سورية إحدى شركات شام القابضة (والتي يعد مخلوف أحد المساهمين الرئيسيين فيها)، خاصة في ظل وجود بدائل عن الطائرات التي سحبتها الشركة الاسبانية المؤجرة، بعدما طلبت وزارة الخزانة الأمريكية سحبها لعدم حصولها على الموافقة لوجود مكونات أمريكية فيها، علماً ان إجراءات الموافقة كانت جارية.

ارتياح مخلوف ظهر أيضاً على خلفية التحسن الملحوظ في العلاقات السورية الأمريكية في ظل التطورات الأخيرة والتي تم على أثرها إعلان أوباما إعادة السفير الأمريكي إلى سورية.

مخلوف قال في تصريح لسيرياستيبس: إن اللؤلؤة ستعود قريباً للعمل مشيرا إلى أن التحرك جاد لإعادة رحلات الشركة سريعا و بطائرات قد تكون مستأجرة من شركة إقليمية.

وقال أن اللؤلؤة وجدت كي تنمو وتتطور وماحصل معها كانت نتيجة خطأ من الشركة الاسبانية التي كان عليها أن تحصل على الموافقة الأمريكية قبل أن ترسل طائراتها إلى اللؤلؤة لتسييرها في الأجواء السورية ضمن محطات داخلية.

Housing Minister: Spread of Arab population must be stopped

MK Ariel Atias attending the wedding of the granddaughter of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem last month.

MK Ariel Atias attending the wedding of the granddaughter of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem last month.

By Guy Lieberman, Haaretz

Housing Minister Ariel Atias on Thursday warned against the spread of Arab population into various parts of Israel, saying that preventing this phenomenon was no less than a national responsibility.

“I see [it] as a national duty to prevent the spread of a population that, to say the least, does not love the state of Israel,” Atias told a conference of the Israel Bar Association, which focused on a reforming Israel’s Land Administration.

The Shas minister referred to Harish, a housing project built for the Haredi community in northern Israel, saying that the Arab population from the nearby Wadi Ara was spreading into the Harish area.

Atias went on to address the issue of the Galilee, saying that “if we go on like we have until now, we will lose the Galilee. Populations that should not mix are spreading there. I don’t think that it is appropriate [for them] to live together.”

“Look at what happened in Acre,” Atias continued, referring to violent protests that broke out on the Eve of Yom Kippur last year over Jewish-Arab tensions in the mixed town.

“The mayor of Acre visited me yesterday for three hours and asked me how his town could be saved,” Atias said. “He told me ‘bring a bunch of Haredis and we’ll save the city, even if I lose my political standing.’ He told me that Arabs are living in Jewish buildings and running them out.”

Atias argued that lands should be marketed to each sector separately, in order to create segregation, not just between Jews and Arabs but also between other sectors, such as ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews. “There is a severe housing crisis among the young ultra-Orthodox couples, and in the general population. I, as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, don’t think that religious Jews should have to live in the same neighborhood as secular couples, so as to avoid unnecessary friction. And since some 5,000 to 6,000 religious couples get married every year, a problem arises because they require a certain kind of community life that goes along with their lifestyle.”

The housing minister went on to say that the problem stemmed from faulty handling of land within the Land Administration and the Housing Ministry, among other reasons. “Today there is a serious housing crisis facing all the young couples in Israel, in part because of the limited appropriation of land in recent years in the Lands Administration and the Housing Ministry, and also due to faulty decision making which resulted from the high turnover of ministers over the last decade ? 8 ministers have held the office of Housing minister in the last decade and the Land Administration wasn?t under the ministry’s authority for part of the time.”

According to Atias, the solution he is spearheading is to flood the market with available land for housing construction. Atias explained that a team of planners has already begun working on the project. “I plan to market large amounts of land to the Arab population in the Galilee in order to solve their problems, as well as land for secular and religious Jews,” he said.

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