News Round-Up Nov. 10 2006

Haaretz claims that Bush and Olmert will not discuss Syria.
The two leaders will not discuss the renewal of Syrian-Israeli talks.
He added that the U.S. understands why Israel feels the need to continue intelligence-gathering overflights in Lebanon, but said that Washington is also concerned that these may serve Hezbollah with an excuse for violating the cease-fire.

The two leaders will not discuss the renewal of Syrian-Israeli talks.

"If Syria wants to convince us that she is interested in peace, she knows what she must do," the senior U.S. official said. "We have had so many expectations from Syria that did not manifest themselves that we are tired of the Syrians. The Israeli government does not appear interested in talking with Syria," he added.

Lebanon's government received a draft document Friday setting up an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
 This sets in motion the process of creating a "tribunal with an international character" as authorized by the U.N. Security Council to try suspects in the bombing that transformed Lebanon. The next step would be for the Lebanese government to approve the draft document in a meeting that could take place next week. An approved draft would the go to Parliament to be passed into law.

The government is dominated by anti-Syrian supporters of the late Hariri, but President Emile Lahoud, a staunch pro-Syrian, objected to some points in an earlier draft and declared it would not pass without his approval.

LARRY DERFNER writes in the Jerusalem Post, "Why Israel must talk to Syria," 9 November 2006:

The real reason Olmert won't talk is because the Bush administration won't let him, something the administration hasn't even tried to hide. As far as Bush is concerned, Syria is an auxiliary member of the axis of evil, and you don't talk to them, you freeze them out, keep them guessing whether you're going to regime-change their asses, and wait for them to come begging.

This strategy has worked about as well with Syria as it has with Iran and North Korea, and about as well as the crusade for democracy has worked in Iraq. It may be about to change. Between the congressional election results and the exit strategy from Iraq being devised by the forceful diplomat James Baker, Bush could decide that on second thought, maybe Israel and Syria ought to sit down and try to settle their differences. Right away.

WHAT WOULD Olmert say to that? He'd say, "Yes, sir." And Assad and everybody else would understand that Israel, as it had done under Rabin, Barak and Netanyahu, was offering Syria the Golan Heights in return for peace.

Patrick Seale writes in his article, "Syria's Peace Offensive"

"The Israelis need to learn that the world is changing," Mr Muallem says. "Force cannot achieve political goals. Israel’s occupation of Arab territory is the great obstacle to peace and security. If Israel wants to belong to this region – if it wants to live at peace with its neighbours – it needs to come to terms with the new realities. Peace can create a win-win situation for everyone. We in Syria want to play a constructive role." 

The Syrians have great hopes that James Baker and Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of America’s bipartisan Iraq Study Group will not only help President Bush extricate the United States from Iraq, but will also change American policy towards the whole region. The Democratic victory at this week’s mid-term elections has encouraged expectations that America will now correct its aim in the Middle East.

James Baker, former American Secretary of State, is greatly respected in Damascus. He promised the late President Hafez al-Assad that he would launch a peace process immediately after the war to liberate Kuwait, and he kept his promise. The result was the Madrid peace conference of 1991.

Foreign Minister Muallem explains that this precedent is very much in President Bashar al-Assad’s mind. The Syrians believe that Baker would not have taken the job if he had not received assurances from President Bush that serious attention would be given to his advice.

Here are additional important articles suggesting that the US deal directly with Syria.

Sami Moubayed, Why the world loves Syria, Asia Times, Nov. 11
The mood in Damascus was joyful as the Republican defeat in the US congressional elections and the resignation of defense secretary  Donald Rumsfeld were vibrating throughout political circles in the Arab world.
The Syrians, after all, long for a bygone era of an America ruled by the Americans when Syrian-US relations were at their finest: "The America of Jimmy Carter and the one of Bill Clinton," as one Ba'athist put it. This time, however, the Democrat victory will probably not lead to a new honeymoon in Syrian-US relations, as some Syrians imagine.

It will, however, make any new adventure by Bush, such as an attack on Iran, close to impossible. It will also dramatically change US policy in Iraq, but is not likely to lead to changes vis-a-vis the Palestine-Israeli conflict, or Syrian-US relations.

Republicans and Democrats having the moral courage to face certain obvious facts. These include that thanks mainly to America's own actions, Iran is now in a much stronger regional position; that to try to exclude Iran from major influence in Iraq and Afghanistan is now impossible; and that however unfortunate this may be, Iran's support for Hezbollah's struggle with Israel has the approval of most Muslims.

In these circumstances, for America to go on refusing to talk directly to the Iranians is doing more damage to the United States than to Iran.

It is doing even worse damage to Iraq and Afghanistan – countries for which the United States has taken responsibility, and which will be extremely dependent on Iranian good will.

Talking to Iran and Syria will mean a certain loss of face for the United States. Any eventual overall settlement with these countries will fall short of maximum U.S. and Israeli wishes.

But elected U.S. officials need to have the courage to ask themselves the following tough questions, and then act upon the answers: Given what has happened in Iraq, does America have any chance of achieving its present stated goals with regard to Iran and Syria?

If not, when is it better to start looking for a compromise: today, or in two years' time, when thousands more U.S. servicemen will have been killed and maimed?

Carsten Wieland, Syria’s quagmire, al-Assad’s tunnel, Open Democracy, Nov. 9
The Damascus regime has survived the fallout of war in Iraq and turmoil in Lebanon. There will be no overall solution to the middle-east crisis without Damascus, but a closer look suggests that Bashar al-Assad's time is running out, argues Carsten Wieland.

Syria warns Israel that it will rekindle 'resistance' within months to liberate the Golan Heights if Israel does not move toward opening up peace negotiations. Aaron Klein in Nov. 8. Also read: Syria Calls to Boost Culture of Resistance

Vice-president Cheney faces isolation over Iran and Syria after key ally leaves Pentagon: Guardian

However, that does not mean that Mr Cheney's influence is at an end. He has a formidable staff within the White House and remains an important influence on the president. "He's isolated but you know when you corner a dangerous animal, it doesn't make him any less dangerous," said a senior Democratic foreign policy official. "He's going to continue to push for what he believes in. It doesn't mean he's going to put his toys away and go home."

Melvin Goodman, a former CIA official who worked under Mr Gates, expressed doubts that Mr Gates has the strength of conviction to stand up to Mr Cheney. "He never has, so it would be the first time," said Mr Goodman, now a senior fellow at the Centre for International Policy.

Syria is giving Kurds that participate in the region's Kurdish independence struggle a real thumping. A decade ago Syria supported the PKK and used the Kurds against both Iraq and Turkey. Not any more. Syria is feeling threatened by the success of the Kurds in Iraq.
Syria Shocks PKK

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Syria gave members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is connected to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), heavy prison sentences in a surprise move.

PKK militants had attempted to organize a demonstration to celebrate the founding of the PYD. Syrian security forces, however, did not give permission for the demonstration, resulting in a conflict in which125 people were detained and sent to a Damascus prison.

The PKK members were tried by the court and sentenced from 10 to 30 years imprisonment on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, provoking national and class conflicts through violence and trying to bind Syrian lands to a foreign country.

Lawyer for the defense, Enver Bunni, emphasized that Syria has cracked down on the PKK and added many PKK sympathizers were arrested while protesting the verdict for the PYD members.

In the past, Turkey-Syria relations were tense as PKK Leader Abdullah Ocalan had sought refuge there; however, relations improved after Ocalan was banished from the country and the two countries signed the Adana Correspondence in 1998 to take concrete steps to prevent PKK terrorism.

The Damascus administration has handed 70 PKK members to Turkey to date, including top-level administrators in the terrorist organization.

Comments (6)

Dubai Jazz said:

Bolton is next on the rolling heads list, another Bush fiasco’s scapegoat.
Dr. Landis, a striking fact about all this; it seems that Iraq has helped to change/improve the American political scene, more than America was able to change/improve Iraq. Isn’t that amusing?

November 11th, 2006, 7:04 am


Frank al Irlandi said:

Dear Dr Landis

I am surprised at the report that Mr Olmert isn’t being allowed to talk to Syria.

I thought President Baker is in favour of dialogue with Syria and Iran and conducted negotiations in the 1990’s.

November 11th, 2006, 8:43 am


Dubai Jazz said:

Bashar’s peace offensive
By Patrick Seale, Special to Gulf News

Peace is the buzz word in Damascus these days. It is the recurrent leitmotiv of President Bashar Al Assad’s statements and those of his senior officials.
The message they want to convey to the West – and especially to President George W Bush – is that unless the Middle East peace process is immediately revived, the region will succumb to extremism and war.
more on:

November 11th, 2006, 9:02 am


Dubai Jazz said:

I am sorry Dr. Landis, it looks like I brought up the same article you’ve quoted in your post…different resource though it was, an oversight.

November 11th, 2006, 10:35 am


ivanka said:

I found the article called Syria’s quagmire very very useful.

I have a question. Why is the hariri draft getting so little news coverage? Al Jazeera are not even talking about it.

November 11th, 2006, 11:00 am


ivanka said:

ok now i’m sure it will. hizbulla and amal have resigned from the lebanese government.

November 11th, 2006, 5:32 pm


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