News Roundup (31 Oct. 2007)

Syrian Government suddenly raises the Petrol prices for consumers (Thanks Idaf) This means that President Asad is siding with Deputy Prime Minister Dardari against the Baath Party members who spoke out against cutting subsidies. For several months government policy on subsidy reduction has been frozen in dispute.

Syria signs $2.6 billion deal with Iran, Venezuela and a Malaysian conglomerate to build refinery

Gulf states may drop dollar pegs in unison: Gulf Arab oil producers, torn between rising inflation and exchange rates fixed to a sliding dollar, could consider switching together to a currency basket to buy time for a troubled monetary union project, analysts said…

Syrians take to rugby with fierce pride, By Thanassis Cambanis, Oct, 30, 207 IHT. Thanassis, in this great story, might have mentioned Britain's military attache, Jason Wells, who started the league. (Now based in Dubai.) As well as, Roddey Drummond, the long-time British DCM, who I believe is now serving as Ambassador in Damascus. He was a big devotee of the league.

Excerpts from the Middle East Policy Survey: via friday-lunch-club
 "… Annapolis "would be just a `photo op' without the Saudis." Some Administration analysts expect, in the end, the Saudis will come, although they fear their representative will be a lower level official than Foreign Minister, Prince Saud. Still, as one cynical Administration insider said last week, "The time couldn't be better for the Arabs to try to help us work things out. After all what better time than between two wars?"
"… US policy towards Lebanon constitutes a glaring exception to the well thought out approaches to the major three Middle East issues. This casual attitude was most recently on display with the visit to Washington earlier this month by Saad Hariri,… On his visit here, Hariri, seen by Washington (and apparently himself) as a future Prime Minister ["He will be Prime Minister," says one State Department official. "Not necessarily a good Prime Minister."] was lavishly praised by the President and other top Administration officials. But in subsequent weeks, it has become apparent that while the Administration is prepared to offer generous vocal support, it is not willing to back up its rhetoric with action. As one veteran diplomat put it last week, in a cynical twist on former Secretary of State Powell's famous line about American responsibility for Iraq after the invasion, "If you break Lebanon, it's broken."

Syria-based Palestinian officials postpone Hamas-led Damascus meeting from Jerusalem Post

Syria-based Palestinian officials announced on Tuesday that a Hamas-led meeting due here in early November would be postponed to coincide with the US-sponsored Mideast peace conference later this year.

The Damascus meeting of Palestinian groups opposed to peace talks with Israel had been envisaged to rival the conference called for by US President George W. Bush in Annapolis, Maryland.

The US-sponsored Mideast conference, due in November or December, is expected to relaunch Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

Talal Naji, a ranking official with the Syria-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said that a preparatory committee had rescheduled the Damascus gathering, initially planned for November 7-9, to have it "coincide with the Bush conference."

EU politician: No peace without Syria, from Jerusalem Post

Syria will not allow any serious peace agreement to be reached without playing a central role in the negotiations, European Parliament member Jana Hybaskova told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.

Hybaskova, chairwoman of the Delegation for Relations with Israel and a member of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) who also sits on the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Budgets, recently met with Syrian President Bashar Assad. She spent this week leading a delegation of European Parliament members in Israel.

"[Syria] has the vision that there is no peace without Syria," Hybaskova said. The Syrians have an "overexaggerated sense" of their own importance, she said, adding, "They want to put themselves in the center… and that is the key," so if they cannot be part of masterminding the peace, "they want to destroy it." "That is a very dangerous message," she said.

Hybaskova said she had been disappointed by the Syrians' "rigid" response on several issues, including the release of Syrian dissidents from jail, negotiations over the Golan Heights and the strengthening relationship with Russia.

"I am very much concerned with the mounting influence of Russia – not only in Syria, but in the whole Middle East," she said.

Hybaskova said she was particularly worried about Russia's ties with Iran and its actions to dissuade the construction of missile defense systems in Central and Eastern Europe.

"Whenever we are active, Russians come and say, 'No, Iran is not that important. Do not build this defense,'" she said. Israel should use its "special relationship" with Russia to persuade Moscow to change its tune on missile defense and Iran in general, she said, citing the number of Russian immigrants in Israel and the trade between the two countries.

"We do not want Iran to come up with a nuclear program. We realize this is a threat to all of Europe," she said.

Steve Clemons has a copy of a "private" letter from Sen. Chuck Hagel to Bush (and cc. to Rice, Gates & Hadley), and apparently CENTCOM's Adm. Fallon got a copy, most probably through Sec. Gates and has sice "communicated" with Hagel. (Thanks friday-lunch-club)

October 17, 2007

The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I write to urge you to consider pursuing direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran.

In the last two years, the United States has worked closely with the permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, Japan, and other key states as well as the UN Secretary General and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency to pursue a diplomatic strategy regarding Iran's nuclear program. I have supported your efforts. Maintaining a cohesive and united international front remains one of our most effective levers on Iran…. (read the whole letter.)


Fareed Zakaria deserves a medal for breaking with most of the mainstream media pack to slap down, with the requisite rudeness, the hysteria over Iran being manufactured by the neocons, opportunist Israeli politicians and the Bush Administration. Perhaps stung by having participated in a secret Bush Administration policy discussion to help shape the Iraq war policy before the invasion, Zakaria is acting with honor now to prevent another disaster……

Comments (7)

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Even the Europeans are catching on to the Syrian spoiler tactic. This is from above:
“[Syria] has the vision that there is no peace without Syria,” Hybaskova said. The Syrians have an “overexaggerated sense” of their own importance, she said, adding, “They want to put themselves in the center… and that is the key,” so if they cannot be part of masterminding the peace, “they want to destroy it.” “That is a very dangerous message,” she said.

Hybaskova said she had been disappointed by the Syrians’ “rigid” response on several issues, including the release of Syrian dissidents from jail, negotiations over the Golan Heights and the strengthening relationship with Russia.

November 1st, 2007, 1:39 am


Alex said:


I knew you will catch that part : )

Who knows .. maybe she reads Syria Comment!

I agree with her regarding the regime’s refusal to release some of the dissidents. I am also disappointed.

As for the other two examples of Syrian lack of flexibility … I am less understanding, as you know.

Assad knows Syria’s limitations. He does not have an exaggerated sense of his country’s importance. What he has is his father’s refusal to move an inch from Syria’s long term strategic objectives in the middle East. Since 1991, when Assad Sr. decided to seek a comprehensive peaceful settlement with Israel, Syria did not change its bottom line… a solution based on UN resolutions 242 and 338.

This American administration decided to change the rules of the game by force. They are hoping, together with their obedient Arab rulers, to set the new rules … Syria continues to feel sufficiently strong and justified to resist the forced changes. If it was not, Syria would not have resisted. The Syrians are very cautious. Whatever risk they take, it is calculated more than once.

The Europeans want to solve the Lebanese ad Palestinian conflicts. They are telling Assad: “This is the new reality in the middle east … the Americans will not allow so and so … YOU have to compromise. If you do, we .. will be nice to you … we will say nice things about you in public … and we will visit you more often … ”

Then they get upset that Syria is too rigid.

Syria wants the return of the 90’s … Syria will be happy to cooperate with whatever solutions Clinton and George Bush Sr. were advocating in the 90’s.

November 1st, 2007, 3:31 am


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

What do you think are Syria’s long term strategic interests? Just getting the Golan?

What new rules do you think the Americans are trying to set?

I of course think that Asad has only one stratgic goal which is to stay in power, but if he doesn’t do anything about the economy, he will be gone in at most 10 years.

November 1st, 2007, 4:20 am


Murphy said:

Whatever gave some nobody with the name of “Hybaskova” the right to say the Syrians ‘exaggerate their own importance?”

Who is this cipher anyway? A craven New Yurpeen who thinks sucking up to Israel will score her points with the country that subsidises it?

November 1st, 2007, 12:47 pm


SimoHurtta said:

If Syria’s strengthening relations with Russia make Hybaskova (and Israelis) sleepless, what does this:

France Loses Out as Saudis Sign $2.2 Billion Deal for Russian Helos

PARIS — In an abrupt policy shift, Saudi Arabia has signed an agreement to buy over 150 Russian-made Mi-35 Hind and Mi-17 Hip helicopters worth over $2.2 billion, ending French hopes of sealing a long-delayed sale of 148 helicopters and raising doubts about future French arms sales to the Saudi kingdom.

Sources say the Memorandum of Understanding with Russia was signed in Ryad in mid-September by members of the private cabinet of Saudi King Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, and follows extended visits to Russia by Saudi military delegations in February and March 2007 to appraise the capabilities of Russian helicopters and other weapons.

The sources also said that Saudi Arabia appears to have decided to buy T-90 main battle tanks and medium-range air-defense systems from Russia, replacing previous plans to buy French-made Leclerc tanks and Aster 30 SAMP/T air-defense systems. No agreement has yet been signed for these systems, however, Eurocopter confirmed that Saudi Arabia has opted for Russian helicopters, but said the company’s future prospects in the country remained unclear. Nexter, manufacturer of the Leclerc tank, and missile maker MBDA had no comment on the status of their dealings with Saudi Arabia.

Syria is not the only one strengthening ties with Russia. Everybody seems to do it.

November 1st, 2007, 1:27 pm


Observer said:

Here is some interesting news about the Kurds and Israel

November 1st, 2007, 4:08 pm


Sami D said:

Speaking of “free” trade (removing subsidy from oil prices in Syria) the following article is relevant. Basically, economic exploitation through “freedom” and capitalism. (See link for original:

باسم الحريّة!

رامي زريق

عن أيّة حرية يتحدثون؟ هل يظنّوننا حقّاً أغبياء؟ هل يعتقدون أننا لا نرى الأصفاد خلف الأكاذيب والمفاهيم المضلّلة؟
يسمّونه «التبادل الحر»، وهم يعلمون تماماً أنّه يمكن نعته بكلّ شيء، إلا الحرية. وكيف يكون التبادل حرّاً بين الحاكم والمحكوم؟
تفرض علينا البلدان الصناعية فتح أبواب أسواقنا لبضائعها المدعومة، في الوقت نفسه الذي تحذّرنا فيه من مضارّ الدعم. وبذلك تحافظ على منتجيها وتعطيهم أحسن ميزة تفاضلية ممكنة. تبتزّنا وتهدّدنا إذا فكّرنا (مجرّد فكرة) بدعم الزراعة أو الصناعة في بلادنا.
كلّ هذا باسم الحريّة ـــــ حريّة السوق ـــــ تلك الحريّة نفسها التي قدّستها حكوماتنا المتتالية منذ الاستقلال، فسلّمت مصائرنا وأعناق مزارعينا لمشيئة الدول الصناعية الكبرى.
فقد وقّعت حكوماتنا اتفاقات التبادل الحر مع تلك الدول الصناعية التي لا يهمها إلا تفعيل اقتصادها وبيع منتجاتها وإغراق أسواقنا ببضائعها. لنأخذ، مثلاً، اتفاقية الشراكة الأوروبية التي وقّعها لبنان سنة 2002 والتي تنص على التالي: يحق للبنان التصدير إلى أوروبا من دون رسوم (شرط أن تستوفي البضائع شروط النوعية)، وهذا لمدّة خمس سنوات يفتح بعدها لبنان أسواقه للبضائع الأوروبية من دون رسوم إلى الأبد.
يبدو، وللوهلة الأولى، أن هذا الاتفاق هو لمصلحتنا، إذ أعطانا خمس سنوات نستعد خلالها للتبادل الحر. خمس سنوات ليجهز المزارع اللبناني الصغير، المنسي، نفسه لينافس المزارع الأوروبي المدعوم بكل قوة أوروبا الاقتصادية وتاريخها الاستعماري. يا لها من مهزلة.
ولزيادة الطين بلّة، تضع الدول الأوروبية حواجز غير نقدية، لتصعيب دخول البضائع اللبنانية إلى أسواقها، مثل التشديد على متطلبات نوعية غير مبررة وفرض معاملات إدارية/بيروقراطية تنهك المصدّر وتؤدّي إلى تلف البضائع.
هذه هي الحرية التي يتحدّثون عنها! أهي نفسها تلك التي تأتي مع السيادة والاستقلال؟
عدد الجمعة ٢ تشرين الثاني

November 2nd, 2007, 7:28 pm


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