Steps Syria has Taken to Win US Favor

Syria has taken a number of steps to win US favor and get relations back on a solid footing. I had dinner with a Western Diplomat in Damascus whose job is to coordinate with Syrian Security. He was nonplussed by America’s inability to fully engage with Syria and to name an Ambassador to Damascus, the stumbling block preventing better relations. “Why not just name and ambassador?” he wondered. “It is not a concession or humiliation for America. It is natural to have diplomatic relations with countries you want to deal with.” Besides, he listed a number of things Syria has done to build confidence to convince America to move ahead. They are:

1. Syria gave US diplomats direct access to Syrian intelligence officials. Of course, this did not mean that intelligence officials “gave” Americans useful information, but it was an indication of Syria’s willingness to work together with Americans should the US resume normal diplomatic relations. Evidently, the Americans wanted “a scalp,” or the arrest of a prominent Iraqi opposition member resident in Syria, which they could take home to impress the doubters. Syria refused to give it.

2. Syria has, according to this diplomat, let Iraqi opposition members resident in Syria know that they must not engage in smuggling, because it will be against Syria’s national security interests. This means that Syria is actively restraining Iraqi opposition leaders from hurting the Maliki government even if Damascus will not turn them over to American or Iraqi officials for interrogation.

3. Syria has stopped an important shipment of Iranian arms to Hizbullah, using the same rational: it is against Syria’s national security interests. (This suggests that Syria’s and Iran’s defense agreements have an escape clause which hinges on “national security interest.” )

The Hizballah Dilemma By Andrew Lee Butters in Time (Thursday, Jun. 04, 2009)

Butters’ article is one of the best I have read on US policy toward Hizbullah and the region. The US inability to deal with Hizbullah helps explain its inability to properly engaging Syria. Butters underlines why it was such a mistake for the US to partner with Israel in 1982, during during the Jewish State’s invasion of Lebanon. When Hizbullah killed Americans in its effort to defeat Israel and liberate its land, it earned undying US hatred and a desire for vengeance. Israel’s enemies became America’s. Butters gets the following answer from a US State Department official in Beirut when he asks if the US is prepared to talk to Hizbullah:

“Do you ever have any contact with Hizballah these days?” I asked the official. Not only is it illegal for U.S. government officials to have dealings with terrorist organizations, she said, but the photographs of her predecessors killed by Hizballah that hang from the embassy walls serve as a daily reminder of why America doesn’t talk to the group.

The search for vengeance that has taken root between America and its enemies in the Middle East affects even little things. I spoke to a Syrian friend the other day who explained that he had been called in by the mukhabarat (state security) for the first time not long ago. His sin was that he had attended a reception at the US embassy. The security official asked him: “Why do you need to eat the American’s food? They have placed sanctions on us and try to starve us. Do we really need to eat from their table? Isn’t it better that we show them that we can feed outselves?” My friend looked at me — most of his business if with foreign companies — and he said, “I could not disagree.”

To follow Lebanon’s elections:

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Meshaal on Obama speech: Good, but– By Helena Cobban (She has also interviewed Foreign Minister Moualem, so keep tuned to “Just World News.”

The audacity of hope, from Cairo
, By Sami Moubayed

U.S. Official: Polls to Decide Between Independence and Extremism

A high-level U.S. official told pan-Arab daily al-Hayat that Lebanon’s parliamentary elections would either put Lebanon on the path of independence or extremism. Sunday’s polls would either put the country on the path of “completing independence and sovereignty” away from foreign meddling or the path of “the forces of violence and extremism to reach political objectives,” the source said in remarks published Friday.

IAEA Finds More Uranium Traces in Syria
2009-06-05 17:41:06.297 GMT

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found traces of uranium at an additional location in Syria, according to the agency’s report from Friday which also focussed on the country’s alleged nuclear reactor site at al-Kibar. The Vienna-based agency made it also clear it did not believe Syria’s explanations about the al-Kibar site that was bombed by Israel in 2007 and which Damascus claims was a conventional military facility.

“The information provided by Syria to date does not adequately support its assertions about the nature of the site,” IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei wrote in the report to member countries.

It was the second find of man-made uranium after IAEA inspectors detected such particles at the bombed site.

The new traces were found at a small reactor in Damascus that is used for education and teaching purposes and that is under routine IAEA surveillance.

Hezbollah Coalition May Win Lebanon Vote in Tilt Away From U.S.
By Massoud A. Derhally

June 5 (Bloomberg) — A Hezbollah-led coalition may expand its power in Lebanon’s June 7 parliamentary elections, helping the Iranian-backed Shiite group preserve a militia the U.S. has sought to disband.

The U.S. supports Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his pro- Western coalition and classifies Hezbollah, led by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, as a terrorist organization. It also backs United Nations resolutions calling on Hezbollah to disarm its militia, which fought a monthlong war with Israel in 2006.

Significant electoral gains for the Hezbollah bloc would challenge President Barack Obama’s efforts to pacify the Middle East and move toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The group mocks pro-U.S. Arab states such as Egypt for failing to help the Palestinians, and says its private army is essential to defend Lebanon against Israeli attacks.

“When the party is in control of the government, it will be harder for Hezbollah’s internal and external opponents to call for its disarmament,” said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor at the Lebanese American University. “It would mean the end of a pro-Western government.”

Hezbollah, which also has Syrian backing, is set to make gains because “they respond to grievances, sentiments and emotions of their constituency better,” said Rami G. Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. “They provide social welfare, resistance, services.”

Autonomous Militias

A poll conducted earlier this year of about 4,000 people showed the Hezbollah coalition, which includes Christian and other Muslim parties, would win a majority of two or three seats in the 128-member parliament if the election were held at that time. Taken between February and April by the Beirut Center for Research and Information, the poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

The Hezbollah-led bloc currently has 58 seats and the Siniora coalition 70 seats….

As long as Hezbollah maintains its militia, says Marwan Hamadeh, a government lawmaker and Siniora ally, Lebanon will be plagued by political instability and intervention by Iran and Syria.

“We succeeded in expelling the Syrian army but they’re still here with their militias, intelligence services, aggressive media and unveiled will for a comeback,” Hamadeh said.

The 2005 killing of former Premier Rafiq Hariri in a roadside bomb attack sparked mass protests that forced Syria to end a three-decade military presence in Lebanon, and helped a pro-Western coalition win elections that year.

Political Balancing Act

While Hezbollah has gained popularity by fighting Israel, a larger role in government could blunt its radicalism, said Josh Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Lebanon’s political system distributes parliament seats and government jobs among different groups. The president is always a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite.

That makes coalition-building imperative. Hezbollah’s network of allies, for instance, includes a Christian party headed by former army general Michel Aoun. Siniora’s coalition includes Sunnis, Christians and Druze.

“Lebanon is a mosaic and it requires consensus and agreement,” Landis said. “Using the political process to solve important problems allows us to move away from violence and the use of arms.”

From MEMRI Jumblatt’s New Strategy

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt recently held a closed-door meeting with a small group of Druze sheikhs loyal to him; the transcript of the meeting was published in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar . In the meeting, Jumblatt conveyed a clear and unequivocal message, namely that in light of the growing power of the Shi’ites in Lebanon and the decline in the power of the Druze, the latter must accept the new reality, stop fighting the Shi’ites, and coexist with them.

In support of this position, Jumblatt cited the demographic and political changes in the country. He said that the Shi’ites are growing stronger, both in numbers and in power, while the Sunnis are “more dangerous” than the Shi’ites and the Christians are “dying out.” He also explained that the reality, as well as the attitude towards the Shi’ites, are changing not only in Lebanon but throughout the world, as manifested by Britain’s recent contacts with Hizbullah and the U.S.’s dialogue with Iran; consequently, the Druze too must be realistic and think of the future.

The sheikhs clearly had difficulty in accepting Jumblatt’s position and the new path he urged them to take, but he repeatedly insisted that there was no other choice…..

Jumblatt: “They are the ones who started it in Dir Qoubal.(3) Okay, [but] now can we put an end to it? Or do you want us to create a Druze Karbala?(4) The Sunnis have [already] invented [their own] new Karbala. There was the [original Shi’ite] Karbala of Hassan and Hussein, and now the Sunnis have created a new Karbala called May 7 [out of] the three people who were killed in Beirut. I ask you: shouldn’t we Druze put an end to this matter? They have killed some of our people, and we have killed some of theirs. Shall we stop, or shall we continue the killing? That is the question”…

“On May 7, 2008, the Sunnis Brought in 1,000 Men from [the North]; They Did Not Last More than 15 Minutes [Against Hizbullah] – We Cannot Start a Religious, Psychological and Political War with the Shi’ites”

“[In 2007-2008, when we argued about who would replace Emil Lahoud as president]… I met with what’s-his-name, [Maronite military leader] Samir Geagea. He wanted war. The Christians wanted us to start a war with the Shi’ites so that they could look on from the sidelines, and even some of the Sunnis wanted there to be a confrontation between the Shi’ites and ourselves. We saw the Sunnis in Beirut [on May 7, 2008]. They brought in 1,000 men from ‘Akar, but they did not last more than 15 minutes [against Hizbullah]. We cannot [afford to] start a religious, psychological and political war with the Shi’ites. Look at those [fundamentalist Sunni Islamists] who shave their mustaches and grow their beards…”

Sheikhs: “They are more dangerous [than the Shi’ites].”…..

Clinton Rejects Israeli Claims of Accord on Settlements (Post, June 6, 2009)

Syrian Kurds Look for Iraqi Shelter

Iraq’s Kurdish Region is becoming a favoured destination for an increasing number of Syrian Kurds deprived of nationality rights by authorities in Damascus. By Karlos Zurutuza / Dohuk

syria seeks iraqi economic ties
niqash | | thu 04 jun 09

As Syria battles with domestic economic difficulties it is gearing up to dramatically expand economic ties with Iraq in the hope of profiting from new opportunities linked to Iraqi redevelopment.

“The current value of bilateral trade is US $800 million,” said Syrian Minister of Economy and Trade Amer Hosni Lutfi on a recent trip to Iraq. “We are supposed to expand bilateral trade so that it will hit US $3 billion within two years.”

Officials from the two countries say that Syria could become Iraq’s main trading partner in the very near future.

“Syria can be the biggest beneficiary from the Iraq market,” said Adnan al-Sharify, Commercial Attaché at the Iraqi embassy in Damascus. “I expect that in the coming two years Iraqi-Syrian trade will be higher than all other neighboring countries. We hope to reach a trade exchange equal to US $10 billion.”

Although the two countries endured poor relations during the 1980s, Syria became a key trade gateway for Iraq during the 1990s as it faced international sanctions. But ties soured once more following the US-led invasion of 2003. Syria voiced opposition to the occupation causing a breakdown in political and economic relations and Syrian exports to Iraq were valued at just US $641 million in 2007, compared to US $2 billion immediately prior to the invasion.

Comments (4)

t_desco said:

As’ad AbuKhalil may win his $100 worth of Arabic sweets because the election will be decided in a few districts and polls are meaningless with so many people coming back to Lebanon. The Saudis got more money than anybody else and the Americans are usually very good at running election campaigns (microtargeting, etc.). The May 7 Gambit may prove successful in the long run.

And then there is this:

Surprise move by Lebanon president

By Mohammed Almezel, Deputy Managing Editor
Published: June 06, 2009

Beirut: A surprise move by President Michel Sulaiman to ally himself with the pro-western March 14 group cast heavy doubt on the Hezbollah-dominated opposition’s ability to score big in Lebanon’s national election on Sunday.

It is widely assumed that the elections will be decided by the Christian vote as Muslim voters are so polarised that most analysts agree results in the areas have already been decided, with each camp winning half the 64 seats allocated to Muslims in the 128 seat parliament.

Until Thursday, pollsters and analysts were expecting the opposition, led by Shiite group Hezbollah and Christian leader Michel Aoun, head of the popular Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), would win up to 65 seats, enough to win a majority.

March 14 spokesman Fares S’aid, a candidate running in the president’s hometown Jbail, an ancient Maronite port north of Beirut, told reporters Sulaiman has lent his support to the three pro-March 14 candidates running against Aoun’s list in the district.

The move by President Sulaiman, a popular figure among Lebanon’s Christian community, is expected to tip the balance in favour of March 14, led by Sa’ad Hariri, in Jbail, a closely contested district.

The move was criticised strongly by the opposition, which has suspected that Sulaiman was secretly making deals with the Hariri camp.

“The president is risking losing his moral authority as a unifying figure,” the pro-opposition newspaper As Safir said in a front page editorial. “We were hoping he would be the balancing act Lebanon so urgently needs to break the political impasse,” it said.

The daily said the move came after US ambassador Michelle Sisson met with March 14 leaders at S’aid’s house on Thursday night.

The presidential palace did not comment on the news but the move boosted the morale of the March 14 block, which earlier seemed to have resigned itself to the possibility of losing the elections. (…)
Gulf News


I did not include the paragraph because I think that it makes no sense: the Spiegel article doesn’t help Mehlis at all. One could even argue that it unfairly attacks him (but more on that later).

June 6th, 2009, 8:31 am


Nour said:


This article is just plain silly. Michel Sleiman is not really a popular figure in the Christian street in Lebanon, and I believe his alliance with March 14 is going to hurt him more in the long run. He just exposed himself as being dishonest and partial in an election where he should have maintained his neutrality. The opposition is still more likely to win, and when that happens Michel Sleiman will have alienated himself politically. Pretty stupid move.

June 6th, 2009, 1:28 pm


why-discuss said:

Nour, if this is true, many will be very disapointed at general Sleiman who until now has managed to remain neutral. I think this may make him loose much of his credibility, and if the opposition wins it will not easily forgive him that.
I hope that this rumor is vehiculated by the worried 14 Mars people.

On Jumblatt’s instructions to his followers.. As usual, Jumblatt turns to the most powerful of the moment for alliance: now it is Iran and the Shia. Soon Walid bey will visit Karbala in Iraq and Mashad in Iran.

June 6th, 2009, 8:34 pm


norman said:


Can you tell me why Patriot Sfeir is so stupid to open his mouth , instead of waiting to see who is going to Winn, Any government in Lebanon should make it clear to keep religious leaders out of politics,

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Lebanon Patriarch Opposes Hezbollah on Eve of Vote
Posted GMT 6-6-2009 17:55:52
BEIRUT (Reuters) — Lebanon’s Maronite Christian patriarch said on Saturday his country faced a threat to its existence, appearing to take sides against Hezbollah on the eve of an election whose outcome will be decided by the Christian vote.

The influential Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, who has already warned of “mistakes” were the Islamist group and its allies to win the election, spoke of “a threat to the Lebanese entity and its Arab identity.” His remarks were reported by the National News Agency.

Sfeir, 89, has a stormy relationship with Hezbollah’s main Christian ally, Michel Aoun, who currently heads the largest Christian bloc in Lebanon’s 128-seat parliament. Seats in the chamber are divided according to sectarian quotas.

How Aoun and his Christian rivals fare in the parliamentary election on Sunday will decide whether the U.S.-backed “March 14” alliance, led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, retains its majority or loses to the Shi’ite Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, and its allies.

Many politicians expect the election to result in a coalition government, regardless of the outcome.

Sfeir has previously echoed March 14 calls for a state monopoly on weapons — a challenge to the heavily armed Hezbollah.

He also has a record of opposition to Syrian influence in Lebanon, which is central to the agenda of “March 14.” The alliance won the 2005 parliamentary election after the assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, Saad’s father.

“We must be alert to the schemes being plotted for us and thwart the intense efforts which, if they succeed, will change the face of our country,” Sfeir said.


In February, al-Masira magazine quoted the patriarch as saying victory for the pro-Syria alliance would lead to “mistakes … with a historic impact on the nation’s fate.”

Hezbollah’s Christian opponents also include Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces party and the Phalange party led by former president Amin Gemayel. Both have attacked Aoun for the alliance he struck with Hezbollah three years ago and his rapprochement with neighboring Syria.

The United States, which lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group, has said it will review aid to Lebanon depending on the shape of the next government and its policies.

Hezbollah, the most powerful single group in the country, holds one portfolio in the current 30-seat national unity cabinet and has repeatedly called for the formation of another broad unity government after the election.

Some 50,000 members of the security forces will deploy on Sunday, paying extra attention to closely contested districts.

Lebanon was pushed to the brink of civil war last year by a power struggle between the alliances, fueled by rivalry between regional states — in particular Syria, which supports Hezbollah, and Saudi Arabia, which backs Hariri.

But it has enjoyed months of calm in the run-up to the elections, thanks in part to a detente in relations between Damascus and Riyadh.

By Tom Perry

Editing by Kevin Liffey.

© 2009, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use.

June 6th, 2009, 8:45 pm


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