Syria’s Joint Bank Venture: Syrian Embassy to Open in Lebanon

The Economist Intelligence Unit provides interesting commentary on the joint bank venture between Iran and Syria, whch is covered by the Financial Times. Here’s the FT link. The interesting angle is that, at least according to Syria’s official data, trade with Iran is paltry, whereas trade with Saudi Arabia (both imports and exports — but particularly imports, presumably of oil) is quite substantial, at US$2bn last year. Also, what is little Malta up to?!

The Syrian government is in discussions with Iran about forming a joint-venture commercial bank to finance trade between the two allied countries, according to the Financial Times. However, Syria’s official figures indicate that trade between the two countries accounts for only 0.6% of total imports and exports, and it is not clear whether this initiative will reach fruition, in particular given the complicating factor of US sanctions on both Syrian and Iranian banks.


The London-based newspaper quoted Abdullah al-Dardari, Syria’s deputy minister for economic affairs as saying that the venture would be between Commercial Bank of Syria, a state-owned entity that dominates the country’s trade finance, and Iran’s Bank Saderat. Iranian officials were quoted as saying merely that a Memorandum of Understanding had been signed between the two governments, but that the Iranian counterparty had not yet been specified. The article observed that Iran has become one of Syria’s “most important economic partners”, with bilateral trade of US$400m a year, “compared with only US$50m worth of trade with neighbouring Jordan”.


However, these figures do not tally with the most recent trade data issued by the Central Bank of Syria: these put total imports from Iran in 2007 at the equivalent of US$117m and exports to Iran at just US$40m. (The comparative figures for Jordan were US$153m and US$535m respectively.) Syria’s total imports in 2007 were US$14.9bn, with Russia, China and Italy the top three suppliers; exports totalled US$12.6bn, with Italy, France and Saudi Arabia occupying the top three positions. Syria’s leading trade partner in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia—with which the country’s political relations are spectacularly poor—with two-way trade of just over US$2bn in 2007.


One of the curiosities of the latest trade data is the spectacular increase in imports from Malta. These totalled US$738m in 2007 and US$227m in 2006, while over the preceding four years the cumulative total was only US$174,000.

See the Economist Intel. Unit Economic Overview below:


Sami Moubayed’s “When John McCain visited Damascus,” is well worth the read for some good history.


US opens Interest Section in Iran (Will returning an ambassador to Syria be next? It would be the best thing that the outgoing administration could do to help the next administration get off to a running start. All branches — intelligence, State, Defense — of the administration want improved relations with Syria.)
“…David Ignatius of The Washington Post wrote in a column Sunday that the Bush administration plans to announce the opening of a U.S. interests section in Tehran in mid-November….some Iranian officials expressed frustration at ambiguous statements from unnamed U.S. officials quoted by the media….”They are talking to us through the media but not making any official requests for negotiations,” Kazem Jalali, a spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said recently. “Iran will seriously consider any official request from the United States government for talks,” Jalali said. “But if that is not made, nothing can happen.”

Syria will open an embassy in Beirut for the first time in more than 60 years, and an official with the Syrian Foreign Ministry said that will likely happen before the end of the year.

The Syrian Arab News Agency (Sana) said President Bashar Assad issued a decree on Tuesday that establishes diplomatic ties with Lebanon…. Syria and Lebanon decided earlier this year to establish diplomatic relations when Lebanese President Michel Suleiman visited Damascus.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh was expected to visit Damascus on Wednesday to set a date for the embassy opening. The Syrian ministry official told the Associated Press: “There will be a Syrian Embassy and an ambassador in Lebanon soon and before the end of the year,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, in line with regulations

Google Blocks Chrome Browser Use in Syria, Iran
by Jessica Dheere, 13 October 2008

Recently, I learned from Joshua Landis’ Syria Comment, my main source for news and analysis concerning Lebanon’s eastern neighbor, that Google has blocked the use of its new web browser, Chrome, in Syria.

A quick Google search turned up a post by Syrian blogger Yaser Sadeq with an account of his abortive attempt to take the new browser for a spin, and another by Feras Allaou that chronicled his own unsuccessful attempts to download Google applications. …It seems like a strange move for a company that has focused so intently on the Middle Eastern and North African markets, with versions of Knol, Blogger, iGoogle, Docs, and, most recently, Chat in Arabic. But he was right.

… According to a Google spokesperson, in order for the company to abide by U.S. export controls and economic sanctions, “we are unable to permit the download of Google Chrome in Cuba, Syria, North Korea, Iran, and Sudan…”

Bush Says Syria Must Respect Lebanon’s Sovereignty, 14 October 2008

U.S. President George Bush warned Syria on Monday that it must respect Lebanon’s sovereignty and urged Damascus to establish full diplomatic ties with Beirut. “We discussed the need for Syria to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty, to cease its support for terror, and to open full diplomatic relations with Lebanon’s elected government,” Bush said after talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi…. “Together, we are giving support to rising democracies, and defending the innocent against the violent,” Berlusconi earlier said as Bush welcomed him to the White House.

“Italy has shown that commitment by deploying forces to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and by leading NATO training operations in Iraq. Italian forces are also serving the cause of peace and stability in Lebanon and Kosovo and Bosnia,” he added.

Syria sends first ambassador to Iraq in decades
Reuters, 13 October 2008

Syria has sent its first ambassador to Baghdad in decades, the Iraqi government said on Monday, the latest move from a fellow Arab country to strengthen diplomatic ties with Iraq.

Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari received newly appointed Syrian Ambassador Nawaf Aboud al-Sheikh Faris Monday afternoon, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Zebari “welcomed ambassador Faris and confirmed Iraq’s desire to develop and enhance bilateral relations, and to move to a new stage of cooperation,” the statement said.

Syria opened an embassy in Baghdad last year, but the arrival of its envoy marks a significant step for the two nations, which have had strained ties since rival factions of the Ba’ath party took power in both countries in the 1960s.

Syria has not had an embassy in Iraq since around the time Saddam Hussein became president in 1979.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraq’s U.S.-backed government has accused Syria of not doing enough to stem the flow of foreign fighters entering Iraq across the two countries’ porous 600-km (380-mile) border.

Shi’ite-led Iraq has for years urged its Arab neighbours, mostly governed by Sunnis, to re-establish full diplomatic ties. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad comes from the minority Alawite sect….

Several Arab leaders have visited Iraq since August. Last month, the United Arab Emirates ambassador took up his post in Baghdad, becoming the first Arab ambassador in Baghdad since Egypt’s envoy was kidnapped and killed in 2005.

Learning Syrian cooking, and culture, Bost Globe, 2008-10-15

“Mea Culpa,” By Amr Hamzawy of Carnegie Institute
Al Ahram Weekly, Issue No. 917, 9 – 15 October 2008

Although the questions of democracy, pluralism, political freedom, and human rights in Arab societies have taken the best part of my intellectual and academic effort, I found my analysis was too focussed on a single question; namely, how non-violent opposition movements can generate enough pressure on governing elites to bring about democracy, the rotation of power, competitive elections, citizen participation, and all the rest.

One thing I failed to examine adequately was the nature of the opposition. Be they Islamic, liberal or leftist, our opposition groups have a disturbing block when it comes to introducing democracy in their own organisations. However loud they may denounce the repression of the ruling elites in public, they have little or no respect for democracy in their own backyard.

Comments (5)

Alex said:

I love Hamzawy’s realization that the problem is not ONLY with the totalitarian regimes, but with our Arab opposition too!

I was always attacked for making this point. Everyone is concentrating on the evil dictators, and no one wanted to lok at our mostly pathetic opposition first. If we are to make people support the opposition, then we need attractive opposition, not one that make the totalitarian regimes look good in comparison.

October 15th, 2008, 5:18 pm


SimoHurtta said:

Here is a link to a rather “describing” article about what the effects of US sanctions against Russia could cause for USA.

Embargo Russia? America Had Best Get A Clue

Sanctioning / blocking even small economies like Syria is getting more and more difficult for USA. Blocking big economies like Russia is simply impossible in today’s world. USA doesn’t any more have the technological, industrial and financial “monopoly” it had still during the 80’s. Also the political support for new sanctions among the allies is mildly said low.

October 15th, 2008, 9:28 pm


Jessica Dheere said:

Thanks for posting the story about Chrome here and for the call to find out more in September. I had included a link to Syria Comment but I think it was removed in editing!

October 16th, 2008, 1:25 pm


EHSANI2 said:


I think that we are all waiting for you or a replica of you to switch to the opposition before we all jump on board and support that candidate

October 16th, 2008, 4:18 pm


Apollodorus said:

Alex ,i disagree with you ,the oppositions in the arab world and particularly in Syria(Damascus Declaration),Morocco(justice party) ,Egypt(Kifaya) and even in Saudi Arabia are really admirable.Even the Islamists in these countries have now a significant pro democracy and pro liberal wing.
And plz ,avoid us the Iraqi example,the opposition which took the power thanks to the American occupation is not representative of our traditional elite,it’s a foreigner tumor in our body that is the result of an american iranian deal.

October 17th, 2008, 11:55 am


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