V.P. Farouq al-Sharaa on the Baker Report & Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine

Alex just sent me the following assessment of Syria's foreign policy by Farouq al-Sharaa, Syria's Vice President. Sharaa was Syria's Foreign Minister for many years until Walid Mualem took over a year ago and Sharaa was kicked upstairs to the Vice Presidency. This article in Sham Press (Ar) quoting Sharaa is long, but well worth reading in its entirety. Here is the English translation done by Alex and me for some of the more significant excerpts. Farouq al-Sharaa

The struggle for Lebanon will continue as long as they continue to attempt to isolate it from Syria.  We are all worried at the deteriorating relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt… with Egypt it is not THAT bad, we still talk, and we can fix relations very quickly. But relations with Saudi Arabia and with France have been negatively affected by personality issues.

We are sorry that the most important European country is hostile to us. President Chirac is constantly on the phone calling world leaders to get them to vote against Syria at the UN or to try to convince them to cancel their planned visits to Syria.

It is wrong to call us extremists and to separate us from the “moderates” in the Arab world. Syria has stuck to the same basic principles for decades. I should know this. We defended Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 1990 because we did not approve of the occupation of an Arab country. It was not a decision that had great popular support. Nevertheless, it was a principle – the same principle we apply to Iraq. We are the moderates, and the so called “moderates” are those who have submitted.

Our relations with Lebanon will be stronger than when we had our army in that country. You will see… history is ahead of us… the days, weeks, and months ahead will tell.

We like Aoun … Aoun’s statements have been honest, logical, and wise. We have agreed in principle to sending our Ambassador to Lebanon, when relations return to normal. we will also send Syrian consuls to every Lebanese city. 

Some of the European leaders visiting Syria simply repeat American demands verbatim, others repeat some of those demands, while still others are embarrassed to repeat them and they listen to our views. But most visits are too quick for an honest exchange of views that leads to understanding. Perhaps that is the point of these short visits. They don't want to try to understand our point of view.

As for the notion of an international conference on Iraq, many European countries have recommended it to us. We support the formula but only if we know what the intended outcome of such a conference is. It has to have reasonable objectives that we can agree to work for. 

We will not support just any political process in Iraq, we will support it only when it takes into account the interests of all the different groups in Iraq, when the Unity of the country is preserved, and when there is a time table for withdrawal (of US troops)

The US has failed terribly in Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton Report is an indication that the American people are waking up to the fact that they have been badly deceived by their government in Iraq. Some say that through dialogue with Syria and Iran, Iraq can be stabilized. We are not so arrogant as to believe that Syria can single-handedly solve the Iraq problem, which will have repercussions throughout the world. Perhaps not even all countries working together can help solve Iraq's problem, but it is incumbent on us to have the modesty to listen to each other and to try what we can.

We will not help any Iraqi leader who isn't against the occupation of Iraq or trying to end it. We told this to Allawi, to Jafari and to Maliki. We are against foreign occupation.

We do not expect much change in the American position. Some minor change, or a cosmetic change, or a tactical change. Although the public opinion in the United States is against the war, there are powerful groups in the US saying: "we will not leave empty handed after the 450 Billions we spent in Iraq."

As for Palestine, The Israelis have surrounded the Palestinians and blockaded them. They are starving a whole people and do not permit anyone to come to their aid. They hold an entire nation hostage. They complain about the Palestinians holding one Israeli soldier hostage. Have we come to the point where one Israeli hostage is worth an entire nation? This was not the custom even in the era of slavery. What have we come to?

Here is the complete article in Arabic
      قال نائب الرئيس  فاروق الشرع امس
 ان سورية لا تتدخل في لبنان ولو فعلت لكانت «حسمت» مسألة التظاهرات «من اليوم الأول». وشدد على ان «الصراع في لبنان سيستمر» ما دام البعض يسعى الى وصاية دولية، معتبراً أن «التدخلات الخارجية» فيه تستهدف وضعه «تحت الهيمنة الأجنبية بهدف فصله عن سوريا تماماً».  واتهم الشرع السعودية بالتدخل ضد دمشق في لبنان، معتبراً أن إرسال قوات سورية الى المملكة لتحرير الكويت في العام 1991 «دين في رقابهم لا نطالب برده» ويكفي «ألا يسمح لأحد في الجزيرة العربية» بمعاداة سوريا.
 ورأى أن العلاقات مع السعودية تأثرت بـ«الكثير من الشخصانية»، مشبهاً إياها بالعلاقة مع الرئيس الفرنسي جاك شيراك الذي اتهمه بمحاولة عزل دمشق واستصدار قرار يدينها في مجلس الامن.  وشدد الشرع على ان «الوضع الآن ليس بين معتدلين ومتطرفين بل بين معتدلين هم نحن وبين مستكينين» مضيفاً «نحن المعتدلون والمقاومة معتدلة لأنها تقبل الهدنة وحلولا بمنتهى المرونة».   
وقال الشرع، في كلمة لمناسبة انعقاد مؤتمر أحزاب الجبهة الوطنية التقدمية، «يتدخلون في لبنان ضد سوريا. صدقوني نحن لا نتدخل في لبنان، ولو أردنا ذلك لحسمنا الموضوع من اليوم الأول للتظاهرات. هناك قرار في سوريا بألا يعود جيشها إلى لبنان مهما حصل لان هناك قراراً سورياً بطي هذه الصفحة نهائيا، لان العلاقات بين سوريا ولبنان أعمق وأقوى من أي اعتبارات وأي تصورات ولا يمكن إلا أن تعود هذه العلاقات الى طبيعتها لأنها متجذرة بين الشعبين والبلدين. ان علاقاتنا بلبنان بعد انسحاب الجيش السوري ستكون أقوى مما سبق، اذ اننا لسنا بحاجة لوجود عسكري هناك وسترون.
التاريخ أمامنا، الأيام والأسابيع والشهور أمامنا».  أضاف «ولكن ما يربط سوريا ولبنان من أواصر تاريخ وعلاقات وجغرافيا سياسية ومصالح مشتركة اقتصادية وغير ذلك كاف لجعل العلاقات من أقوى العلاقات التي عرفتها الدول العربية». وتابع «سيستمر هذا الصراع في لبنان إذا استمر البعض يريد استيراد إرادة سياسية من الخارج من الوصاية الدولية، فلن يتمكن من بناء لبنان واحد مستقل وهذا لا علاقة لسوريا به» منتقداً «التدخلات الخارجية في لبنان تحت عنوان الحفاظ على سيادته بينما يريدون وضعه تحت الهيمنة الأجنبية بهدف فصله عن سوريا تماما.
 فإذا تواصلنا مع أي لبناني فنحن نتدخل في الشأن اللبناني أما هم فيأتون ويذهبون في الليل والنهار ويقابلون من يريدون ويحذفون ويقصون من يريدون وهم لا يتدخلون أبداً».  وحول القرار ,1559 قال الشرع «انهم لا يؤمنون بالحديث عنه لأنه يستهدفنا ويستهدف لبنان والمنطقة كلها. وتحت عنوان انسحاب الجيش السوري والحفاظ على أمنه وضع لبنان تحت الهيمنة الأجنبية ولو لم تكن هنالك حاجة وتناقض لطالبوا سوريا بإقامة جدار بينها وبين لبنان، ولكنهم يحتاجون الى سوريا في لبنان ولا يريدون أي حديث مع اللبنانيين».
  وتساءل عن «أسباب زيارات المسؤولين الغربيين الدائمة للبنان والذين يملون ما يريدونه واذا كانت هذه الاملاءات تدخلا أم لا» موضحاً «هناك لبنانيون يرفضون الاقرار بالنصر الذي حققته المقاومة الوطنية في لبنان برغم ان اسرائيل شكلت لجنة تحقيق في أسباب الهزيمة في لبنان».  وتساءل الشرع «يتهمون سوريا بأنها زودت حزب الله بالسلاح، لو كان حزب الله هزم هل كانت سوريا ستغير مواقفها؟». وقال «هذا الصمود لن نفرط فيه وهو الذي سيعيد لسوريا مكانتها وأي تفريط مجاني فيه يذهب هباءً، هذا لا يعني أننا لسنا مرنين، بل مرونتنا نستخدمها للحد الأقصى».  أضاف «لا أحد يستطيع أن ينزع العاطفة من الجانبين وأنا لا أتحدث عن فئة صغيرة مغمورة هزيلة مريضة» مضيفاً «هل تتصورون أن جندياً لبنانياً يطلق النار على جندي سوري أو العكس، ذلك مستحيل فالأزمة بين حكومتين لا بين شعبين. من لا يفهم هذه المسألة ليس له مستقبل».
  وأعرب الشرع عن أسفه لان قوى الأكثرية «تطلق الاتهامات جزافاً ضد سوريا قبل أن يصل التحقيق بمقتل الحريري إلى نتيجة». واتهم هؤلاء «بالعيش على إرث الحريري وهو شخصية سياسية ومالية مهمة جداً تتجاوز حدود لبنان» ممتدحاً موقف العماد ميشال عون، اذ اعتبر أن «كلامه صحيح ومنطقي وعقلاني».  وأبدى الشرع مجدداً استعداد سوريا لإقامة علاقات دبلوماسية مع لبنان. وقال «سوريا من حيث المبدأ والنتيجة، ملتزمة بالعلاقات الدبلوماسية، وعندما تعود الأوضاع الطبيعية، سنفتتح سفارة وقنصليات عامة في كل المدن اللبنانية من صور وصيدا وحتى طرابلس».
   وسئل الشرع عن عملية السلام وإذا كان خيار المقاومة ضمن خيارات دمشق في المرحلة المقبلة، فأجاب أنه «إذا أغلقت الأبواب فلا يظل أمامنا إلا المقاومة» مضيفاً أن «أرضية السلام موجودة ولم تأت إلا بعد جهد ودبلوماسية نشطة غير مستكينة بذلت كل ما تستطيع حتى لا تتزحزح عن مبادئها».  وتابع ان سوريا «متمسكة بعودة الجولان المحتل حتى خط الرابع من حزيران وأي عملية سلام لا تحقق هذا الهدف لا يمكن أن تكون مقبولة. وسنوات المفاوضات الطويلة حققت إنجازاً مهماً تمثل في إقرار دولي وحتى اسرائيلي بأن سوريا لا يمكن أن تقبل بأقل من عودة الجولان كاملا دون نقصان» موضحاً «هناك ضجة إعلامية وسياسية كبيرة في إسرائيل اليوم منذ فشلها بالعدوان على لبنان، أن لا بديل عن السلام في سوريا وأن تجاهلها ليس من مصلحة إسرائيل».
 وقال الشرع «لدينا جميعا قلق من تراجع العلاقات السورية السعودية والسورية المصرية. الأخيرة ليست بهذا التراجع، وهناك اتصالات لم تنقطع ومن السهولة أن يحدث رأب للصدع إن جاز التعبير».
  أضاف ان «العلاقة مع السعودية فيها الكثير من الشخصانية كعلاقتنا مع الرئيس (الفرنسي جاك) شيراك. نحن عرب نغضب بسرعة ونهدأ بسرعة، ستأتي فترة الهدوء، المهم ألا نسمح للآخرين بأن ينساقوا وراء ما سيكتشفون أنه سراب حقيقي، أو ينزلقوا لعداء طويل الأمد ليس لمصلحة أحد، خاصة أن الأمة العربية تجتاز مرحلة خطيرة، وما سيصيب أي بلد عربي سيؤثر على بقية الدول حكماً». وتابع «في العام 1991 أرسلنا قوات مسلحة إلى العراق، برغم أن ذلك لم يحظ بقبول شعبي. هذا الموقف لسوريا يكفي ألا يسمح لأحد في الجزيرة العربية بمعاداتها، هذا دين في رقابهم لا نطالب برده ولا نمنّ، لكن نذكر». 
 وقال الشرع «نعبر عن الاسف لان أهم دولة أوروبية تناصبنا العداء» مضيفاً ان «رئيس جمهوريتها يتصل مع أعضاء دائمين وغير دائمين في مجلس الامن لتمرير قرار ضد سوريا وكأن سوريا تشكل هاجسه الرئيس». وأشار إلى أن «أحد الموفدين الاوروبيين الذين قدموا أخيراً الى دمشق قال لي ان هذا الرئيس طلب مني ألا أذهب» الى العاصمة السورية.  وقال الشرع لقد «توصلنا إلى موقف واحد مع هذه الدولة قبل الحرب على العراق وكانت الحماسة الفرنسية كبيرة جدا لدرجة انه بدأ يشكل تحالفاً مع بعض الدول الاوروبية ضد الحرب على العراق» معتبراً ان «الامور عادت الى مجاريها بين باريس وواشنطن على حسابنا».
   ومعلقا على تصنيف العرب بين معتدلين ومتطرفين، قال الشرع «أنا أعرف جيدا أننا لم نتغير في سوريا منذ عقود من الزمن في ثوابتنا القومية والوطنية وعلى أساسها دافعنا عن السعودية والكويت وكنا ندرك أن القرار ليس له شعبية كبيرة وأن احتلال بلد عربي غير مقبول والوضع الآن ليس بين معتدلين ومتطرفين بل بين معتدلين هم نحن وبين مستكينين». أضاف «نحن المعتدلون والمقاومة معتدلة لأنها تقبل الهدنة وحلولا بمنتهى المرونة» متسائلا «متى كانت حكومات الوحدة الوطنية أو حكومات الوفاق الوطني في لبنان والعراق وفلسطين مطلبا متطرفا؟ هل يمكن أن نعطي من هو في مأزق خطير ليس حبل النجاة وإنما عصا ليضربنا بها. هل من المعقول أن نفعل ذلك؟». وتابع «هم ليسوا معتدلين هم مستكينون. ونعني التبعية وشلل التفكير وعدم السماح للتفكير والإرادة السياسية بأن تأخذ دورها في هذه السياسة».
   وعن الزيارات الأوروبية لسوريا وأهدافها، قال الشرع «ان الاتحاد الاوروبي بصدد مراجعة سياسته الخارجية بشكل عام وسياسته حيال سوريا بشكل خاص، خصوصاً بعدما صدم بنتائج الحرب الاميركية على العراق والتي انضموا اليها بشكل أو بآخر» مشدداً على أن «صمود سوريا وثباتها على مواقفها هو الذي دفع بالدول الغربية الى تغيير مواقفها منها والى إيفاد مسؤولين لزيارة دمشق».  أضاف ان «بعض الاوروبيين الذين يزوروننا يكررون مطالب الولايات المتحدة الاميركية وبعضهم الآخر يكرر جزءاً من هذه المطالب بينما يخجل بعضهم ويستمع الى وجهة النظر السورية». وتابع ان «الحوار أساسي لتجاوز الخلافات، إلا أن زيارات هؤلاء القصيرة إلى سوريا لا تتيح لهم فرصة تفهم الموقف السوري بشكل حقيقي وربما يتقصدون أن تكون الزيارات قصيرة لكي لا يتاح لهم فهم الموقف في بلادنا». 
 وحول الموقف السوري من المؤتمر الدولي على صعيد العراق، قال الشرع ان «دولا أوروبية كثيرة تطرح هذا المؤتمر ومن ضمنها فرنسا واسبانيا وايطاليا وقبلها بريطانيا» مضيفا «هناك أطراف عديدة تطرح هذه الفكرة من دون أن تحدد ما المطلوب منها». وأشار الى ان بلاده «تريد أن تعرف نتائج الحوار والمؤتمر، اذ ان انعقاده ليس الغاية وانما الغاية معرفة النتائج التي يأمل في ان يتم التوصل إليها».
   ورأى الشرع أن «الغرب حاصر فلسطين وجوّعها، وتغاضى عن إغلاق المعابر واعتقال الوزراء والنواب ومنع العرب من مساعدة الفلسطينيين»، معتبراً أنه بالنسبة للغرب فإن «الجندي الإسرائيلي المخطوف يعادل كل شعب فلسطين ولا أبالغ إطلاقا في هذا التعبير وهذا لم يحصل حتى في زمن العبودية».
   واعتبر الشرع ان «الولايات المتحدة فشلت فشلا ذريعا في تحقيق أهدافها من احتلال العراق، والرأي العام الاميركي اكتشف أخيرا أن هناك تضليلا كبيرا حول الملف العراقي». أضاف ان «تشكيل لجنة بيكر ـ هاملتون أكبر دليل على هذا التضليل» معتبرا ان «هناك فرصة أمام الولايات المتحدة لتصحيح سياستها في المنطقة برغم انها تأخرت كثيرا».وحول الجدل المثار بشأن إشراك إيران وسوريا في المساعدة على إعادة الأمن إلى العراق، قال الشرع ان «المنطق يقول ان سوريا وإيران بلدان جاران، وليس من السهل إيجاد أي حل للعراق من دونهما. لسنا مغرورين لنقول ان سوريا تستطيع حل مشكلة العراق التي تترك أثرها على العالم كله، فربما كل المجتمع الدولي لن يستطيع، لكن ليتواضعوا وليسمحوا لكل من يستطيع أن يقدم المساعدة أن يقدمها». 
 ودافع الشرع عن إعادة العلاقات الدبلوماسية مع العراق. وقال ان ذلك «ليس مباركة فلان أو آخر، أو تفضيل طرف عن الآخر، أما في الحكومة العراقية، إذا أعطوها بعداً مختلفا، فهذا أمر لا علاقة لنا به» مشدداً على أن سوريا لن «تتعامل مع أي جهة سياسية تتواطأ مع الاحتلال أو لا تسعى لإخراج قوى الغزو»، ومضيفاً «قلنا ذلك لإياد علاوي، ومن ثم للجعفري ومن بعدهما للمالكي». 
 أضاف «لا ندعم العملية السياسية كيفما شاء وكيفما انتهت، ندعمها عندما تستند على وحدة العراق شعباً ومكاناً، وتستند على المصالحة الوطنية بين جميع الأطراف العراقية، وتستند على وضع جدول زمني للانسحاب من العراق».ورداً على سؤال عن اللقاءات التي تجري مع رئيس «المجلس الاعلى للثورة الاسلامية في العراق» عبد العزيز الحكيم، قال الشرع «من الطبيعي أن نزور الحكيم في بغداد لأنه جزء من طبقة تحكم العراق ولديه أكبر تكتل برلماني في العراق وهو أهم من بقية السياسيين ضمن التركيبة الحاكمة».
العلاقة مع واشنطن  وقال الشرع «نأمل أن يكون التغيير في السياسات الأميركية بعد مجيء الديموقراطيين جوهرياً، لكن إذا أردنا أن نكون واقعيين ونحن كذلك، فالتغيير سيكون طفيفاً وفي أسوأ الحالات شكلياً وفي أسوأ أسوأ الحالات سيكون تغييراً تكتيكيا» مضيفا أن «طريقة تلقي الضغط والتعامل معه، كأنه ليس ضغطاً حقيقياً، يعطي مؤشراً أن جوهر السياسة الأميركية سيبقى كما هو». 
 وحذر الشرع من أنه برغم وجود رأي عام في الولايات المتحدة لا يؤيد الاحتلال يمثل سواد الشعب، لكن هناك فئة «متنفذة تفكر انه لا يمكن وضع 450 مليار دولار في العراق ثم الخروج صفر اليدين». أضاف «سيأتي بعد بوش من يريد أن يستثمر هذا الإنفاق… نريد عدم السماح بجر العراق كي يسدد فاتورة القوات التي غزته ودمرت بلاده».». 

Comments (12)

MSK said:

Dear Josh,

what do YOU think about this? Personally, I can’t see much of a difference between him, Walid al-Mu’allim, Bashar al-Asad, etc.

“The struggle for Lebanon will continue as long as they continue to attempt to isolate it from Syria.” – Is that a threat?

“We defended Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 1990 because we did not approve of the occupation of an Arab country.” – Cough*Lebanon1976to2005*Cough

“We like Aoun … Aoun’s statements have been honest, logical, and wise.” – When did that start?

“Some of the European leaders visiting Syria simply repeat American demands verbatim, others repeat some of those demands, while still others are embarrassed to repeat them and they listen to our views.” – So, Europeans are either American dogs or listen to Syria, but don’t have any opinions of their own?

“Have we come to the point where one Israeli hostage is worth an entire nation? This was not the custom even in the era of slavery. What have we come to?” – Actually … that was precisely the old policy of, after concluding a peace treaty with a hostile power, keeping one or two children of the other party’s leader as hostage to ensure that the treaty is maintained. Using history to bolster one’s point really only works if … it works.

But seriously, Josh – what is so important about this article that you & Alex thought it needed to be translated? Does Faruq al-Sharaa even still matter?



December 7th, 2006, 9:37 am


annie said:

All4syria sent this article by Seth Wikas. Sorry their website is still blocked and I am sending this in extenso.

Seth Wikas is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on Syria’s domestic politics and foreign policy. Institute research assistant Nathan Hodson assisted in the preparation of this PolicyWatch.

“Syria’s Response to the Baker-Hamilton Report
Seth Wikas

On December 6, the long-awaited report of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), often referred to as the Baker-Hamilton commission, will be available to the public. One of the report’s recommendations is likely to be direct talks with Iran and Syria, providing plenty of fodder for American politicians, journalists, and foreign policy experts. But what do Syrian sources have to say about the report and its implications for US policy?

Syria’s three main daily newspapers — al-Thawra, al-Baath, and Tishreen — are all government owned and carefully censored. Other progovernment news sources are online sites such as Champress, Ash-Sham News, and Syria-News.com. Each provides daily coverage of Iraq-related issues, using both international news services and the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA). They also publish many editorials and opinion columns, both from foreign sources (including translations from the international press) and by Syrians. When the major dailies have relatively uniform opinions on a topic, it is highly likely that their position reflects the government view.

Background: How Iraq is Viewed and Covered
The Syrian papers paint a uniformly negative picture of the situation in Iraq. A major theme in the Syrian press, as in much of the Arab press, is that the American invasion of Iraq is yet another example in a long history of Western imperialism, this time cloaked with a veneer of democracy. The invasion was carried out in order to realize American and Zionist interests, and when it comes to the Middle East, Israel is America’s first priority. The newspapers unanimously condemn President George W. Bush (and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) for the chaos and violence afflicting its eastern neighbor. Noticeably absent from Syrian coverage of the war in Iraq are issues that have made headlines in the American and European press, including foreign fighters crossing into Iraq via the Syrian border and Syrian funds and materiel making their way into the hands of Sunni insurgents.
With respect to Syrian involvement in Iraq, the three major dailies all cover the foreign (mostly European) delegations President Bashar al-Asad and other Syrian officials have received over the past few weeks. The stories emphasize Syria’s concern over the crisis in Iraq and its ability to play a cooperative regional role.

The Syrian Press on the ISG
Syrian press reports about the ISG have been quite straightforward, emphasizing its bipartisan constituency and its goals of providing the Bush administration with alternative courses of action. Syrian opinion pieces, however, view the ISG report as a way for the Bush administration to admit failure. The word “failure” (fashl in Arabic) is used extensively in the Syrian press to describe the U.S. military intervention in Iraq. Khalaf al-Jarrad, editor-in-chief of Tishreen, bluntly titled his November 7 op-ed, “Can Baker Fix What Bush Has Destroyed?” The prominent dailies report that the ISG is a way for the Bush administration to save face in light of the increasingly intractable situation in Iraq. Articles and analysis pieces repeat the phrases “lifeline,” “dead end,” and “noble exit” in rhetoric describing a hopeless situation from which the Bush administration must extract itself.
The Syrian press connects the ISG with what it describes as Bush’s failed policy in Iraq and the Republican Party’s loss in the 2006 congressional elections. Articles in Tishreen and al-Baath indicate to their Syrian readership that the U.S. failure in Iraq resulted in a seismic change — the term “earthquake” is used many times — in U.S. domestic public opinion, which caused the Republican Party’s electoral losses. Muhammad Kuneisi, writing in an al-Baath article titled “Two Readings of the American Failure in Iraq,” posited that the failure in Iraq and the Republican electoral losses, in addition to Rumsfeld’s resignation and the Bush administration’s “call for help” in the form of the ISG, point to “the beginning of the end” of U.S. involvement in Iraq. The same article also suggested an alternative reading of the ISG and Rumsfeld’s resignation as part of a grand strategy by the Bush administration to change course but still fulfill its strategic goals in Iraq.
Some space has been devoted to the role of James A. Baker III, co-chair of the ISG. Al-Jarrad’s November 7 Tishreen editorial offered an elaborate (and at times both sarcastic and complimentary) assessment of Baker as a statesman. Quoting from his memoirs, al-Jarrad criticized Baker’s observation that he “possesses the necessary negotiation and political acumen” for statesmanship. On the other hand, the author conceded that Baker may be the right man for the job because of Baker’s familiarity with the Arab players in the Middle East and his identification of former Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad as a sincere man, a hard negotiator, and a serious thinker for whom Baker had great respect. Al-Jarrad also repeated Baker’s assertion that Syria is the key to regional peace and stability.
The Syrian press has expressed skepticism about whether Bush will follow reported ISG recommendations for direct dialogue with Damascus and Tehran, a phased drawdown of troops, and greater coordination with the Iraqi security forces. All three of the major Syrian dailies have, over the course of the past two weeks, included Bush’s oft-made statement that he is not required to follow all of the ISG’s recommendations. The December 4 edition of Tishreen led with the news of Bush’s statement that the ISG report is one of many resources he will consider regarding a change of direction in Iraq. While the press uniformly denounces the Bush policy, some writers view the ISG report as a glimmer of hope. A long piece posted last week on the Champress website sees the ISG report as a sign that the United States wishes to reconsider its policies and discontinue its Iraq “adventure.”

Response by the Government
The Syrian government has not released any significant statements on the ISG report to the domestic or foreign press. The only official to comment on the ISG is the Syrian ambassador in Washington, Imad Mustapha, who coordinated the New York meetings between members of the ISG and Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Muallem during the UN General Assembly in September 2006. Mustapha has repeatedly welcomed the suggestion of direct talks between the United States and Syria and Iran, stressing the constructive role the latter two nations can play in stabilizing Iraq. In his nearly four years as ambassador, Mustapha has repeatedly stressed the advantages of dialogue in his interviews and speeches. The Syrian government, however, has made the chances for this difficult, having been implicated in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri and allowing Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to reside in Damascus. One reading of this juxtaposition is that Mustapha’s role is to be Syria’s advocate for dialogue, but his calls for talks do not necessarily reflect any willingness in Damascus for policy changes.
On the issue of whether to assist the United States in promoting stability in Iraq, the Syrian government has indicated its policy positions through rhetoric and actions. According to the Economist, last month Bashar al-Asad made clear to British emissary Sir Nigel Sheinwald four conditions for greater regional cooperation: (1) an end to the UN investigation into Syria’s role in the Hariri assassination; (2) a guarantee that Washington will not try to undermine the Syrian regime; (3) a return of Syria’s influence in Lebanon; and (4) the return of the Golan Heights. Asad is not averse to talking to the United States or playing a constructive role in Iraq, but he has given his price.

On a more hopeful note, in late November, al-Mouallem visited Baghdad and reestablished Syrian-Iraqi diplomatic ties. There were some indications during that trip that Syria is prepared to work more closely with the Iraqi government. Sending an ambassador-level official to Iraq and fulfilling its promise to restore an embassy in Baghdad would indicate that Syria is interested in Iraq’s stability.

The Syrian press welcomes any change in U.S. policy in Iraq but is highly skeptical that President Bush will follow the ISG’s recommendations. Irrespective of any suggested or implemented policy change, Asad has already announced his conditions for adopting a significantly more positive regional role.

December 7th, 2006, 11:21 am


Akbar Palace said:

V.P. Farouq al-Sharaa whined:

“As for Palestine, The Israelis have surrounded the Palestinians and blockaded them. They are starving a whole people and do not permit anyone to come to their aid. They hold an entire nation hostage. They complain about the Palestinians holding one Israeli soldier hostage. Have we come to the point where one Israeli hostage is worth an entire nation? This was not the custom even in the era of slavery. What have we come to?”

Your eminence,

Tell Hamas and the PA that if they recognize Israel and desist from terrorism, perhaps the Palestinians wouldn’t have to suffer to much.

I guess it’s all about priorities.

December 7th, 2006, 11:55 am


Alex said:

Dear MSK

When you read Shara’s comments, you can either go through them trying to find the points you plan to criticize, or you can try to pick the useful signals.

For example, the fact Shara surfaced to tell these things is by itself a signal. He is the hawk in Syrian foreign policy making. The fact champress posted it in the most prominent position, says it is not only old Farouk making irrelevant personal statements.

Syria’s position these days is: we will work hard to convince the Americans and Israelis that we want peace (as Moualem keeps saying), but we will not give up in advance our current tactics and alliances in order to be accepted as a peace partner … as shara just implied.

Here are some of the very clear statements Shara made

1) Our relations with Egypt have deteriorated to some extent, but we will probably go back to normal relations.

2) Our relations with Saudi Arabia are much worse… there is a hint that King Abdullah and Bashar’s relations are not reconcilable for now, and then it is linked to the way Chirac is on the phone trying to maintain international support for his personal decision to corner and boycott the Syrians … the linkage implying that the Saudi king is doing similar things… and therefore do not expect improvement in Syrian Saudi and Syrian French relations for a long time.

Similarly go through every point and you’ll se a clear statement of Syrian positions on every issue out there today.

Going back to the points you made:

“The struggle for Lebanon will continue as long as they continue to attempt to isolate it from Syria.” – Is that a threat?

“We defended Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 1990 because we did not approve of the occupation of an Arab country.” – Cough*Lebanon1976to2005*Cough

“We like Aoun … Aoun’s statements have been honest, logical, and wise.” – When did that start?

Let’s look at the reversal of Syrian positions on Aoun. Why is it that you find that bizarre? true that in the late eighties Aoun was not Syria’s friend, but if we want to pick this as an example to show that the Syrian are somehow not consistent .. then what do we say about the alliances of the different Lebanese factions? at some point Jumblat shifted on a monthly basis, And everyone else took old enemies as current allies, no? .. and what about the way the Americans? can you find a few examples of how they also support some figures, then they fight them? Saddam for example.

And again, the difference between Syrian “occupation of Lebanon” and Saddam’s invasion then occupation of Kuwait is clear enough, although I agree with you that the Syrians stayed a decade too long. But they maintained international cover for their “occupation” and when a UN resolution asked them to leave .. they left very quickly, didn’t they.

And again, if you want similarly contradictory statements form the others:

1) The Americans made this statement 2 years ago (about Syrian presence in Lebanon): We can not accept for a country to have its army in another country and to try to use it to influence the politics of that country … cough *Iraq* cough.

2) Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia, and with Saudi accent, declared: “the days when Lebanon can be ruled from outside are over”

I’m sorry if I sounded too critical of your comments. My criticism is not really directed at you (you did not over do it) but others, like Mr. Badran, have made it a habit of going through any Syrian statements and trying to find things to ridicule … as if all the politicians in the world, and especially the Lebanese and American politicians, are 100% honest, consistent and logical in their statements.

And one other thing, this assumption that Shara did not say anything significant, implies one thing: the Syrians are not significant .. no matter what they say, they are only barking.

I think it is time Syria’s adversaries stop ridiculing the Syrians and start listening to what they have to say, because even if you do not agree with them, they ARE significant.

December 7th, 2006, 3:10 pm


Innocent_Criminal said:

Good comment Alex. It’s given that people see what they want to see depending on their political views. We are all guilty of that.

I think the Syrians have predicted much of the political situation in the Middle East better than many. I have to say I underestimated them in that department. For one the Americans are reluctantly turning 180 degrees on their Iraq policy, long are the days when we they screamed, criticized and even threatened the Syrians over their role in Iraq. And many dismissed Damascus’s prediction that Iraq will become Washington’s swamp.

And anyone remembers who the hell Brammertz is??? The Lebanese political arena has shifted away from the Hariri investigation and into factors the Syrians control much of. They might have used rudimentary means to achieve their strategic edge, but at least they did achieve it.

December 7th, 2006, 3:39 pm


t_desco said:

Terror suspects expelled from Egypt

CAIRO, Egypt – Authorities expelled two Belgians and eight French terrorist suspects Thursday, but an American and another French citizen remained in Egyptian custody, officials said.

The 12, along with an unknown number of Egyptians and Arabs from other countries, were arrested late last month for allegedly belonging to an Islamist terror cell plotting attacks.

Security officials said the suspects had a relationship with Omar Abdullah Hamra, the leader of the Islamic militant group Tawhid and Jihad, who killed himself by detonating an explosives belt while trying to cross into Lebanon from Syria. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

December 7th, 2006, 3:52 pm


MSK said:

Dear Alex,

thank you for your exhaustive reply. Maybe it would’ve been better had you added those explanations to the translation in the post.

As for your comments on my questions:

(1) I am not Tony Badran. If you have a bone to pick with him, you know where his blog is.

(2) I did not say that I find the Syrian regime’s change of its attitude towards Aoun bizarre. I asked a very simple question: When did that start? I didn’t think I would have to explain what I meant with a question about the beginning of a process on the human time scale. Btw, I personally don’t think that the regime’s “attitude” towards Aoun has changed at all. Right now he’s just more useful as a spoiler against March 14, but I highly doubt anyone in the Qasr al-Sha’b actually likes him.

(3) Please don’t play the “you say Mr. X did something bad? What about the other ones, Mr. Y & Mr. Z, who did something as bad or even worse???” game. You’re not Abu Ammar. I wasn’t claiming that Jumblatt’s flip-flopping (FINALLY I get to use that term!) was something to be emulated or justified. And Aoun’s own about-face wasn’t even the topic here.

(4) As for the Syrian occupation of Lebanon:

(a) Again, only because countries A, B, and C are illegally occupying areas doesn’t make it right for country D to do likewise. It’s still wrong.

(b) You know as well as I do what the Ta’if Accord said and just HOW the extensions of the Syrian “mandate” came about. Nobody here – not Josh, not the commenters – is making any claims for “brotherly help”. And the Syrian occupation forces didn’t leave because of 1559. They left because a quarter of Lebanon’s population demonstrated against them, thus giving popular support to 1559 making the Syrian occupation untenable.

(5) I did not say that what Al-Sharaa said was not significant. I just wanted to know what exactly made his speech so important that you had to translate & post it here. That was an honest, curious question. And it occurred to me in light of Josh’s statement that “Sharaa was kicked upstairs to the Vice Presidency”, suggesting that he had been removed from the inner circle.

In the end, your explanatory remarks – if already included in the post itself – would’ve helped to understand the context of Al-Sharaa’s remarks and their significance.

And while I very well understand that a whole number of on- and offline commentators are getting on your nerves, I would still suggest to not stoop down to their level and freely determine what others have insinuated based on one’s gut feeling.



PS: Did I mention that Aqoul has been nominated for the Weblog Award? Just saying … in case anyone wants to vote for us. Wa laa shukr ‘ala waajib.

December 7th, 2006, 4:24 pm


t_desco said:

Al-Mustaqbal spin reaches Le Monde and the UN:

Des djihadistes viseraient 36 personnalités antisyriennes au Liban

Selon des sources palestiniennes et libanaises, un commando d’une cinquantaine de militants affiliés à Al-Qaida et ayant combattu en Irak s’est infiltré au Liban, via la Syrie, pour y perpétrer “un complot terroriste de Damas visant à assassiner 36 personnalités libanaises antisyriennes”. Ces informations sont contenues dans un document confidentiel – dont Le Monde a pu prendre connaissance – adressé, le 1er décembre, au quartier général de l’ONU par un haut fonctionnaire de l’organisation déployée dans la région.

Selon ce document, le représentant de l’Organisation de libération de la Palestine (OLP) au Liban, Abbas Zaki, a informé le responsable onusien qu'”une cinquantaine de militants bien armés affiliés à Al-Qaida sont entrés au Liban par la Syrie et se sont installés dans le camp de réfugiés de Nahr Al-Bared, dans le nord du Liban”. Ils avaient, auparavant, combattu en Irak, affirme la note, selon laquelle ils se seraient infiltrés, il y a plusieurs mois, au Liban, où ils “sont parvenus à rassembler autour d’eux près de 200 Palestiniens et Libanais”.

Ce groupe, poursuit l’officiel onusien, s’est d’abord affilié au “Fatah Intifada”, basé à Damas, avant de se scinder pour former le “Fatah Al-Islam”. Le “Fatah Intifada”, prosyrien, est lui-même issu d’une scission du Fatah dans les années 1980.

Toujours selon le document onusien, “des agents de sécurité de l’OLP à Nahr Al-Bared ont eu un affrontement militaire avec les hommes du Fatah Al-Islam (…) et ont arrêté six hommes alors que les autres s’enfuyaient”. Quatre d’entre eux, des Libanais, auraient été libérés. Les deux autres, un Syrien et un Saoudien, ont été remis au gouvernement libanais. “Des sources militaires au sein du gouvernement nous ont dit que les deux militants capturés ont donné des informations sur un complot terroriste de Damas pour assassiner 36 personnalités libanaises antisyriennes”, dit le texte.

Ahmed Fatfat, qui était ministre libanais de l’intérieur par intérim au moment des faits, à la fin novembre, et qui siège toujours au gouvernement, a confirmé au Monde, mercredi 6 décembre, avoir eu connaissance de ces allégations, sans être en mesure de les confirmer. Le ministre juge abusive l’affiliation du groupe à l’organisation mère Al-Qaida et met en doute “l’islamisme” dont il se réclamerait. Il s’agit d’après lui d’une “Al-Qaida syrienne”. “Ils sont très bien entraînés et équipés, et leurs ordres viennent de Damas”, a-t-il souligné.

Selon Ahmed Fatfat, “un seul et unique membre affilié à la vraie Al-Qaida a été arrêté au Liban”, il y a quelques mois, alors qu’il participait à la préparation d’attentats à New York.
Le Monde

He really deserves to have Fatfatism named after him.

December 7th, 2006, 4:39 pm


SyriaComment » Archives » Why V.P. Sharaa’s Statement is Important said:

[…] MKS asked in the comment section of the last post, "Josh – what is so important about this article by Sharaa that you and Alex thought it needed to be translated? Does Faruq al-Sharaa even still matter?" […]

December 7th, 2006, 7:30 pm


Alex said:

Dear MSK

I neither avoid nor seek entering into another discussion with Tony. I actually enjoyed the useless “discussion” I had with him last year at Ammar’s blog. It is ok to have fun with politics sometimes, even when it sounds like a heated discussion. People I always argue with, like Ammar and Atassi and Ehsani are all friends.

And as I concluded my comments above, I apologize if it sounded like they are directed at you (they were, but to a much lesser extent).

As for Syrian army presence in Lebanon, please note that Shara said: Syria will NOT send troops into Lebanon again and will send an ambassador plus consuls to every Lebanese city .. when things return to normal.

I disagree with you on the Syrians’ position on Aoun .. I think when he becomes the next president of Lebanon, his first gift from the Syrians will be to credit him with succeeding in getting the Syrians to finally establish an embassy in Beirut.

And I hope the government in Lebanon today will learn from the Syrians who realized that when a million Lebanese demonstrate against you in the street, then there is something “untenable” that needs to be changed.

December 7th, 2006, 7:30 pm


Ehsani2 said:

If we are using Islamic dress code as our metric, is Tehran on the Mediterranean really any worse than Riyadh on the Mediterranean?

Clearly, as G and MSK both implied, this is not about the fear of the Ashrafiya residents having to be forced to celebrate Ashura. This is about the fear of having to watch Syria take back control of Lebanon through its proxies first before it slowly and steadily makes its takeover complete.

Dr. Landis lays it all out by concluding:

“Perhaps negotiating a compromise will be less damaging to their (liberal and western oriented Lebanese) interests than forcing a confrontation that will become ugly? Having Hizbullah takes more power by force will not serve anyone’s interests.”

During the previous post, my friend Alex had an interesting exchange with MSK.

He concluded his comment by saying:

“I think it is time Syria’s adversaries stop ridiculing the Syrians and start listening to what they have to say, because even if you do not agree with them, they ARE significant.”

I personally don’t think that those Lebanese that ridicule Syria do so because they deem it to be insignificant. As a Syrian national, I am not surprised to see the Lebanese react the way they do towards their bigger neighbor. Wouldn’t Syrians have done the same had Turkey occupied our land and extended its welcome after it was invited in with an “international cover”? I don’t think that we can sugarcoat the way Syria conducted itself in Lebanon over the many years it stayed there. Indeed, I wish our leadership spent more of its time fixing the country’s internal problems rather than allocating such a significant amount of its resources to the Lebanon file. Yes, I am aware of the geopolitical importance of this topic to the country. Nonetheless, we cannot blame the Lebanese when they want to free themselves from their more significant neighbor. I know that a lot of people will ask how is Lebanon really free when the French and American Ambassadors have quickly replaced the Syrians as the main power brokers in the country. This brings me to the Lebanese.

There is no question that Lebanon suffers from a fundamental flaw in its core. It is a beautiful country whose people are vibrant, educated and worldly. But, IT CANNOT DEFEND ITSELF. The central government in the country is practically nonexistent and powerless. Its army has no monopoly over armed forces within its borders. This model of governance is not sustainable especially in a region like ours.

The Lebanese therefore should start by blaming themselves first. For them to think that they can live in an island of prosperity, secularism, freedom and all night parties without any interference from outsiders is nothing short of naïve. Until their country’s defense minister can demonstrate that he has a real job for example, its more “significant” neighbors will keep meddling with this lovely country.

December 8th, 2006, 1:50 am


Antoun said:


As a Lebanese, I could not have agreed with you more.

We as Lebanese have to realise that we are at the centre of our problems.

Our divisions, our tribalism, our sectarianism, our corruption, our disorganisation is the cause for our demise.

Having said that, I believe that all post-colonial Arab states share the same problems, the only difference is that most have dictators and a central power to prevent an outbreak of horror. Those countries who have attempted democracy in the Arab world have ended up in ruins … Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon.

I do concur with Syrian officials on this when they say that the main root for these failures is that these states are not “nations”, but merely colonialist creations. Therefore, the search for a collective national identity is continuous, and often leads us to internal strife and misery.

Where do our loyalties lie? To the Arab world? To our religious sect? To our “tribe”? To the West? To our village? What are we, who are we?

Every country faces the same problem, perhaps it’s time to start admitting that the “beautiful” states the French and British created are simply artificial creations destined for failure. Perhaps that is the reason why the West created them, divide and conquer.

December 8th, 2006, 2:57 pm


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