What is Feltman Doing in Damascus?

Felman’s Trip to Damascus Remains a Mystery. We are told he is there to buy Syria into dialogue with Israel, to warn the Syrians on the Lebanon vote, and that Feltman doesn’t know why he is being sent.

The truth may be “none of the above.” Obama may be sending a message to the Israelis and AIPAC as much as to Syria. He may want Israel to understand that it cannot make an end run around the president by going to congress or the American Jewish community. During the week that AIPAC is meeting in Washington and senior Israeli statesmen are in town, Obama may simply be saying, “I am in charge of US foreign policy. I can engage Syria if and when I want.”

U.S. links Syrian ties to Lebanese vote
May 6, 2009

WASHINGTON, May 6 (UPI) — A visit by top U.S. officials to Damascus is expected to couple the Lebanese parliamentary elections with Syrian efforts at engagement, analysts said.

Presumptive Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council Senior Director Daniel Shapiro left Washington for Damascus on Tuesday “to discuss issues of mutual and regional concern,” the U.S. State Department said.

The visit has dual objectives as Washington seeks to reverse the isolationist policies of previous U.S. President George W. Bush and Damascus pursues its own engagement strategy.

Feltman and Shapiro, who visited Damascus earlier in the year, are expected to press the issue of the Lebanese parliamentary elections in June as a test for the Syrian commitment of non-intervention following years of heavy-handed tactics in Beirut.

Mona Yacoubian, a former State Department official with the non-partisan U.S. Institute of Peace, tells the pan-Arab al-Hayat news agency that the Lebanese elections may be a “major milestone” for U.S.-Syria relations if they proceed “without any meddling” from Damascus.

Syrians, for their part, have pledged to respect the sovereignty of their southern neighbor but hoped Lebanon would be able to form a unity government regardless of the victor for the sake of regional solidarity.

Lebanon holds parliamentary elections June 7. The March 8 coalition, which includes the Lebanese Hezbollah, is expected to secure a majority over the pro-Western March 14 slate. Hezbollah has pledged, however, to seek a unified government.

Lora Rosen in the Cable: “Behind the scenes of the Peres-Obama meeting” (The entire post is “must” reading)

….The NSC’s Shapiro is currently accompanying Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department’s acting (and nominated) assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, on their second trip to Damascus, Syria. Sources say that Feltman, a former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, was mystified by the trip to Damascus being scheduled now, before the June 7 Lebanese elections, and wondered how the decision was made. Neither Feltman nor Shapiro responded to a query on the Damascus trip. Asked about the trip Wednesday, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said he had no more details. “We will engage in dialogue when and where we feel it’s appropriate,” Wood said. “But we think it’s time for both countries” — Syria and Iran — to “become part of the solution.”

Eli Lake, in the Wash-Times Via FLC

“…President Obama’s efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons threaten to expose and derail a 40-year-old secret U.S. agreement to shield Israel’s nuclear weapons from international scrutiny, former and current U.S. and Israeli officials and nuclear specialists say.

Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, speaking Tuesday at a U.N. meeting on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), said Israel should join the treaty, which would require Israel to declare and relinquish its nuclear arsenal. “Universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea, … remains a fundamental objective of the United States,” Ms. Gottemoeller told the meeting, according to Reuters. She declined to say, however, whether the Obama administration would press Israel to join the treaty. …

Iranian leaders have long complained about being subjected to a double standard that allows non-NPT members India and Pakistan, as well as Israel, to maintain and even increase their nuclear arsenals but sanctions Tehran, an NPT member, for not cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog. …”What the Israelis sense, rightly, is that Obama wants to do something new on Iran and this may very well involve doing something new about Israel’s program,” said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a Washington think tank.

Bruce Riedel, a former senior director for the Middle East and South Asia on the White House National Security Council, said, “If you’re really serious about a deal with Iran, Israel has to come out of the closet. A policy based on fiction and double standards is bound to fail sooner or later. What’s remarkable is that it’s lasted so long.” Mr. Riedel headed the Obama administration’s review of strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan but does not hold a permanent administration position and has returned to private life as a scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser for the George W. Bush administration, said that administration resisted international efforts to pressure Israel on the nuclear front. “We did not want to accept any operational language that would put Israel at a disadvantage and raise the question of whether Israel was a nuclear power,” he said. “That was not a discussion that we thought was helpful. We allowed very general statements about the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East as long that language was hortatory.” ….

Mr. Netanyahu, whose meeting with Mr. Obama on May 18 will be the first since both took office, raised the issue of the nuclear understanding during a previous tenure as prime minister. Israeli journalists and officials said Mr. Netanyahu asked for a reaffirmation and clarification of the Nixon-Meir understanding in 1998 at Wye River, where the U.S. mediated an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Netanyahu wanted a personal commitment from President Clinton because of concerns about a treaty that Mr. Clinton supported to bar production of fissile materials that can be used to make weapons. ….The Bush administration largely dropped the treaty in its first term and reopened negotiations in its second term with a proposal that did not include verification.

The Obama agenda

Mr. Obama has made nuclear disarmament a bigger priority in part to undercut Iran’s and North Korea’s rationale for proliferation. His administration has begun negotiations with Russia on a new treaty to reduce U.S. and Russian arsenals. ……David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington think tank, said such a treaty would be the first step toward limiting the Israeli nuclear program. “The question is how much of a priority is
this for the Obama administration?” he said. John R. Bolton, a former U.N. ambassador and undersecretary of state, said Israel was right to be concerned. “If I were the Israeli government, I would be very worried about the Obama administration’s attitude on their nuclear deterrent,” he said. “You can barely raise the subject of nuclear weapons in the Middle East without someone saying: ‘What about Israel?’ If Israel’s opponents put it on the table, it is entirely possible Obama will pick it up.”

Walt in Foreign Policy:

Andrew Sullivan wonders “why can’t Israel just declare that it’s a nuclear power?” Good question. I’ve never had much problem with Israel having a nuclear arsenal myself — if I were Israeli, I’d want one too. Nor am I surprised that they don’t want their neighbors to follow suit, because that’s basically been our position too. The United States would clearly prefer to be the only country with nuclear weapons; the problem is that it’s difficult-to-impossible to maintain a nuclear monopoly in perpetuity without fighting a lot of preventive wars. And the same goes for Israel too.

As for Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity — “we will not be first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, but we will not be second” — it was probably an effective ploy for awhile. ….

Minister of Finance, Hussein does not expect foreign investment to increase لحسين: لا نتوقع زيادة في تدفق الاستثمار الأجنبي حالياً إلى سورية Syria News

It will suffer with the general economic crisis. There is also considerable anecdotal evidence for the decline of foreign remittances from the million Syrians working in the Gulf, some of whom have lost their jobs and will increase unemployment figures in Syria…..

قال وزير المالية محمد الحسين إن “حركة الاستثمار الأجنبي المباشر ترتبط بالأزمة الراهنة فلا نتوقع زيادة في تدفق الاستثمار الأجنبي حالياً (إلى سورية) لان الأزمة المالية أثرت سلباً على السيولة وبالتالي على الاستثمار”.

وأوضح الحسين، في تصريح لصحيفة محلية نشر يوم الثلاثاء، أنه “على رغم وجود تسهيلات مالية وجمركية وإدارية وتوفر بيئة جاذبة للاستثمار لكن لا يمكن أن نسقط تأثيرات الأزمة المالية الراهنة على الاستثمار الأجنبي في سورية”.

وتشير تقارير رسمية إلى أن الاستثمار الأجنبي المباشر في سورية بلغ 787 مليون دولار عام 2007 كان حصة القطاع السياحي منها 50% ، في حين ما زالت بيانات الاستثمار تتصف بعدم الدقة إذ يدخل إلى سورية الكثير من الأموال بهدف استثمارها تحت اسم التمويلات…..

وعن انفتاح الاقتصادي السوري، قال الحسين إن “سورية ملتزمة باتفاقية تحرير التجارة العربية منذ 1-1-2005 وهي ملتزمة أيضا باتفاقية تحرير تجارة ثنائية مع تركيا”.‏‏

وأضاف الحسين أن “سورية وقعت أوليا على اتفاقية الشراكة مع الاتحاد الأوروبي، وان أية إجراءات حمائية غير مدروسة ستقابلها إجراءات مماثلة وهذا لن يكون مفيداً أمام هذه الاتفاقيات ونحن مع استخدام الأدوات والتشريعات الموجودة لضبط المستوردات ومكافحة الإغراق وحماية الصناعة الناشئة وهذا من حقنا في الظروف الاستثنائية”……..

وووضع نظام بريتون وودز، الذي اقر عام 1944 من قبل 44 دولة، أسس النظام المالي العالمي بعد الحرب العالمية الثانية، وأسفر عن تأسيس صندوق النقد الدولي والبنك الدولي، بالإضافة إلى قاعدة الصرف بالذهب بالنسبة للدولار الأمريكي”.

New Book: “Off the Straight Path” Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman Aleppo (Syracuse University Press, 2008).

Elyse Semerdjian, Associate Professor of History, Whitman College

The legal treatment of sexual behavior is a subject that receives little scholarly attention in the field of Middle East women’s studies. Important questions about the relationship between sexuality and the law and about the societies enforcing that relationship are rarely addressed in the current literature. Elyse Semerdjian’s “Off the Straight Path” takes a bold step toward filling that gap, offering a fascinating look at the historical progression of Islamic law’s treatment of illicit sex.

Semerdjian provides a comprehensive review of the concept of zina, sexual indiscretion, exploring the diverse interpretation of zina crime as presented in a variety of sources from the Qur’an and hadith to legal literature. She then delves into the history of legal responses to zina within the specific community of Aleppo, Syria. Drawing on a wealth of shari ‘a court records, Semerdjian brings to life Syrian society during the Ottoman period. With vivid detail, she describes specific women’s lives and experiences as their cases are presented before the court. Semerdjian argues that the actual treatment of zina crimes in the courts differs substantially from sentences prescribed by codifed Islamic jurisprudence. In contrast to the violent corporal punishments dictated in the Islamic legal code, the courts often punished crimes of sexual indiscretion with nonviolent sentences, such as removal from the community. Employing exceptional insight, “Off the Straight Path” presents a powerful challenge to the traditional view of Islamic law, enabling a richer understanding of Islamic society.

Comments (12)

majid said:

وحياة اللي راحوا.. ما راح ترجعوا

May 7th, 2009, 4:34 am


Frank al Irlandi said:

The disarmament agenda might get interpreted in Tel Aviv as the “Use ’em or lose ’em” dilemma.

What a fascinating piece of analysis to have to carry out.

Haaretz is rational in its comment


I am not sure I am looking forward to the Jerusalem Post comment.

May 7th, 2009, 6:14 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

BTW, Aleppo is also well known for it’s wild gay scene.
And this is among the few nice things you can say about Syria,
that because of it’s (relatively) secular regime, gays are (relatively)
free of persecutions and oppression.

May 7th, 2009, 12:57 pm


Shai said:


“And this is among the few nice things you can say about Syria…”

You mean, “And this is among the few nice things I (Amir) can say about Syria…”, don’t you? Btw, how do you know so much about the Aleppo gay-scene? With the exception of San Francisco (and perhaps London), I can’t think of many cities that’s the first-thing I’d identify them with.

May 7th, 2009, 3:08 pm


Alex said:

Washington Committed to Seeking Syria-Israel Deal



The United States told the Syrian government Thursday it was committed to seeking a peace deal between Syria and Israel, a main objective for Damascus in its rapprochement with Washington.

“We conveyed … President Obama’s sincere commitment to pursue Arab-Israeli peace on all tracks, including on the Syrian-Israeli track,” senior State Department official Jeffrey Feltman said after meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in the Syrian capital.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama started talks with Syria soon after he was inaugurated in January, ending a boycott of several years under his predecessor George W. Bush. Feltman said the two countries still had differences to settle.

Damascus wants the United States to become involved if talks resume, believing this would guarantee any deal would stick.

Indirect talks mediated by Turkey were suspended after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, which ended in mid-January.

Feltman is accompanied by White House official Daniel Shapiro. The two officials were in Damascus in March.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; editing by Andrew Dobbie)

Copyright 2009 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures


May 7th, 2009, 5:26 pm


Alex said:

US envoy in Syria tries to repair strained relations, supports comprehensive Mideast peace


Associated Press Writer

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – An Obama envoy in Syria to try to repair strained relations assured the government in Damascus Thursday that the U.S. is committed to pursuing a comprehensive Middle East peace that would include the Syria-Israel track.

The visit to Damascus by Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department’s top Middle East envoy, coincided with talk of a new U.S.-backed approach to revive peacemaking between Arab nations and Israel.

“We came here today as part of President Obama’s commitment to use diplomacy, to use dialogue in order to try to see where we can move forward, where our interests overlap, and to see where we can try to work together to bridge the differences that remain in some of our policies,” Feltman said.

He was accompanied by White House official Daniel Shapiro, both visiting Damascus for the second time since March. Their trip is part of the Obama administration’s outreach to nations shunned by former President George W. Bush, including Syria’s close ally Iran.

After meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, Feltman said he conveyed “President Obama’s sincere commitment to pursue Arab-Israeli peace on all tracks including on the Syria-Israel track.”

Syria held indirect talks with Israel last year mediated by Turkey. But the discussions were halted during the Israeli offensive on Gaza in December and January. Syria has since said it was ready to resume indirect talks with Israel’s new hard-line government as long as they focus on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured from Syria in the 1967 war.

But drawing Syria into a broader Middle East peace effort presents the U.S. with a significant challenge. Despite some signs that the country is interested in engaging with Washington after being shunned by the Bush administration, its alliance with Iran could present problems.

The U.S. withdrew its ambassador to Syria in 2005 to protest Syrian actions in neighboring Lebanon. Washington has criticized Syria and Iran for supporting Islamic militant groups such as the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The U.S. also has accused Syria of not doing enough to stop the infiltration of militants to fight U.S. and allied forces in neighboring Iraq.

Syria is Iran’s closest Arab ally and the U.S. accuses the Tehran regime of seeking nuclear weapons. Iran denies it.

On Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Damascus, where he and the Syrian president reaffirmed their support for “Palestinian resistance,” a defiant message to the U.S. and its Mideast allies. The Iranian president also met with Palestinian militant groups headquartered in Damascus, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Before meeting the American envoys on Thursday, al-Moallem said Syria was still “testing the American intentions toward Syria.”

Both Israel and U.S. Arab allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have expressed concerns about Washington reaching out to Iran for a dialogue, saying Tehran is a destabilizing force in the Middle East.

Jordan’s king Abdullah II said Wednesday a new “combined approach” under discussion with the U.S. would have Israel, Syria, Lebanon and other nations sitting down together to try to resolve the decades-old Middle East conflict. The idea is the latest indication that the Obama administration is trying to build on the shared interest of its Arab allies and Israel in blunting the threat from Iran.

As part of the new strategy, Arab diplomats said this week that the U.S. has asked the 22-member Arab League to amend a 2002 peace initiative to make it more palatable to Israel. The plan offers Israel collective Arab recognition, peace and normal relations in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from territory it occupied in the 1967 Mideast war, the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Several Arab diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said this week that the Americans are asking Arab nations to drop demands for a right of return for Palestinian refugees and agree to either resettle them in the host countries or in the Palestinian territories.

Arab foreign ministers meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo Thursday rejected the request, said Jordan’s foreign minister.

“The ministers renewed their (countries) commitment to the initiative as it is without change,” Nasser Judeh said.

In Damascus, al-Moallem also publicly rejected the idea before meeting with Feltman and Shapiro.

“I don’t see any justification for amending this initiative,” he told a news conference. “Is it logical that with every new Israeli government that Arabs would concede and put forth a new plan and new concessions under the slogan of a comprehensive plan?”

Israel initially rejected the initiative when it was first proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002. It was relaunched at a 2007 Arab League summit, and in the past year, Israel has said the initiative could be a starting point for discussions.

May 7th, 2009, 6:19 pm


majid said:

Palestinians who were driven out of their homes since 1948 as well as their descendants must be allowed to go back to their homes. Furthermore, the Zionists must compensate these Palestinians for the losses they incurred due to the crime committed by these Zionists. The Zionists must also offer sincere apologies and promise not to do what they did to the Palestinians. They should also seek to find a different land than Palestine and move all the rejects of humanity to that land. The UN must also offer apologies to the Arabs and to the Palestinians for the ill-advised decision to create the anomaly of so-called “Israel” in the first place.

The Arabs should not accept less than the above, otherwise as Norman said in a previous comment they would be selling their souls for the sake of a bankrupt America.

May 7th, 2009, 6:39 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Holding My Zionist Mirror up to Jihadist Ideology is Fun

Palestinians must give up on the right of return within the borders of Israel. Once a peace treaty is signed, the Israelis and/or the international community should help settle Palestinians within the bordrs of Palestine if they so choose. The Israelis and the Palestinians must both offer sincere apologies and promise not to do what they did to each other. The Palestinian should also seek to find a different occupation than smuggling, vest manufacturing and model rocketry. Then, Israel should move all the rejects of humanity to the newly created state of Palestine. The UN must also offer apologies to the Israelis and to the Palestinians for the ill-advised decision to create the anomaly of so-called “Gaza” in the first place.

May 7th, 2009, 9:24 pm


offended said:

“Wild gay scene”?

No wonder the zionists fail. Only god knows where they draw their information from.

May 7th, 2009, 11:28 pm


Akbar Palace said:

No wonder the zionists fail.


If only the Zionists were as successful as the Arabs.

Oh well.

May 8th, 2009, 1:51 am


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