Friday, October 14, 2005

Syria's High Wire Act

Israel's foreign minister called for regime change in Damascus. This seems to be an effort to ratchet up the rhetoric one last notch as Washington tries to get Syrian compliance on a number of issues. Bush seems to be looking for a deal, but it is very one-sided as far as preliminary reports suggest (see Nick Blanford's article in the London Times below.) The US is asking Bashar to do a Sadat, which means to bring Syria into America's fold. All the same, there is no carrot being offered Bashar. He will get a promise that Syria will not be sanctioned to death. Rather than getting a carrot, Bashar will get to avoid more painful blows from the Western stick. It will mean giving up the Baathist and Arabist package of demands and cultural icons Syria has stood for these last 40 years. I find it hard to imagine that Asad will accept this if he doesn't get something tangible and immediate in return. Sadat believed he would get the Sinai - which he did eventually get. He was also going to get investment, which was slow in coming. But he did eventually get two billion dollars a year in American aid, once he signed Camp David.

Syria has few of Egypt's strategic assets to bargain with. Asad is not Sadat, and Bush is not Carter, or even Nixon. But the Asad regime is far from crumbling in Syria. It is much harder today for the West to impose real sanctions than it was even a decade ago. Russia, India, and China can be real sanction breakers, not to mention the many other countries of the world which have been industrializing so rapidly over the last 10 years.

The elimination of Ghazi Kanaan, however, means the US has fewer possible choices in Syria. It is also not clear that Europe, or even America, will want to impose harsh sanctions on Syria. There is not much up-side in doing that. We will see if Bashar can get Bush to sweeten the pot a little. It is a high-wire act.

Shalom: Syria 'Up to its Neck' in Terror, Regime Change in World's Interest

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Friday it was in the world's interest to have a regime change in Syria, which he accused of being "up to its neck" in terror.
"Our interest is to tell the world that Syria is implicated up to its neck in terrorism, a terrorism that is directed not just against Israel but against coalition forces in Iraq," he told public radio.

"And this is why it is in the interest of the entire world that there is another state in Syria, one that is freer and more democratic," said Shalom.

The front-page story Friday of Israel's leading Yediot Aharonot daily quoted U.S. officials as saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime was near collapse in the countdown to the publication of the U.N. report into the assassination of ex-Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri.

Asked whether he believed that the Assad regime was nearing its end, Shalom said only time would tell.

"The future will tell us if this regime is close to the end or not. But there is no doubt that Assad has achieved something amazing: uniting the whole world against Syria," said Israel's top diplomat.

Shalom stressed that Israel would avoid becoming embroiled in the political turmoil of its northern neighbor.

"Israel has no intention of getting involved in what is happening over there as the entire international community is already on the case."(AFP)
Bush: 'Assad Must Respect Lebanon's Democracy Irrespective of Mehlis Verdict'
The United States is expecting many changes in Syria's conduct regardless of whether or not a U.N. investigation implicates the Syrians in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, President Bush has said.
"I don't want to prejudge the report that's coming out," Bush told reporters Wednesday.

Nevertheless, he said, "we have a lot of expectations for Syria beyond just the Mehlis report."

After a session with Poland's retiring president Aleksander Kwasniewski at the White House, Bush was asked about the consequences for Syria should the Mehlis report link its officials to Hariri's death. The U.N. Security Council is to discuss the report Oct. 25.

"I think it's very important for Syria to understand that the free world respects Lebanese democracy and expects Syria to honor that democracy," Bush said.

"You know, it's one thing to have been asked to remove troops and all intelligence services. Now the world wants for, expects Syria to honor the democracy in the country of Lebanon."

The question arose because of the suicide in Damascus Wednesday of Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan, 63, who was Syria's security chief in Lebanon for almost 20 years and reportedly was questioned by Mehlis.

While awaiting the Mehlis report, Bush said, "we're continuing to work with friends and allies to send a clear message to the Assad government there are expectations involved for countries that want to be accepted in the international community."

The second demand the United States has of Syria, Bush said, is "to do everything in her power to shut down the transshipment of suiciders and killers into Iraq. We expect Syria to be a good neighbor to Iraq."

U.S. officials say many of the foreigners who have joined the Iraq insurgency at least pass through Syria en route to the Iraqi battleground, even flying into the Damascus airport before making the journey east. Syrian President Bashar Assad's government contends its border is too permeable to seal effectively.

Bush also said Syria must not "agitate killers in the Palestinian territory."

"We're making good progress toward peace in the Holy Land," he said, "but one of the areas of concern is that foreign countries, such as Syria, might try to disrupt the peace process through encouraging terrorist activity."

Several Palestinian groups have headquarters in Damascus or elsewhere in Syria.(AP-Naharnet)
Cornered in Damascus
New York Times Editorial
Published: October 15, 2005
Three and a half decades of regional troublemaking and domestic misrule finally seem to be catching up with the Assad family dictatorship in Syria. The political atmosphere in Damascus is crackling with tension in anticipation of next week's United Nations report on possible Syrian involvement in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister, last February. Domestic discontent is seething, and deadly power struggles have already broken out in the dictatorship's inner circles. President Bashar al-Assad is discovering that he has thoroughly alienated other Arab rulers as he faces mounting pressure from the United States and France.

There is a real opening here for effective, concerted diplomatic action that could force long-overdue political change in Syria - if President Bush rejects the counsel of neoconservative advisers who have learned nothing from Iraq and now dream of overthrowing Mr. Assad with unilateral force.

Entrenched Arab rulers - like Egypt's perennial president, Hosni Mubarak, and Saudi Arabia's royal family, and newer ones, like the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas - are struggling to calm regional tensions and adapt to growing demands for change. Mr. Assad, however, has not only failed to renovate Syria's government but has also promoted instability in neighboring lands.

Despite withdrawing its troops from Lebanon this year, Syria still meddles there and continues to sponsor Hezbollah. Damascus also cooperates with the Palestinian rejectionists out to thwart Mr. Abbas's policies. Washington insists that Mr. Assad has opened Syria's borders to armed Iraqi insurgents.

In a few days, the world should have a clearer idea about whether, as many suspect, Damascus ordered the murder of Mr. Hariri, an enormously popular and respected Sunni Arab businessman. U.N. investigators have interviewed senior Syrian officials, including Damascus's top man in Lebanon for two decades, Ghazi Kanaan. Mr. Kanaan, the interior minister, was found dead in his office on Wednesday with a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound.

What is already clear is that the political stirrings in the streets of Beirut sparked by Mr. Hariri's murder have begun to reach Damascus. They have shattered the silence of resignation and fear that has sheltered the Assad regime and its Lebanese proxies.

The Lebanese have had to reclaim and revitalize their democratic political institutions. Any democratic transition in Syria will have to start from scratch, but that is no reason to postpone the inevitable.

The international community must stand united in its determination to get to the bottom of the Hariri murder and to put as much diplomatic pressure as necessary on Syria to change its ways and end its destructive regional meddling.
Karl Vick of the Washington Post has an excellent story on the changing nature of the Kurdish question in the region due to the rise of an independent Kurdistan in Iraq. Here is the Syria part. The whole story is worth a read. Wary Eyes Cast on Iraqi Kurds
Neighboring Nations Fear Consequences if Charter Passes
Saturday, October 15, 2005; A16

ISTANBUL -- The proposed Iraqi constitution that would enshrine a measure of independence for the country's ethnic Kurds is viewed with apprehension by three neighbors already struggling to accommodate the aspirations of their own Kurdish populations....

In Syria, where Kurds account for about 9 percent of the population of 18 million, the north of the country has been tense since rioting broke out in several Kurdish cities in March 2004. The unrest, which left at least 30 dead after government troops opened fire, began at a soccer game where Kurds' chants of "George Bush!" were answered by Arabs' chants of "Long live Saddam Hussein!"

"The Kurds were clearly emboldened by what was happening in Iraq," said Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma historian who is in Syria as a Fulbright scholar. He noted that the soccer game occurred just after Washington endorsed Iraqi laws that gave Kurds veto power over a new constitution.

"In a sense, this just changed the whole environment among the Kurds, because it was seen as the U.S. endorsing Kurdish independence," Landis said.

In the aftermath of the unrest, Syrian security forces clamped down on travel by outsiders to Kurdish areas. But Damascus also began to invest there and even floated the possibility of restoring full citizenship to some 300,000 Kurds stripped of that status decades earlier.

Analysts said the gesture stalled amid fears that Kurds would form an alliance with other groups opposing the Baathist rule of President Bashar Assad. The intrigues grew with the murder last May of a prominent Kurdish sheik, Mashuq Khasnawi, who had openly solicited alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Arab group with roots in political Islam that is banned in Syria.

A government spokeswoman said Syria had no official comment on Iraq's proposed constitution...


At 10/15/2005 08:16:00 AM, Blogger JoseyWales said...

No carrot for Assad???

How about this carrot? His regime survives.

How about this other carrot? Syria and its people will have a future for a change.

The latter point needs to be made by people like you, and other debaters of Syrian politics.


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