February 23/14

Bible Quotation for today/Jesus Curses the Fig Tree
Mark 11/12-25:  The next day, as they were coming back from Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  He saw in the distance a fig tree covered with leaves, so he went to see if he could find any figs on it. But when he came to it, he found only leaves, because it was not the right time for figs.  Jesus said to the fig tree, “No one shall ever eat figs from you again!” Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.  I assure you that whoever tells this hill to get up and throw itself in the sea and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  For this reason I tell you: When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it, and you will be given whatever you ask for. 25 And when you stand and pray, forgive anything you may have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven will forgive the wrongs you have done.”

Pope Francis's Tweet for Today
Let us never lose hope! God loves us always, even with our mistakes and sins.
Ne perdons jamais l’espérance ! Dieu nous aime toujours, même avec nos erreurs et nos péchés.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For February 23/14
Saudi Arabia's Domestic and Foreign Intelligence Challenges/By: Simon Henderson/Washington Institute/February 23/14
The Key to Pressuring Assad Is UNSCR 2118/By: Andrew J. Tabler/Washington Institute/February 23/14

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For February 23/14
Lebanese Related News
At Least Two Troops Killed in Hermel Army Checkpoint Blast, Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon Claims Attack
Local Leaders Deplore Hermel Blast, Call for Solidarity with Army, Fighting Terrorism
Suleiman to Meet Hollande on Sidelines of International Support Group Meeting on Lebanon
Hale Meets Geagea, LF Calls for Adopting Baabda Declaration as Policy Statement Basis
President Gemayel to Run for Presidency Based on Local Situation, Calls for Election of 'Strong President'
Army Seizes Grenades in Sidon as Gunman Kills Palestinian in Ain al-Hilweh
Report: Terrorist Plot to Ignite Shiite-Sunni Strife in Dahiye
Report: Arsal Residents Enraged over Hizbullah Checkpoints
Hariri Meets al-Rahi in Rome, Says March 14 to Have One Presidential Candidate
Saniora: Hizbullah Pullout from Syria Can Boost Ties with All Lebanese, End Suicide Attacks
Salam hopes for consensus on policy statement
Arab Democratic Party Secretary-General Rifaat Eid: Ultimatum aimed at defusing tension
Miscellaneous Reports And News
U.N. Security Council Ramps Up Pressure on Assad
In high-stakes round, Iran talks will take place in the dark
US aerospace firms move to sell jet parts to Iran
PLO official: Palestinian leadership could recognize Israel as Jewish state
Mars One responds to fatwa on red planet colonization
Security and defense: Thwarting the Sinai terrorism threat
Did alleged Mossad agent Ben Zygier pass intel to Iranian businessman
Chemical Arms Watchdog Split on Syria Delays
Syria submits new plan for removal of chemical
Yanukovych leaves Kiev. Opposition leaders lose control of hard-core protesters
Ukraine Opposition Seeks to Oust President
Ukraine protesters take over capital as president leaves Kyiv for pro-Russia east

Patriarch Al Raei Does Not politically Represent the Majority of the Maronites
Elias Bejjani/22.02.14/Very few Lebanese people from all denominational sects in both Lebanon and Diaspora are not fully aware that the Maronite Patriarch Bchara Al Raei does not represent the majority of the Moronites politically. Although there is no Maronite dispute about his religious role that sadly he is not fully fulfilling as required. Political Al Raei is totally sided with the Syrian-Iranian Axis of Evil and its Lebanese proxies, especial Hezbollah and Micheal Aoun. He does not hide this reality, but on the contrary he shows it boldly and with no shame via his close bishops, political and media advisors, rhetoric, sermons, speeches, stances, visits, alliances etc. Based on these facts and realities Al Raei's meeting yesterday in Rome with Lebanon's Ex PM, Saad Al Hariri must not be seen as a meeting with the representative of the Sunni Lebanese Majority and the Maronites' mere representative. As we understand, the meeting was between Al Hariri and a Maronite religious leader that does not politically represent the majority of his own Maronite people. For Al Hariri we say loudly, Sir, we support you, but for heavens sake enough sins, mistakes and derailments. Meanwhile the majority of Maronites fully support the recently issued Bkerki National Document, but they do not belief that Al Raei will honor it.

At Least Two Troops Killed in Hermel Army Checkpoint Blast, Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon Claims Attack
إNaharnet Newsdesk 22 February 2014/Two troops were killed on Saturday and several others were wounded in a massive suicide car explosion at an army checkpoint in the Bekaa town of Hermel.
The attack was claimed by Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon. The suicide car blast ripped through the checkpoint which lies at the entrance of Hermel, and at which cars are routinely stopped and searched by army troops.
“A suicide blast took place near al-Assi bridge area at the entrance of Hermel,” the state-run National News Agency reported."The blast killed two troops, among them an army officer, and wounded five others while other 10 civilians were also lightly injured in the bombing.”“One victim's body and 14 wounded were transferred to three hospitals in the region,” the news agency said.The NNA identified one injured civilian as Mohammed Dib Ayyoub.
Meanwhile, al-Jadeen television and al-Mayadeen channel both said three people were killed in the bombing. Military sources told LBCI television that among the wounded were three army recruits and two civilians.
“The wounded recruits are Imad Mahmoud Abou Zeid, Hassan Ali Jaafar and Elie Shhade Rizk while the civilians are Khodr Abu Bakr and his wife Rita.”Minister of Public Health Wael Abou Faour urged all hospitals in the region to admit those that were wounded in the blast. The NNA provided details on the moment of the explosion: “When army troops asked the driver to turn the lights on inside the car, he refused to do so and then detonated the vehicle.”Media reports also said the checkpoint was not the target. "The attacker was entering Hermel and when army forces at the checkpoint suspected him, he detonated the booby-trapped car,” LBCI said.
LBCI noted that the checkpoint where the car exploded belongs to the border regiment whose mission is deploying troops on the Lebanese-Syrian border. "Obtained information said two booby-trapped cars were located at the entrance of Hermel, and one of them only exploded at the checkpoint," al-Mayadeen said.  In the evening, the army released a statement detailing on Saturday's developments.
"At 7:00pm a four-wheeled vehicle driven by a suicide bomber detonated at an army checkpoint, killing and wounding several troops and civilians,” the released communique said.
The statement noted that the attacker blew himself inside the car when army forces tried to stop him after finding him suspicious.It considered that Saturday's operation requires embracing the military institution.
"We will never stop facing anyone trying to harm Lebanon and we'll work to dismantle terrorist networks and prosecute fugitives regardless of the sacrifices to be offered,” the statement stressed.
"Once again, the army is paying in blood the price of fighting terrorism and attempting to safeguard civil peace in the country. The military institution has warned months ago of what is being planned for Lebanon and we have intensified our campaigns to arrest planners and executors of these terrorist acts.""We have announced our readiness to confront terrorism that aims at creating chaos and inciting sedition in Lebanon.”Late on Saturday evening, Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon claimed responsibility for the attack. "In a blessed martyrdom (suicide) operation, the Hermel area was struck on Saturday," the Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon said on Twitter hours after the blast.
It also posted photographs of children with amputated limbs, under the headline: "The crimes of the party of Iran (Hizbullah) in Syria". Following the blast, the municipality of the Bekaa town urged citizens to stay away from the site of the explosion.Also, State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr tasked police forces with cordoning off the site of the explosion and gather all found information and clues about the car and the bomber, according to the NNA. “He also tasked forensic doctors with collecting humans remains and carry out the necessary DNA testing,” the NNA added.
Hermel, in the Bekaa Valley where Hizbullah has a strong presence, has seen multiple attacks in recent months related to the war raging in neighboring Syria.
Until Saturday, the attacks had all killed civilians.

Local Leaders Deplore Hermel Blast, Call for Solidarity with Army, Fighting Terrorism

News Agencies/Naharnet/ 22 February 2014/ Several local leaders and politicians on Saturday were quick to condemn the latest explosion in the Bekaa town of Hermel, soon after a suicide attack claimed the life of several troops and civilians at an army checkpoint in al-Assi bridge area in the village. Prime Minister Tammam Salam deplored the “terrorist” attacks, considering that targeting the military institution is an act against a cornerstone in the country."We call on Lebanese to unite against terrorism in all its forms and to block the road in front of plans that aim at harming Lebanon, its institutions and its people,” Salam said in a released statement.
"The army and the security forces were and will always be the protectors of the country.”He offered his condolences to the military institution and to Army chief Gen. Jean Qahwaji, adding that Saturday's “martyrs are a symbol of Lebanon's pride, prestige and sovereignty.”Former PM Saad Hariri also contacted Qahwaji to offer his condolences over the death of several troops in the blast.“We announce our full solidarity with the military institution and security forces in their mission to preserve stability and security in the country,” Hariri said in a released statement. Ex-premier Najib Miqati “strongly deplored” the attack, lamenting that the army always “pays the price in Lebanon.” Meanwhile, Industry Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan considered that despite the prevailing consensual atmosphere and the agreement reached on facing terrorism following the cabinet's formation, several “justifications were made following the Bir Hassan explosions (in southern Beirut) for political reasons and gains.”"If there is in fact an agreement on fighting terrorism, terrorists' acts should not be justified,” he stated.
The Hizbullah minister said there are “political, geographical and ideological spheres that embrace terrorism.”"Terrorists should know that they have no place among us,” he said, calling for fighting all forms of terrorism.
AMAL Movement stated that Saturday's blast comes as the army has exposed terrorist and criminal schemes targeting different regions in the country."The terrorist war has become exposed and uncovered in Lebanon,” a statement released by the party said. It added: “National duty calls on everyone, especially the cabinet, to stand beside the military institution and support it with all means because it is the shield protecting Lebanon from ongoing terrorist plans.”Labor Minister Sejaan Qazzi condemned “the Takfiri terrorism that is killing innocents and inciting sedition in the country.”
He also noted that the ministerial committee tasked with drafting the new cabinet's policy statement agreed on giving “an utmost attention to combating terrorism.”Meanwhile, Minister of Culture Roni Araiji expressed that “an attack against the military institution is an attack on Lebanon and an attempt to harm the country and its civilized character.”
"The army was and will always be the shield against terrorism and terrorists,” he said.

Saudi Arabia's Domestic and Foreign Intelligence Challenges
Simon Henderson/Washington Institute
February 21, 2014
A fatal shootout involving security forces and Shiites coincides with a change in the kingdom's intelligence leadership.
Yesterday, two Saudi police officers were killed and two injured in a gunfight while trying to detain "armed troublemakers" in the Eastern Province town of al-Awamiyah. Two Shiites also died in contested circumstances -- opposition activists say they were unarmed, identifying one as a twenty-two-year-old who was shot eleven times while running away, and the other as a local photographer who died as he documented the raid.
The town is close to the coastal city of Qatif, which lies across a bay from Ras Tanura, the world's largest oil export terminal. Although Sunnis make up nearly 90 percent of the kingdom's population, most of this area's inhabitants are Shiites who have long felt economically and politically disadvantaged -- much like the majority Shiites in the neighboring island-state of Bahrain, which has been wracked by demonstrations and clashes for the past three years. Last month, two German diplomats visiting al-Awamiyah were shot at and had their vehicle burned out; the incident was generally interpreted as Saudi security forces warning foreign diplomats to mind their own business. Trouble in the Shiite area of Saudi Arabia links the two main foreign policy headaches of ninety-year-old King Abdullah. For one, he fears Shiite Iran's apparent diplomatic rapprochement with Washington, which might leave Tehran with much of its nuclear potential intact. The king has also been supporting the overthrow of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, viewing regime change in Damascus as a strategic setback for Iran. Abdullah had given his intelligence chief -- Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the longtime former ambassador to Washington -- a leading role in enacting these policies, but in recent days it has become clear that the prince has been sidelined.
Bandar's Syria responsibilities have been taken over by his cousin, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef (known in Washington as MbN). Nayef is the interior minister, which in Saudi terms equates to head of homeland security and the FBI. He was in Washington last week for talks with senior U.S. officials, where he also joined a conclave of intelligence chiefs from Turkey, Qatar, France, and other countries to discuss Syria. The meeting apparently produced a common policy on vetting rebel groups for assistance and excluding the worst jihadists, though differences remain on what weapons to supply, most notably man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). According to the Wall Street Journal, MbN will be actively assisted in his role by Prince Mitab bin Abdullah, the king's senior son and head of the national guard, the kingdom's largest and perhaps most efficient paramilitary force.
It is uncertain whether the changes signal any substantive shift in Saudi policy, however. Bandar's removal, which has not been officially announced, is most likely due to health reasons. Past biographers who had close access to him have reported his susceptibility to depression and problems with alcohol. And when he gave a three-hour late-night briefing to Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) in December, he supported himself with a stick. Bandar is also believed to have favored recruitment of jihadist extremists -- often the most effective fighters against Assad -- and has been frustrated with the hesitancy of U.S. policy on Syria, declining to meet with visiting CIA chief John Brennan several times. One tweak in Saudi policy was last month's edict prohibiting citizens from going abroad to wage jihad or providing financial and other support for such activities. The significance of this change is still being debated by analysts, though, especially since supporting such activities has been quasi-official Saudi policy for decades in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Bosnia, even after negative consequences such as the emergence of al-Qaeda and characters like Usama bin Laden. An optimistic interpretation of the latest changes is that the reported policy chasm between Riyadh and Washington is being bridged. MbN has a reputation for efficiency -- his accomplishments include the establishment of a deradicalization center for returning Saudi jihadists -- and is said to work well with his U.S. counterparts. He is also considered lucky, having survived the attempted embrace of a suicide bomber who was feigning surrender. But while MbN's late father developed a fearsome reputation during his own time as interior minister, there is uncertainty about the son's ruthlessness in dealing with security threats, considered necessary to win respect. The clash in al-Awamiyah should serve as a reminder to Washington that Saudi Arabia views its security challenges as part of a continuum rather than distinct. The leadership change in the security and intelligence apparatus could ease friction regarding some of the issues that President Obama and King Abdullah will discuss when they meet in late March, but gaps remain on the urgency of -- and methods for dealing with -- the Syria problem.
**Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute.

Salam hopes for consensus on policy statement
February 22, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam expressed hope Saturday that the country’s rival factions would reach a consensus over the policy statement, adding that the committee drafting the statement has made progress. “We hope that the consensual spirit that resulted in the formation of the Cabinet will be reflected in the policy statement,” Salam said in a statement. “The panel drafting the ministerial policy achieved progress in its work.” The ministerial committee working on drafting the policy statement held its third meeting Friday at the Grand Serail. Salam also said the Cabinet should work towards holding the presidential election on schedule in May 2014.“The biggest challenge facing the cabinet is carrying out the presidential elections within the constitutional timeframe,” Salam said. “If the government is able to successfully carry out the presidential election, this will fortify the country's democratic system.”

Suleiman to Meet Hollande on Sidelines of International Support Group Meeting on Lebanon
Naharnet Newsdesk 22 February 2014/President Michel Suleiman is expected to hold talks with French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of a meeting for the International Support Group for Lebanon is set to be held in Paris in early March. Diplomatic sources told An Nahar newspaper published on Saturday that Suleiman, who will be heading the Lebanese delegation to the conference, is expected to meet Hollande at the French capital. Sources told the daily that the conference, which will be held on March 5, will be attended by Foreign Ministers of states who will reiterate their countries support to stability in Lebanon. The meeting will focus on three main principles, the humanitarian aid to help alleviate the situation for displaced Syrians in Lebanon, the capabilities of the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Economic aid. The support group was inaugurated in New York in September 2013,on the sidelines of the 68th session of the General Assembly. It undertook to work together to mobilize support for the sovereignty and state institutions of Lebanon and to highlight and promote efforts to assist the country where it was most affected by the Syrian crisis, including in respect of strengthening the capacity of the Lebanese Armed Forces, assistance to refugees, and structural and financial support to the government. The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon had surged to around 900,000 according to the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) as Lebanon has been facing difficulties in coping with their burden.

Report: Terrorist Plot to Ignite Shiite-Sunni Strife in Dahiye

Naharnet Newsdesk 22 February 2014/The bombings claimed by the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades aimed at provoking Shiites residing in Beirut's southern suburbs against the Sunnis in the area, the al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Saturday. Detained top Qaida-linked militant Naim Abbas confessed that the Shiites were expected to have a bloody reaction against the Sunnis in Dahiyeh. However, the scheme failed after Hizbullah restrained from carrying out any counter reaction or targeting Sunni areas with explosive-laden vehicles to retaliate the bombings targeting its strongholds. Abbas, according to the daily, said that a group monitoring Hizbullah's bastions noticed that the party increased the security measures in Haret Hreik, Rweis and Bir al-Abed, however, the measures in al-Shiyyah were less. The report continues that the minimal security measures in Shiyyah prompted the leadership of Abdullah Azzam Brigades to set a plan to target the area with suicide attacks to evoke Shiites against Sunnis and prompt them to target areas like Tariq al-Jadideh, which is mainly a Sunni neighborhood. Earlier in February, the army announced the arrest of top militant Naim Abbas, one of the leaders of the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Following his interrogation, he told the army about two car rigged with explosives which were dismantled in Beirut's Corniche al-Mazraa district and the Bekaa area of al-Labweh. A string of car and suicide bomb attacks have targeted Hizbullah strongholds in Lebanon in recent months, killing dozens of civilians. The latest attack targeted the Iranian Cultural Center in Bir al-Hassan neighborhood, killing 11 people and wounding more than 100. The attack was quickly claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades that previously claimed a double suicide bombing aimed at Iran's embassy in Beirut.

President Gemayel to Run for Presidency Based on Local Situation, Calls for Election of 'Strong President'
Naharnet Newsdesk 22 February 2014/Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel stressed that the upcoming presidential elections should be carried out within the constitutional time-frame, calling for consensus among Christian parties over the name of the presidential candidate. “The Phalange Party reject by all means any vacuum at presidential post,” Gemayel said during an interview with the Tehran-based Arabic-language Iranian television channel al-Kawthar. Asked if he is a candidate to the presidential post, the official didn’t rule out the option, saying that it “depends on the stage and the conditions that the country is passing through.” Gemayel considered that the cabinet of Prime Minister Tammam Salam is demanded to carry out its tasks and follow up the delicate issues and not “achieve miracles.”“The new government provided all the Lebanese military and security institutions the necessary cover to carry out their tasks and end the security chaos,” he pointed. Gemayel said that “the shifting security situation in Lebanon was mainly caused by the lack of consensus among the Lebanese.”President Michel Suleiman's tenure ends in May 2014, but the constitutional period to elect a new head of state begins on March 25, two months prior to the expiration of Suleiman’s mandate. Gemayel emphasized that the Lebanese need to unite “to confront the terrorist that was nourished because of the protection provided by some politicians and the appropriate medium.” He stressed the importance of an International and regional cooperation to confront terrorism and diminish it.

Hale Meets Geagea, LF Calls for Adopting Baabda Declaration as Policy Statement Basis
Naharnet Newsdesk 22 February 2014/ U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale discussed on Saturday the latest developments with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as the party's parliamentary bloc stressed the importance of adopting the Baada Declaration and Bkirki Charter as basis of the cabinet's ministerial policy statement. According to a statement issued by the LF press office the meeting was held for an hour in Maarab in presence of Elie Khour, Geagea's adviser. Hale tackled with Geagea the situation along the Lebanese border and means to boost aid to Lebanon. Earlier, the LF leader headed the weekly meeting for the party's parliamentary bloc called on Prime Minister Tammam Salam's cabinet to adopt the Baabda Declaration and the Bkirki charter exclusively at the government's ministerial statement. Geagea had been adamant to stay out of the cabinet, saying he would not share power with Hizbullah. The LF bloc stressed that this is the only way to change the current situation in the country. The gatherers reiterated that Hizbullah should immediately withdraw its fighters from the neighboring country Syria and to deploy the Lebanese army to control the country's border and UNIFIL peacekeepers according to United Nations Security Council resolution 1701 “if it was necessary.”
The bloc noted that all illegal arms spreading across the country should be under the state's control. Hizbullah has dispatched fighters to battle alongside the Syrian regime against rebels seeking the overthrow of President Assad. The conflict, pitting a Sunni-dominated rebel movement against Assad, has raised sectarian tensions in Lebanon and Lebanese Sunni fighters have also been killed while fighting alongside Syrian rebels.
Lebanese parties are sharply divided over the crisis in Syria as the March 8 alliance continuously expresses its support to Assad, while the March 14 camp voices its support for the popular revolt.

Lebanese Army Seizes Grenades in Sidon as Gunman Kills Palestinian in Ain al-Hilweh

Naharnet Newsdesk 22 February 2014/The army intelligence raided on Saturday the house of an extremist in the southern city of Sidon as a Palestinian national was shot dead in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp.
The state-run National News Agency reported that the army raided the house of Mahmoud Khalaf in old Sidon town, seizing a cache of arms and grenades. The NNA described Khalaf as an “extremist.”Meanwhile, a masked gunman reportedly opened fire at Abdullah Serriyeh, who owns a vegetables shop, in al-Fawqani street in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp. Serriyeh succumbed to his wounds soon after he was submitted to al-Nidaa Humanitarian hospital at the refugee camp. The reasons behind the incident are still unknown. In a separate incident, the car of Ahemd Kaoush was set ablaze in Ain el-Hilweh.

Report: Arsal Residents Enraged over Hizbullah Checkpoints
Naharnet Newsdesk 22 February 2014/The residents of the Bekaa border town of Arsal contacted several March 14 alliance officials to rebuke arrests carried out by a Hizbullah checkpoint erected on the outskirts of the village, al-Joumhouria newspaper reported on Saturday. According to the newspaper, Hizbullah members detained several residents from Arsal and questioned them, which angered the residents of Arsal. The reported pointed out that Hizbullah was previously demanded to remove the erected checkpoints and to hand over security to the army, however, the party failed to comply. The town lies 12 kilometers from the border with Syria and has been used as a conduit for weapons and rebels to enter Syria, while also serving as a refuge for people fleeing the conflict. Arsal's residents support the revolt against President Bashar Assad, and the town has become home to thousands of Syrians who have fled the fighting. It has also turned into a route for the trafficking of arms and fighters from and to Syria. Lebanon is sharply divided over the war in Syria and Arsal is a particular flashpoint as refugees from the uprising and fighters and smugglers hostile to the regime of Assad traverse the border.

Hariri Meets al-Rahi in Rome, Says March 14 to Have One Presidential Candidate
Naharnet Newsdesk 21 February 2014/Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri held talks Friday with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in the Italian capital Rome, in a meeting that focused on the issue of the upcoming presidential election."We will seek to hold the presidential election on time," Hariri said after the meeting. "The March 14 forces will nominate one candidate for the presidential elections," he added.
The meeting was held at the Maronite College in Rome and Hariri was accompanied by MPs Samir al-Jisr and Atef Majdalani, ex-MPs Bassem al-Sabaa and Ghattas Khoury, and his advisers Nader Hariri and Daoud al-Sayegh, the ex-PM's office said in a statement. The talks were followed by a closed-door meeting between Hariri and al-Rahi before discussions were resumed over dinner in the presence of the delegation members, the statement added. “I reiterated the importance of the charter that was issued by Bkirki, which is a national charter indeed and represents a roadmap for all the Lebanese,” Hariri went on to say.
Asked whether reports were true about a prearranged agreement between him and MP Michel Aoun over the issues of presidency, cabinet and policy statement, Hariri said: “It seems you know more than I know.”
“Serious talks were held with the Free Patriotic Movement and thank God they were successful and led to the formation of the cabinet. We will continue dialogue because there are several issues that we as Lebanese can agree on. This is what happened when we all focused our efforts to form the cabinet,” Hariri added. “This thing must also apply to the issue of the presidential elections ... All political parties must talk to each other and hold consultations and we must resolve our differences,” the ex-PM went on to say.
Hinting that he might be in Lebanon during the presidential vote, Hariri said “I want to see myself in parliament and each of us would raise his hands and vote for the president he wants.”Asked whether the agreement over cabinet will also apply to the ministerial policy statement and about his ties with his allies, Hariri said: “The relation with the allies is a strategic relation and no one can shake it or drive a wedge between us and the Lebanese Forces.”“I mentioned the LF because even if they are outside the cabinet, they are not outside March 14. They are rather at the heart of March 14 and we are also at the heart of March 14. We will continue this path along with all of our allies,” Hariri stressed. “As for the policy statement, it is being discussed by the ministers concerned and we have a clear stance over some issues but I don't want to talk about that here in Rome,” Hariri said, hoping the deliberations of the ministerial panel drafting the statement will be crowned with success.
Earlier on Friday, Hariri met with MP Sami Gemayel in Rome, according to the Phalange Party-affiliated radio station Voice of Lebanon (100.5). Future TV had reported that Gemayel would join the talks with al-Rahi. Sources following up on the preparations that preceded the meeting had told An Nahar newspaper in remarks published Friday that the discussion of the presidential vote “will not tackle names of possible candidates as talks will focus on means to secure holding the election within the constitutional timeframe.” On Thursday, Hariri revealed that he would discuss the presidential elections with al-Rahi, stressing his rejection of a vacuum in the top post. “I will go to Rome and I will have the opportunity to meet the patriarch … to see what his stance is on the presidential elections,” Hariri told reporters at the end of a two-day visit to Egypt. Hariri reiterated that he rejected a vacuum in the presidential post, saying the elections should be held on time.

Arab Democratic Party Secretary-General Rifaat Eid: Ultimatum aimed at defusing tension
February 22, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Arab Democratic Party Secretary-General Rifaat Eid said Saturday that the 48-hour ultimatum he gave Lebanese authorities following the assassination of a party official in the northern city of Tripoli was aimed at "defusing tension" among his party's supporters. “When we announced the 48-hour ultimatum following the killing of Diab, we were trying to cool down the Alawite community and to defuse people’s anger,” Eid said during a news conference. “Those hoping that we will strike Tripoli are wrong,” he added. The killing of Abdel-Rahman Diab Thursday triggered violence that left two people dead and five others wounded. Eid had warned that if Diab's killers were not arrested by the 48-hour deadline, " Tripoli will bear the consequences."The pro-Assad ADP official said his group “supports the judiciary and the [Lebanese] Army and calls for reconciliation in Tripoli.”The ADP leader emphasized that his party was not responsible for the twin bombings that targeted the northern city of Tripoli last year. “We join our voice to those calling for referring the case and that of the residents of Jabal Mohsen who have been murdered to the Judicial Council,” he said, referring to residents of the largely-Alawite neighborhood where the party is based. Recurrent clashes between Jabal Mohsen and the predominantly-Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh have claimed dozens of lives over the past three years. “We are sure of our innocence as a party ... and we have evidence against those who tried to implicate us in the blasts," said Eid.

Chemical Arms Watchdog Split on Syria Delays
Naharnet Newsdesk 22 February 2014/
The executive council of the Hague-based watchdog tasked with destroying Syria's chemical weapons arsenal failed Friday to reach agreement on what to do about Damascus's delays, because of divisions between Syria's allies and the West.Different sources close to the talks at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said China, Iran and Russia wanted flexibility over the timetable, but the United States and the European Union insisted on being strict. So far, just 11 percent of Syria's 1,200 tonnes of dangerous chemicals have been taken out of the country. The U.S. rejected a Damascus request for a 100-day extension to an end-May deadline for it to ship out the totality of its chemical arms, according to one source. "The Syrian government continues to put its energy into excuses, instead of actions," said the U.S. representative in the OPCW, Robert Mikulak.
The anti-proliferation chief in Britain's foreign office, Philip Hall, said: "Two weeks on, there has been no substantial progress in removing chemicals from Syria. "Our concern is growing that the 30 June deadline for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons will not be met. Syria's commitment to that date is in question." Under an agreement brokered by Russia and the U.S. last year, all of Syria's chemical weapons were to be destroyed by June 30 this year. Damascus signed on to the deal to avert U.S. military strikes in the wake of deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus blamed by the West on President Bashar Assad's regime. The plan calls for the chemicals to be taken from Syria's main port Latakia by Western warships to a U.S. vessel which will break them down using hydrolysis, a process expected to take 90 days. But Western diplomats in the OPCW last month expressed frustration at repeated delays to the process, and the U.N. Security Council on February 6 called on Syria to move faster. Syria has said it does not have the right material to transport the chemicals and that it has been hampered by the security situation in the war-torn country. The OPCW's executive council will meet again on Tuesday, and a formal meeting will be held early March to continue discussion. SourceAgence France Presse.

Ukraine protesters take over capital as president leaves Kyiv for pro-Russia east
By Maria Danilova And Yuras Karmanau, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press /KIEV, Ukraine - Protesters took control of Ukraine's capital on Saturday, seizing the president's office as parliament sought to oust him and form a new government. An aide to President Viktor Yanukovych said he had left Kyiv for his support base in the country's Russian-speaking east, but that he has no intention of abandoning power. In a special parliament session, lawmakers warned that the country risks being split in two. The country's western regions want to be closer to the EU and have rejected Yanukovych's authority in many cities, while eastern Ukraine — which accounts for the bulk of the nation's economic output — favours closer ties with Russia.
"The people have risen up and achieved their goals. The authorities are crumbling. Victory is in sight," 31-year-old construction worker Sviatoslav Gordichenko said outside a residential compound believed to belong to Yanukovych, Hanna Herman, a close Yanukovych ally, told The Associated Press that the president was spending Saturday visiting Kharkiv, a city in Ukraine's east which is the heart of his support base.
"As much as some people want it, he has no intention to leave the country," Herman said. She said the president was to meet voters in the region and make a televised address.
The trip comes a day after Yanukovych and opposition leaders signed a European-brokered agreement aimed at resolving the months-old political crisis that has killed scores and injured hundreds. The agreement calls for early elections and constitutional reforms that reduce the president's powers. The protesters, who are angry over corruption and want Ukraine to move toward Europe rather than Russia, claimed full control of Kyiv and took up positions around the president's office and a grandiose residential compound believed to be his, though he never acknowledged it.
At the sprawling suburban Kyiv compound, protesters stood guard and blocked more radical elements among them from entering the building, fearing unrest. Moderate protesters have sought to prevent their comrades from looting or taking up the weapons that have filled Kyiv in recent weeks. The compound became an emblem of the secrecy and arrogance that defines Yanukovych's presidency, painting him as a leader who basks in splendor while his country's economy suffers and his opponents are jailed. An Associated Press journalist visiting the grounds Saturday saw manicured lawns, a pond, several luxurious houses and the big mansion itself, an elaborate confection of five stories with marble columns. Protesters attached a Ukrainian flag to a lamppost at the compound, shouting: "Glory to Ukraine!"
A group of protesters in helmets and shields stood guard at the president's office Saturday. No police were in sight.
Protest leader Andriy Parubiy was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that protesters were in full control of the capital on Saturday. Police on Friday retreated from their positions in Kyiv's government district, and the night passed quietly. Ukraine's parliament, only a day ago controlled by Yanukovych supporters, seemed to be taking control of the country's leadership.
It was considering whether to impeach him or force his resignation, and whether to set a quick date for new elections to end the three-month standoff that has turned into a national crisis over Ukraine's identity and direction.
Despite significant concessions by Yanukovych on Friday, protesters said his offer to hold elections late this year isn't enough.
"Resign! Resign!" chanted protesters on Independence Square, the nucleus of the protest movement. Protesters at the square, known as the Maidan, heaped flowers on coffins of those killed in clashes with police Thursday.
In parliament, opposition leaders Vitaly Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnybok called for discussion of impeachment or forcing the president's resignation. Opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk called for naming a new government.
The parliament speaker — Yanukovych ally Volodymyr Rybak — submitted his resignation, citing ill health. The president's representative in parliament warned against splitting the country in two, an outcome that worries many but is increasingly seeming like a possibility. The president's concessions came as part of a deal Friday intended to end violence that killed scores and left hundreds wounded in Kyiv this week as snipers opened fire on protesters. It was the worst violence in Ukraine's modern history. Neither side won all the points it sought in Friday's deal, and some vague conditions left room for strong disputes down the road.
The agreement signed Friday calls for presidential elections to be moved up from March 2015 to no later than December, but many protesters said that is far too late. And it does not address the issue that triggered the protests in November — Yanukovych's abandonment of closer ties with the European Union in favour of a bailout deal with longtime ruler Russia. The standoff between the government and protesters escalated this week, as demonstrators clashed with police and snipers opened fire in the worst violence the country has seen since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago. The Health Ministry put the death toll at 77 and some opposition figures said it's even higher. The parliament on Friday quickly approved a measure that could free Yanukovych's arch-rival and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has served 2 1/2 years on a conviction of abuse of office, charges that domestic and Western critics have denounced as a political vendetta. Legislators voted to decriminalize the count under which Tymoshenko was imprisoned, meaning that she is no longer guilty of a criminal offence. However, Yanukovych must still sign that bill into law, and then Tymoshenko's lawyers would have to ask the court for her release from prison in Kharkiv, the city controlled by Yanukovych's loyalists where the opposition has little public following.
**Angela Charlton in Kyiv and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

A Message From John Bolton, Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Dear Friend,
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Iran's recent actions are a clear message that they are feeling quite pleased with themselves and that they have broken through the West's regime of sanctions and feel secure enough to project their power on a global scale.
Recently, we received proof when Iran's foreign minister boldly disputed claims that Iran agreed to dismantle its nuclear program. He boasted, "We did not agree to dismantle anything!"
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Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations


Yanukovych leaves Kiev. Opposition leaders lose control of hard-core protesters

DEBKAfile Special Report February 22, 2014/Saturday, Feb. 22, saw the unraveling of the deal clinched less than 24 hours earlier between Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders - with the help of three EU foreign ministers - for ending their deadly three-month stand-off. As thousands of hard-core protesters refused to abandon their barricades in Kiev’s central square Saturday, the president left the capital for an unknown destination. In the face of the protesters’ boos, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko backed out of the Friday deal and took up their call for Yanukovych’s immediate resignation. The protesters claimed to have seized control of the president’s office and security guards were withdrawn from his residence.
Klitschko then sought a parliament resolution calling for Yanukovych to step down at once and an early election on May 25, instead of December as they had agreed earlier. The Speaker, a key supporter of the president, resigned. The missing president is reported to be still in Ukraine. An aide says he has no intention of leaving the country. Opposition leaders, divided among themselves, appear to have lost control of the hard-core protesters and bowed to their determination to keep the fires of resistance to Yanukovych rule going at full blast.
As the crisis again threatened to career out of control, Ukrainians were asking in desperation: Where is the popular former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko? The Yanukovych regime has kept her in jail for two years. Her release was ceded in the deal he concluded with the opposition Friday, but so far this has not happened.
Our Ukraine specialists say that if she were free, she would occupy center stage of the protest movement as the most credible opposition leader, a role which none of the incumbents would be happy to relinquish. But behind bars, Timoshenko is available for the president to whip out as a high card as his confrontation with the opposition enters its next stage. It also indicates that he still exercises control over events in Kiev.
Read DEBKAfile’s earlier report Friday, Feb. 21 on how the radicals took control of Independence Sq.
The issues between Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych and opposition protesters led by Vitaly Klitschko, which spiraled Thursday, Feb. 20, into gun battles with live rounds, appear at first glance to be black and white – but that is true only up to a point. Is Ukraine clearly divided between pro-Russian and pro-European factions? That too is an over-simplification – much like the determination that US President Barack Obama’s backing for the protesters, countered by President Vladimir Putin’s support for Yanukovych, is the genesis of a new cold war.
Both Obama and Putin have kept their intervention in the Ukraine conflict low key. Obama has no inclination to challenge Putin, at the risk of losing his understandings with Iran and a free ride out of the Middle East by courtesy of Russia’s entry. Neither does the US president want to be dragged into European affairs after he and three of his predecessors in the White House expended considerable energy on disassociating America from the continent and pivoting the US eastward. The bloody confrontations in Maidan Square (renamed Independence Square by the protesters) were for him an unnecessary distraction from his chosen course. His warning of “consequences if people step over the line” was meant to sound grave, but people remembered his warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad seven months ago since when Assad is still going strong.
Vice President Joe Biden could not have expected his demand to pull security police back from the embattled Kiev square be taken seriously by that President Yanukovych, because it would have amounted to his capitulation and handover of rule to the protesters after three months of strife.
Putin has also been careful to skirt the conflict. Although he promised the Ukraine president $15 bn in economic aid and cheap Russian gas, he has not so far laid out a single dollar or ruble. Neither has he stepped forward to mediate dispute, leaving the task to the European Union, which sent the French, German and Polish foreign ministers to Kiev to broker a deal for ending the clashes.
On the ground, casualties soared and armed gunmen went into action Thursday, Feb. 20, raising the conflict to its most violent stage hitherto. Although neither side is likely to admit this, the escalation was not spontaneous; it happened after both quietly threw bands of armed, out-of-control radicals into the fray in order to finally end the standoff.
Yanukovich enlisted Ukraine nationalist extremists, some of them fervently pro-Russian, from the eastern provinces, where more than half of the 46-million strong population is Russian-speaking and close to Moscow.
The opposition rounded up armed radicals from the west, a part of Ukraine which a century ago was under Polish, then Austro-Hungarian rule. Here, Russian is not spoken and Moscow is anathema. These gangs seized the barricades in Independence Square. The gunfire across the square Thursday came from the shooting between the warring camps of radicals. They also accounted for most of the fatalities.
Friday morning, Ukraine’s Health Ministry said 75 people had died and more than 570 were injured in the violent clashes in the capital this week.
After this explosion of violence, both sides understood that an agreement could not longer be postponed, both to stop the bloodshed and to prevent the armed radicals taking over and throwing Ukraine into full-blown civil war.
Neither Yanukovych nor Klitshko was prepared to let this happen. Amid a shaky calm in Kiev Friday morning, President Yanukovych announced that all-night talks with the opposition, led by Klitschko and assisted by the European mediators, had culminated in an agreement to resolve the crisis. Before this was confirmed by the opposition or the European ministers, the president’s office revealed that it centered on his consent to an early general election in December and the formation of a coalition within 10 days - provided that the violent protest was halted and order restored to the capital. Some Kiev sources added that Yanokovych has agreed to constitutional reforms for reducing presidential powers. In the electric atmosphere in the Ukrainian capital, it is to soon to evaluate the life expectancy of this agreement or determine whether the two parties are capable of getting past their differences and forming a working coalition government.

Mars One responds to fatwa on red planet colonization
Non-profit space outfit reminds UAE religious authority of Muslim role in medieval exploration, asks for fatwa to be rescinded, and offers full cooperation in lead-up to mission.
Ynetnews Published: 02.22.14, 14:22 / Israel News
Pioneering non-profit outfit Mars One has asked the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endownment (GAIAE) to rescind the fatwa it issued earlier in the week which barred Muslims from traveling to the red planet.
Citing the Quran and the travels of a famous Middle Ages Muslim explorer, the private Netherlands-based initiative made the case that exploration by nature involves certain risks, but that the Mars colonization effort would not begin until a habitat was created for humans to settle.
Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan Muslim explorer who lived from 1325 to 1355 traveled an impressive 73,000 miles during his short career, chronicling his travels to places like Russia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, and the Maldives in his journal, Rihla, which has been an invaluable tool to historians due to its detailed descriptions of medieval societies across the world.
Acknowledging that the fatwa only bars Muslims from traveling to Mars – and not from participating in the ten-year mission to prepare the expedition – the space-colonization enterprise offered to work with GAIAE over the next decade to assess the risk to future colonists as work is completed remotely by rovers on the planned colony.
In the press release, Mars One respectfully requested the fatwa be canceled to allow Muslims to participate in the mission, so that "They can be the first Muslims to witness the signs of God’s creation in heaven, drawing upon the rich culture of travel and exploration of early Islam."
The fatwa was issued after Mars One announced that it will build a colony for four people on Earth's nearest neighbor by 2025.
The GAIAE, an agency of the United Arab Emirates' government, explained that the attempt to colonize Mars is dangerous and equivalent to suicide, which is forbidden in Islam.
"A one-way journey like this presents substantial mortal danger and this cannot be justified according to Islamic law. There is the possibility that a man who travels to Mars will not survive and die," read the fatwa.
Roei Eisenberg contributed to this report

The Key to Pressuring Assad Is UNSCR 2118
Andrew J. Tabler/Washington Institute
February 21, 2014
By focusing on the Syrian regime's faltering commitment to eliminate its chemical weapons, Washington can decisively push Damascus and Russia toward real progress on larger issues -- and also set the table for limited military strikes if they prove necessary.
The Syria peace talks in Geneva ended in deadlock on February 16, with the Assad regime seizing the personal assets of opposition negotiators and UN Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi blaming Damascus for the failure to schedule the next round. Brahimi accused the regime of refusing to address the very basis of the talks: a negotiated political transition. It is now patently clear that President Bashar al-Assad feels no need to negotiate, be it a political solution to end the crisis or humanitarian access and evacuation from areas besieged by the regime. Similarly, his backers in Moscow refuse to pressure him into fulfilling his political obligations under the Geneva Communique of 2012. According to U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, nearly 5,000 Syrians were killed during the latest rounds of talks in what she described as "the most concentrated period of killing in the entire duration of the conflict."
To make matters far worse, the regime is dragging its feet on disposing of its chemical weapons (CW), with only 11 percent of only the first shipment transferred out of the country so far. And on January 30, U.S. authorities reported that the regime has "revised" its initial declarations to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), refusing to destroy its twelve declared weapons sites.
Taken together, these developments show that Assad is not only playing a ruthless game to hold on to power, but also escalating the crisis. By starving out the opposition and obstructing a political solution, he is ensuring that the country remains in a permanent state of partition, with terrorist havens on both sides. And by not following through on his commitments to the OPCW, he is threatening to supercharge the conflict -- the longer such weapons remain in the country, the more likely they are to be used by the regime again or fall into the hands of terrorist groups. In short, the situation presents a clear threat to regional and international security.
Accordingly, the United States should turn the tables on Assad, using Syria's September decision to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention as leverage to gain compliance on two other issues: a political transition as outlined in the Geneva Communique, and humanitarian access/evacuation. While the Security Council has shown little agreement on the humanitarian issue, compliance with the OPCW and the Geneva Communique are both enshrined in the same Security Council document: Resolution 2118, which is enforceable by Chapter VII measures such as sanctions and use of force following the passage of a subsequent Chapter VII resolution. Pushing now on 2118 would create a useful dilemma, forcing Moscow to reveal whether it is unable or simply unwilling to goad the Assad regime into eliminating its CW program and negotiating a political transition. This approach would also prepare the American public for a possible military showdown with Assad this summer over his refusal to dispose of chemical agents.
As Brahimi noted, the peace talks broke down because of the Assad regime's refusal to discuss a "transitional governing body" as outlined under the Geneva Communique, the internationally accepted "Action Plan for Syria" agreed on by the United States and Russia and enshrined in Resolution 2118. Instead, the regime has put forward a forced political solution centered on Assad's "reelection" to a third seven-year term; his current terms expires July 7, but he is virtually guaranteed to win the rigged election slated for this spring. This is a nonstarter for the opposition. And given the regime's inability to reconquer and hold all the territory it has lost, this solution would make it impossible to reunite Syria under central leadership, leading to permanent partition along the lines of Somalia.
Meanwhile, the regime's efforts to remove "chemical agents and key precursor chemicals" have -- as U.S. ambassador to the OPCW Robert Mikulak put it on January 30 -- "seriously languished and stalled" in at least two respects. First, only a small percentage of the first scheduled shipment has been transported to the port of Latakia for transfer outside Syria and destruction. The shipment is supposed to include 500 tonnes of the most toxic chemicals, with another shipment of 700 tonnes due out thereafter. Mikulak's assessment was not surprising: reports indicated that shipments had been remarkably small for some time, leading Assad to blame the OPCW for the "slow" provision of equipment in a January interview with Agence France Press. This was in reference to Syrian requests for extra equipment due to "security concerns" in the Qalamoun area along the M-5 highway north of Damascus, through which CW shipments are transported. Mikulak branded such concerns as "without merit" and said they displayed a "bargaining mentality rather than a security mentality," since the regime and its Hezbollah allies were already known to have consolidated much of their position in that region.
Second, and much more worrisome, Damascus has sought to revise its initial declaration to the OPCW in order to keep its twelve declared CW weapons sites intact. The regime now wants to render these sites "inactivated" by "welding doors shut and constructing interior obstacles" -- measures that Washington has said are "readily reversible within days" and therefore well short of Syria's original commitment to "physically destroy" the sites "as provided for by the Convention and the precedents for implementing that requirement." The proposal followed Assad's statement in the AFP interview that Syria's only obligation was "preparing and collecting data and providing access to inspectors." "The rest," he said, "is up to other parties."
The site request indicated that Damascus was backtracking on its commitments under Resolution 2118 and the Convention on the Destruction of Chemical Weapons, which the regime acceded to last year under threat of U.S. military force. In response, Mikulak stated that the United States was willing to "explore an approach" where the roofs of seven hardened aircraft hangars used as chemical sites could be collapsed. The five remaining CW sites are underground; although Mikulak noted that they present a "more challenging destruction problem," he recommended collapsing the tunnel portals and compromising the "structural integrity" of the tunnels at "key junctures."
The best way to prevent Assad from escalating the crisis and domineering the transition is to pressure him into complying with the timetable for disposing of CW and destroying chemical sites. Increased shipments out of Syria would take away a strategic weapon that the regime has repeatedly has used and keep it from falling into the wrong hands. But there is another compelling reason to push Assad on 2118: the regime has made itself vulnerable on other fronts by dragging its feet on the OPCW. Focusing on the effort to rid Syria of CW would help Washington determine exactly where it stands not only with the Assad regime, but also with Moscow. The sequencing of this strategy could unfold as follows:
Create diplomatic pressure around Resolution 2118 in terms of both CW destruction and the transitional governing body outlined by the Geneva Communique. The CW problem is the only Syrian issue on which there is clear Security Council agreement regarding the steps Assad must take, and the transition process outlined in the Geneva Communique has broad international acceptance. Emphasizing these two issues by focusing on compliance with Resolution 2118 would keep the regime on agenda and steer it away from attempting to justify its onslaught against civilians as a war on "terrorism." At the same time, the U.S. government should continue pushing on the current UN draft resolutions regarding humanitarian access and evacuation in response to the regime's recent uptick in violence and continued besieging of approximately 200,000 Syrians. Given the urgency of the matter, any such resolutions should have clear consequences in the event of noncompliance.
Build public pressure against the regime based on its delays in implementing 2118. By increasingly highlighting the Assad regime's recent barrage against the opposition, Washington can build pressure not only on Damascus, but also on Moscow, determining once and for all whether Russia will convince Assad to meet his commitments on CW and political transition. In addition, such an approach would prod Moscow on the humanitarian front.
A campaign of diplomatic and public pressure could also build opposition support for the United States following its nadir last year, when the Obama administration decided to delay punitive airstrikes after the regime reportedly used CW against civilians. This goodwill could in turn be used to obtain guarantees from rebel elements along the Qalamoun-Latakia route not to attack or commandeer CW convoys. Such an approach would cement the good impression made by Washington's strong diplomatic stand at the latest peace talks, particularly in keeping Iran away from the table unless it accepted the Geneva Communique.
Thus far, the Assad regime has radically changed course only when confronted with the credible threat of U.S. military force last autumn. This is similar to Assad's shift in the face of Israeli military strikes against convoys attempting to transfer strategic weapons to Hezbollah. It is therefore important that Washington emphasize a point President Obama has already made: U.S. strikes on Syria were only delayed last year, not cancelled, while Washington explored the regime's willingness to deliver on its commitments under Resolution 2118. Taking this tack would not only instrumentalize the credible use of force and create pressure to move, it would also prepare the American public for the necessity of a limited strike in the increasingly likely event that Damascus misses the final June 30 deadline to eliminate its CW program.
This is not just a matter of American credibility being on the line: by escalating the violence, spurning real negotiations, and holding onto its chemical arsenal, the Assad regime has ensured that the Syria crisis will increasingly threaten the United States and its allies in Europe and the Middle East. The domestic political timing adds increased urgency: President Obama will likely face increased Republican criticism over his handling of a crisis to which there will be no easy answers any time soon, and such pressure is already emerging via tight congressional races that could end Democratic control of the Senate and, with it, the president's ability to govern assertively the next two years. At the same time, the relative economic and political cost of limited military intervention using offset assets (e.g., cruise missiles) is decreasing as Washington's financial and military commitments to curb humanitarian suffering in Syria grow. As the Syria crisis enters its fourth year next month, dealing effectively with the Assad regime's behavior now by pressing for implementation of Resolution 2118 -- and a potential new humanitarian resolution -- is the right move, both politically and morally.
**Andrew J. Tabler is a senior fellow in The Washington Institute's Program on Arab Politics.