January 21/14

Bible Quotation for today/Gifts from the Holy Spirit
1Corinthians 12/01-11: "Now, concerning what you wrote about the gifts from the Holy Spirit. I want you to know the truth about them, my friends.  You know that while you were still heathen, you were led astray in many ways to the worship of lifeless idols.  I want you to know that no one who is led by God's Spirit can say “A curse on Jesus!” and no one can confess “Jesus is Lord,” without being guided by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them.  There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served.  There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service.  The Spirit's presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.  The Spirit gives one person a message full of wisdom, while to another person the same Spirit gives a message full of knowledge.  One and the same Spirit gives faith to one person, while to another person he gives the power to heal.  The Spirit gives one person the power to work miracles; to another, the gift of speaking God's message; and to yet another, the ability to tell the difference between gifts that come from the Spirit and those that do not. To one person he gives the ability to speak in strange tongues, and to another he gives the ability to explain what is said.  But it is one and the same Spirit who does all this; as he wishes, he gives a different gift to each person.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For January 21/14

Egypt Prepares to Move Forward/By: Dr. Walid Phares/January 21/14

Bandar bin Sultan's Botched Syrian Intervention Dateline/By: Hilal Khashan/January 21/14

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 21/14

Lebanese Related News

Hariri: Cabinet initiative to safeguard Lebanon

Death Toll from Tripoli Clashes Rises to Six ahead of Army Deployment

Geagea Says Army Hasn't Identified Nature of Maarab Drone: Efforts to Assassinate Me are Ongoing

No more obstacles to formation of Cabinet: Sleiman

STL defense challenges prosecution’s account
STL defense casts doubt over evidence in Hariri killing
Hariri says Assad ordered killing of his father
Salam, Aoun spar over ministerial portfolios

Suleiman: Defense Strategy Beginning to Take Shape through Saudi Grant to Army
The formation of a new government in Lebanon/Time for a response

Syria's Assad: Hariri trial tool to 'pressure Hezbollah'

Defense in Hariri Murder Cites Difficulties, Roux Calls for Respect of Merhi's Rights

Israeli Force Removes 2 Devices from Adeisseh under Eyes of Army, UNIFIL

Ibrahim Continues Contacts to Release Abducted Bishops, Maalula Nuns

Jumblat Hails 'Statesman' Hariri, Slams 'Campaigns' against Him

Tripoli Muslim Scholars Accuse State of Protecting Gunmen in City

Gemayel Calls for Formation of Cabinet Capable of Overseeing Constitutional Deadlines

Army Frees Priest after One-Day Abduction

Aoun Describes Hariri's Stance Concerning Cabinet as 'Brave'

Assad Describes STL as 'Politicized, Considers it a Tool to 'Pressure Hizbullah'

Two Students Killed, 13 Wounded in Seriine Car Accident

Hizbullah Seeks to Clinch Deal with Aoun on Rotation of Portfolios

Berri Expects Cabinet to be Formed this Week, Says Consultations Ongoing


Miscellaneous Reports And News

Harper: Singling out Israel is 'weak, wrong' form of new anti-Semitism: Harper

Palestinian media cry foul over access to Harper visit to Bethlehem
US successfully pressures UN to rescind Iran invite to Syria peace talks

Netanyahu pours cold water on interim nuclear agreement on its first day

West, Iran activate landmark nuclear deal

United Nations chief withdraws last-minute invitation to Iran to attend Syrian peace talks
Iran Curbs Enrichment as Nuclear Deal Takes Effect

Iran halts higher-grade uranium enrichment: IAEA report

UN's last-minute Iran invitation throws Syria talks into doubt
Assad expects to run again, rejects power deal
Syria Opposition Awaits Ban's Stance before Decision on Geneva II

Netanyahu pours cold water on interim nuclear agreement on its first day

Syrian President Expects to Run Again, Rejects Power Deal


Saad Hariri's interview: Not impressive and Lacks Honesty
Elias Bejjani/January 21/14

Quite frankly for the first time since 2005, I was not impressed at all by Mr. Saad Al Hariri's recent shocking and non Lebanese rhetoric, tone and stances.
In his TV interview with Paula Yacoubian, (Future TV) on Monday 20/01/14, he was not himself, but confused, perplexed, some what childish and apparently not well prepared in advance to deal with the complex questions.
He sounded hostile at time which is not his nature and was not open, receptive or appreciative to those who criticized his sudden Saudi  imposed appeasements to Hezbollah, especially from his own Future Movement.
He could not rationally or logically explain his last bizarre statements in regards to his willingness for sharing the criminals and terrorists of Hezbollah in a new Lebanese government.
For the first time I did not sense his usual transparency, innocence, honesty or sincerity, as I used to previously.
Meanwhile all the junk and unconvincing excuses that he used to justify his sudden willingness to sleep in the same bed with Hezbollah were bogus and not persuasive at all.
It was very clear from the bitterness of his rhetoric, tone and confusion that his decision making process is not totally in his hands.
Hariri this time disappointed me and made me doubt very much that he is qualified to be where he is.
I hope I am mistaken in my interpretation of the contents of his very superficial and disappointing interview.
Apparently it seems he is for sure going to share the criminals of Hezbollah in the new government that is in preparation after shamelessly licking all his previous promises and vows.
In conclusion, we strongly believe that Hariri is committing a fatal national and patriotic mistake by succumbing to the Saudis and giving the criminal Hezbollah the legitimacy not only to continue its barbaric Iranian occupation of Lebanon and killing its patriotic leaders one after the other boldly and with cold blood, but also and most importantly to go on fighting the Syrian people and support the Butcher Bachar Al Assad to remain in power.


Hariri: Cabinet initiative aims to safeguard Lebanon

January 21, 2014/By Hussein Dakroub The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Monday he was driven by his worries about Lebanon drifting into instability to join Hezbollah in a coalition government with the aim of containing a long-simmering political conflict after the March 8 coalition backtracked on its demand for veto power. He also said the March 14 coalition, led by his Future Movement, would nominate a candidate from its ranks to run in the presidential election, scheduled for May, thus dismissing the possibility of a neutral or centrist candidate. In a wide-ranging interview with Future TV, Hariri said Hezbollah and its March 8 allies would not have veto power in a new Cabinet, and pledged not to compromise over the Future Movement’s rejection of the party’s tripartite defense formula of the Army, the people and the resistance.” He spoke days after attending in The Hague the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s trial in absentia of four Hezbollah members indicted in the 2005 assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“What happened in The Hague is a very big issue that might cause a major problem in the country. Do I act with my heart only or with mind? Therefore, I have said there are deep-rooted differences with the March 8 side, particularly with Hezbollah,” Hariri said in the interview conducted at his residence in Paris. He cited three major contentious issues with Hezbollah: the party’s military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces, the party’s arsenal and its protection of the suspects involved in his father’s assassination. Hezbollah has refused to hand over five party members suspected of involvement in Hariri’s killing.
Hariri scoffed at charges that his agreement to share power with Hezbollah in a coalition government was designed to cover the party’s military involvement in Syria. “We definitely will not cover Hezbollah’s participation in Syria. This participation brought fire to Lebanon,” he said.“We are against a blocking third [veto power]. We support the rotation [of ministerial portfolios]. I reject outright the tripartite formula and I will never compromise on this matter,” Hariri added.
He said he supported the Baabda Declaration, which calls for distancing Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the conflict in Syria, to replace the tripartite formula in the Cabinet’s policy statement.
Hariri’s remarks come amid rising hopes that a new Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup could be formed this week, ending a 10-month-old deadlock. “The new Cabinet will serve for two, three or four months until a new president is elected,” he said, adding that he had to reciprocate the March 8 alliance’s retreat from its demand for a 9-9-6 Cabinet in which the March 8 and March 14 camps would be granted veto power.
Referring to the wave of car bombings that struck Beirut, the southern suburbs and the northern city of Tripoli recently, incidents directly linked to the war in Syria, Hariri said: “The people want a government. The country can no longer endure because of the tense situation. My duty is to find an equation to emerge from the painful situation ... We want to halt the collapse.”“Participation [with Hezbollah] in the government [is designed] to contain the conflict, even though Hezbollah did not withdraw from Syria and put the differences at the Cabinet table,” he said. “We are proceeding positively and they [March 8] also say the same ... I am trying to find a window to pull the country out of this predicament.” “Today, a glimmer of hope emerged over the Cabinet formation even though there are major differences between us and them [March 8],” Hariri said. “For us, we enter the Cabinet to contain the conflict at the Cabinet table, but at the same time we want to care for the people’s interests.” Hariri also denied he was abandoning his allies in the March 14 camp and moving toward a four-way ruling political alliance made up of Hezbollah, Amal, the Progressive Socialist Party and his Future Movement. “We have an open dialogue with our allies [in the March 14 alliance] in which we inform them of the steps we are taking and the reasons behind them,” he said. “Only death can separate me from my allies in the March 14 coalition.”  While stressing the strong bonds between him and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, Hariri urged his longtime ally to reconsider his stance over the Cabinet formation. “I urge Samir Geagea to reconsider his position on this issue [the Cabinet] because we all have our concerns,” he said. “But no one should think that I will abandon Samir Geagea or vice versa, and our position is the same.” In an interview with France’s Europe1 radio station earlier Monday, Hariri said Assad had most likely given the order for the assassination of his father. He also said he would return to Lebanon for the parliamentary elections scheduled in November. Hariri also reiterated his accusation that Assad was behind the assassination of former Minister Mohammad Shatah in Beirut in December.
Asked why international justice was a long process, Hariri said: “Because over a period of 50 years there was impunity in Lebanon. This is the first time that the international community has established a process of justice for Lebanon, in the Arab world, in order to end political assassinations.”“Justice never forgets or forgives. I want justice, not to forgive or forget.”

The formation of a new government in Lebanon/Time for a response
January 20, 2014/The Daily Star/The formation of a new government in Lebanon should have become significantly easier – in theory – in the wake of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s announcement that he was ready to accept the participation of Hezbollah in the next Cabinet. But Friday’s statement has yet to produce any positive signals from the March 8 camp, which has long accused its March 14 rivals of trying to block the formation of a government.Instead, politicians from this coalition are falling back on old rhetoric, as they talk about their long-standing conditions on issues such as Hezbollah’s weapons and status as a resistance group, or relinquishing certain portfolios in a new Cabinet. March 8 politicians can look no further than the Baabda Declaration if they want to move the process forward; this document, which Hezbollah originally endorsed, does nothing to downgrade the status of Hezbollah’s resistance. A decision to adhere to the Baabda Declaration could provide a face-saving means for all parties if they truly have good intentions about seeing Lebanon exit a state of political paralysis.
Hariri has engaged in a bit of a gamble by endorsing the participation of Hezbollah in the government, since some of his allies have reservations about such a step. But Hariri has opted for the country’s greater good and believes the higher national interest dictates such a step. The question is whether the other side has a coherent response to such a truly significant act of politics, or whether it is incapable of making the hard decisions that go with positions of responsibility. The country is in dire straits and Hariri recognized the overriding need for stability. Will March 8 prove that it shares this view?

Geagea Says Army Hasn't Identified Nature of Maarab Drone: Efforts to Assassinate Me are Ongoing
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 January 2014/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea warned on Monday that his assassination would have major repercussions on the March 14 forces and Lebanese policies in general. He told al-Arabiya television: “Preparations to assassinate me are ongoing.” He confirmed media reports that spoke of drones flying over his Maarab residence, saying: “The espionage planes are part of a policy of intimidation against the March 14 camp.” He stressed however that such methods will not intimidate him “as they will not succeed in assassinating me.” “They will try to assassinate me again seeing as such a development will have major repercussions on the March 14 forces,” Geagea noted. On the surveillance planes, he said that he had first noticed it some 15 days ago, adding that security personnel at Maarab noted that the sound generated by the plane differed from normal planes and its course also differed from regular ones. The mysterious plane flew over Maarab on January 8 at around 12:30 am, he revealed. The plane flew over the residence for a few minutes, but the suspicious activity prompted the state security forces at the facility to contact the Army Command to inform it of the development, said the LF chief. After the necessary investigations, the Army Command failed to determine the nature of the plane. A similar incident took place on January 14, but the plane hovered over Maarab for about two hours between 5:30 and 7:30 pm at a relatively low altitude, Geagea stated.
He consequently directly contacted Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji. Qahwaji said that the plane “was definitely not a Lebanese one." "And I personally believe that they were not Israeli surveillance drones as they usually fly over the South and the Bekaa, not over this specific region," Geagea added. “Military experts informed me that it was unlikely that the plane was Israeli because the drones do not usually hover over a region for a long period of time,” he continued. Qahwaji pledged to Geagea that he will follow up on this issue. “I believe that the army will be able to determine the identity of this plane the next time it flies over Maarab,” he remarked.
Geagea suspected that the mysterious plane is linked to telephone threats that have been made against numerous March 14 officials. Geagea escaped an assassination attempt by snipers as he was taking a walk in the garden of his Maarab residence in April 2012.


STL defense casts doubt over evidence in Hariri killing
January 20, 2014/By Kareem Shaheen/The Daily Star
THE HAGUE: The lawyer defending Mustafa Badreddine, the alleged “apex” of an assassination squad that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, cast doubt Monday on the telecommunications evidence used to indict his client, and said the bombing that killed Hariri may not have been a suicide attack. In an half-hour opening statement, Antoine Korkmaz said the prosecution had failed to identify the actual operatives who allegedly carried out the assassination. “Those accused are not the operatives of the bombing - those people remain entirely unknown,” he said. “The intermediaries between the operatives, the mastermind and the sponsor have by no means been identified, even obliquely.”Korkmaz was referring to the “red network,” a group of telephones identified by the prosecution as having been used in carrying out the assassination, whose members remain unidentified other than Salim Ayyash, one of the four named suspects. Korkmaz also criticised the prosecution for not identifying a motive for the suspects to carry out the attack. “This lack of motive of any identified mastermind makes the actions that they are accused of totally inexplicable,” he said. Korkmaz also raised the possibility that the bombing that killed Hariri was an underground bombing, a theory that has been abandoned for years by investigators, who said that a Mitsubishi Canter van laden with two tons of explosives was detonated by a suicide bomber. Korkmaz said that no footage of the moment of the explosion has survived despite the presence of many CCTV cameras in the area, saying such footage has disappeared. He spoke on the third day of trial at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the first time defense lawyers have outlined their case in court.


Hariri says Assad ordered killing of his father
January 20, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Monday Syria’s President Bashar Assad had most likely given the order for the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in 2005. In an interview with Europe1, the leader of the Future Movement also said he would return to Lebanon for the parliamentary elections. “The five accused are members of Hezbollah, an organization that has a hierarchy. I think the whole world knows who gave the order: it was Bashar Assad. I think this is pretty certain,” Saad Hariri told the station in an interview conducted in French. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is proceeding with the trial of four suspects, all members of Hezbollah, over the Feb. 14, 2005, assassination of Hariri’s father. A fifth Hezbollah suspect has been indicted in the case. Hezbollah denies any involvement. In an interview with Agence France Press, Assad accused the U.N.-backed court of being a political tool to target Hezbollah. Hariri also reiterated his accusation that Assad was behind the assassination of former Minister Mohammad Shatah in Beirut in December. “Yes, of course [Assad also killed Shatah]. He was one of my closest aides. He was killed in broad daylight in Beirut,” he said. “President [Francois] Hollande and Saudi Arabia ... decided to assist the Lebanese Army. [Riyadh] gave $3 billion to purchase French equipment for the Lebanese Army in order to combat extremism. This is important for me, for Lebanon,” he added. Asked why international justice was a long process, Hariri said: “Because over a period of 50 years there was impunity in Lebanon. This is the first time that the international community has established a process of justice for Lebanon, in the Arab world, in order to end political assassinations.” He also praised France’s role for supporting the STL. “France has played a bid role. Presidents [Jacques] Chirac, [Nicolas] Sarkozy and Hollande always supported the tribunal, justice, and Lebanon,” he said. “Justice never forgets or forgives. I want justice, not to forgive or forget. This is justice for my father but also the 11 [victims] of political assassinations,” Hariri said, when asked whether he would forgive and forget. Hariri also reiterated comments he made last week in which he said he was willing to form a national coalition government with Hezbollah. “For me the interests of Lebanon are more important than my own. The process continues, the government in Lebanon is important for these three or four months [as] there are presidential elections,” he said. “We think Lebanon should come [first],” he added. Hariri, a staunch critic of the regime in Syria, also said the only way to curb the number of youths heading to fight in Syria in the name of jihad was to halt “the massacres by Bashar Assad against the Syrians.” “It was he [Assad] who let Al-Qaeda [detainees] out of the prisons and the people should know this fact. The heads of Al-Qaeda were in the prisons of Bashar Assad. Today, these youths, I believe, are the victims of extremism, like the 150,000 killed by Bashar Assad,” he said. “It is like a [cult]. They manipulate people, the youth, like drug traffickers. There are groups such as Al-Qaeda that [brainwash] the youth to go fight in Syria,” he added. Asked about the Syria peace conference expected later this week in Switzerland, Hariri said Assad needed to leave power. “[It isn’t acceptable] to have a president like Bashar Assad as Syria’s [head of state],” Hariri said. Asked whether he believed Russia and Iran could convince Assad not to run in the presidential elections once more, Hariri said: “It is the job of Russia and Iran to tell Assad to go.” “The Syrians do not want Bashar Assad. Bashar Assad is the real Al-Qaeda that all the world must today combat,” he added. Asked whether he would return to Lebanon for the parliamentary elections in September, Hariri said: “Of course. I will return to Lebanon for the elections and perhaps one day become prime minister [once again.”

No more obstacles to formation of Cabinet: Sleiman
January 20, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman raised hopes Monday that a new government could soon see the light this week, saying all major obstacles had been overcome, in the strongest signal yet of an end to the 10 months political deadlock in Lebanon. “There are no more obstacles. We have started putting the final touches on the new Cabinet and the end of this week will be decisive,” Sleiman said in a brief chat with reporters after making an address to foreign diplomats at Baabda Palace. “All political parties are finally convinced of the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios,” he added, referring to reports last week of opposition by MP Michel Aoun to the key March 14 demand to ending the impasse over the Cabinet formation. Sleiman said although he had yet to decide on the Cabinet line-up that the Foreign Ministry post should always be in step with the president's positions "as the latter represents the state's foreign policy.”Lebanon’s 10-month-old Cabinet deadlock recently witnessed signs of a breakthrough after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri voiced willingness to take part in a government with Hezbollah and after an 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup gained support of most the country’s political rivals. Despite the optimism, Sleiman reiterated his warning that he would move ahead with the formation of a neutral government in the event efforts to form an all-embracing government failed. "I will not allow [Lebanon] to reach May 25 without a government. If the formation [process] is obstructed then all possibilities are available including a neutral Cabinet,” he said. The president's six-year term ends on May 25. The Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition has repeatedly voiced opposition to the formation of a neutral government, warning that such a step would have negative consequences on the country. Speaking to diplomats at the Presidential Palace, Sleiman called for international efforts to help keep Lebanon distant from the conflict in neighboring Syria. “We are looking to active international initiatives to encourage internal parties and influential states to distance Lebanon from regional conflicts through adherence to the Baabda Declaration,” Sleiman told diplomats during a ceremony on the occasion of New Year. He said that Lebanon had been damaged by the turmoil in Syria and was looking forward to a political solution to end the nearly three-year-old crisis. “Lebanon’s national path has suffered serious setbacks since 2011 due to the negative repercussions of the continuing calamity in Syria on our political, economic and social situation,” Sleiman said. “The domestic arena also witnessed a remarkable rise in sectarian tension and gradual involvement in the armed conflict on Syrian territories ... particularly with the growing flow of Syrian and Palestinian refugees ... all of which have coincided with the return of terrorist bombings across Lebanon.” “ Lebanon is particularly concerned with finding a consensual political solution that restores stability and preserves the unity of the neighboring country,” he said. “I hope that such a political solution will allow the return of Syrians to their homes and that the rehabilitation of the country is launched as soon as possible,” he said. The president said that Lebanon would reiterate its stance against any military involvement in Syria during the Geneva II peace conference on Syria due later this week.
Despite an agreement between Lebanese rivals to distance Lebanon from the Syrian conflict, Hezbollah made public last year its military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad. Sleiman also reiterated his keenness on holding the presidential election due later this year on time. “I will exercise maximum efforts to ensure the appropriate circumstances for holding the presidential election in a democratic and calm manner,” Sleiman said. The president has repeatedly said he opposes an extension to his term in office which ends in May 2014.


Salam, Aoun spar over ministerial portfolios
January 20, 2014/By Hussein Dakroub, Antoine Ghattas Saab/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A tug-of-war over key ministerial portfolios is threatening to delay the formation of a new government, political sources said Sunday, as Hezbollah welcomed former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s new stance on the Cabinet crisis. Also, an escalating row between the March 8 and March 14 camps over the policy statement appears to be impeding the Cabinet formation widely expected this week.
MP Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, was reported to be opposing the rotation of ministerial portfolios based on party and sect in the new Cabinet lineup because this would deprive him of two key portfolios: the Energy Ministry currently held by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil and the Telecommunications Ministry held by Nicolas Sehnaoui, who belongs to the FPM.
Aoun’s stance puts him at odds with Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, who has called for the rotation of all ministerial portfolios among parties and sects since he was appointed in April. It also puts Aoun on a different wavelength than Speaker Nabih Berri, who has said he supported the rotation of ministerial portfolios so long as it entailed equality between sects and parties.
Apparently responding to attempts to rotate ministerial portfolios, Bassil said Sunday that the Christians should be represented by key portfolios in the new Cabinet.
“We are present with our Christianity and patriotism in Lebanon. Our presence is reflected in the equality in Parliament, a strong president in the presidency and a correct representation in the government,” Bassil said at a foundation stone-laying ceremony for a solar energy plant project in the Nahr Beirut area.
“We must be present and represented by sovereign, [public] service and ordinary portfolios. Our role will be on this basis,” he said, adding: “Our role and presence are concomitant, and our Christian spirit is the spirit of harmony and accord which no one can stifle.”In another speech Saturday, Bassil praised Hariri’s readiness to join a Cabinet with Hezbollah, saying this could pave the way for national understandings in the country.
“We are in need for national understanding between us and the Future Movement, between the Future Movement and Hezbollah. Such understandings complete one another and do not isolate anybody,” Bassil said.
In an interview with Reuters in The Hague Friday, Hariri said he was ready to share power with Hezbollah in a coalition government to help stabilize Lebanon as it faces growing threats to its security from the war raging in Syria.
Hariri’s remarks are expected to seal a political deal on an all-embracing Cabinet based on 8-8-8 lineup that would break the 10-month government deadlock.
The deal, suggested by Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, will most likely involve Hariri’s Future Movement, the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and Jumblatt’s bloc.
Hezbollah also welcomed Hariri’s remarks but said the policy statement needed to be addressed after the Cabinet formation not before as demanded by the March 14 coalition.
“We do not want to discuss now the contents and details of the policy statement because our convictions cannot be shaken by thunder. Perhaps, they [March 14] uphold their convictions which they want to put forward during the discussions of the policy statement,” MP Mohammad Raad, who heads Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said at a memorial ceremony in south Lebanon.
Commenting on Hariri’s readiness to join a Cabinet with Hezbollah, he said Hezbollah and its allies were open to any initiative to solve the deepening political crisis.“But this requires concessions from both sides. We will make concessions in a way that will not affect our strategy and option,” Raad added. Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi also praised Hariri’s stance: “We will meet a positive approach positively. We will reply in kind because we are keen on preserving the unity of our country to confront challenges.” While Berri and the March 8 parties want the policy statement to be discussed after the Cabinet formation, the March 14 coalition insists that agreement on the blueprint be reached before the formation. Also, the March 14 coalition demands that the Baabda Declaration replaces Hezbollah’s tripartite equation: “The Army, the people and the resistance” in the Cabinet’s policy statement. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who opposes an all-embracing government that includes Hezbollah, renewed his call for dropping the tripartite equation and replacing it with the Baabda Declaration.
“Any Cabinet that will be formed should be backed by political consensus of March 14 and should have a prior and clear formulation of the policy statement,” Geagea said Saturday. He said his party would not join any Cabinet that did not adopt the Baabda Declaration in its policy statement Former President Amine Gemayel called for an all-embracing government capable of meeting political and security challenges in the country.

U.K. to cover cost of books at Lebanon state schools
The Daily Star/January 20, 2014/BEIRUT: The United Kingdom will cover the cost of school books for all students in Lebanese public schools for the academic year 2013-2014, UK Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher said Monday. The UK will be covering the expenses of books for Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian students to help ease some of the burdens of their parents, Fletcher said according to a statement from caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s office. Last week, UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening announced during a visit to Lebanon £4 million to fund 300,000 packs of textbooks to Lebanese and Syrian students aged between 6-15 years attending Lebanon’s public schools. The scheme will ensure that every child aged between 6 and 15 who attends state school in Lebanon has a set of textbooks covering key academic subjects.


Jumblat Hails 'Statesman' Hariri, Slams 'Campaigns' against Him
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 January 2014/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat on Monday lauded the stances of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri over the cabinet formation process, describing him as a “statesman” who has put “the higher national interest” above all else. “One must praise ex-PM Saad Hariri's stance, which came at a critical moment that Lebanon and the Arab region are going through, amid rapid changes and major transformations that are being accompanied by rivers of blood and incessant bleeding against the backdrop of unprecedented sectarian and religious divisions,” said Jumblat in his weekly op-ed in al-Anbaa.
“This subjected and is still subjecting Lebanon to further fragmentation and political and security exposure whose harbingers have surfaced with the terrorist bombings that are moving from one region to another and the political assassinations which have recently targeted former minister Mohammed Shatah,” Jumblat added. He pointed out that through his latest stance, Hariri "has proved that he is a statesman who is capable of putting the higher national interest, stability and civil peace above all else." "It reflects his deep understanding of the nature of the Lebanese system and the elements that compose it and the means to avoid more problems and obstacles on the domestic scene,” the PSP leader added, noting that “this positive shift is at the core of the principles championed by martyr premier Rafik Hariri: stability and building the state and its institutions.”“That's why we condemn all the inflammatory political and media campaigns that criticized his latest stance, which are not based on any national considerations but rather on narrow partisan and factional considerations that ex-PM Hariri has risen above,” added Jumblat. He praised Hariri for “overcoming difficulties and confidently opening a new page at the national level.” Jumblat hoped that these “important stances” will be followed by “executive steps that contribute to reviving the faltering constitutional institutions and respecting the upcoming junctures that must be held in timely fashion.”On Fridat, Hariri announced that he is showing positivity in the cabinet formation process, noting that Hizbullah is a political party that is leading a “big coalition.” “We are positive regarding the cabinet formation process. This is something good for the country and for stability in the country,” Hariri said in an interview.
“We are trying to run the country together with everyone because we don't want to exclude anyone as Lebanon is going through a difficult period, especially after the international community miserably failed in addressing the Syrian issue,” he added. Asked whether he was optimistic regarding the cabinet formation process, Hariri answered: “I'm very optimistic … I don't know when it will be formed but I'm optimistic.”
And in response to a question on whether there are any “red lines,” the ex-PM said: “Red lines are defined by the country's needs and we want the country to stabilize.”

Ibrahim Continues Contacts to Release Abducted Bishops, Maalula Nuns
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 January 2014/General Security chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim continued on Monday his efforts to release the two bishops and nuns kidnapped in Syria in April and December 2013 respectively, reported OTV. It said that he carried out to that end talks with Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Youhanna X Yazigi. Last week, Ibrahim said that officers from his directorate met with representatives of the kidnappers of the nuns, kidnapped in Syria's Maalula region, in the presence of a Qatari delegation. He had stated that negotiations in the matter are “on the right track.”LBCI television had reported at the time that the abductors are demanding the release of a number of Islamist inmates from Roumieh prison in return for freeing two Lebanese nuns who are among the kidnapped women. In December, jihadists and opposition fighters entered the Syrian Christian town of Maalula and took 12 Lebanese and Syrian Greek Orthodox nuns from the Mar Takla Monastery to the Yabrud area in Qalamoun near Damascus. The 12 nuns join two bishops and a priest who are already believed to be held by hardline rebels, deepening concerns that extremists in the opposition's ranks are targeting Christians. The abducted nuns had appeared in a video broadcast by Al-Jazeera, in which they reassured that they are in good health. Bishops Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi were kidnapped on April 23 in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo while they were on a humanitarian work.


Army Frees Priest after One-Day Abduction
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 January 2014/The Lebanese army freed on Monday a priest from his captors a day after he was abducted in the Bekaa, the state-run National News Agency reported. According to the NNA, Priest Rami al-Qazzi was freed by a military unit after being kidnapped by unknown assailants on Sunday. The priest was reportedly heading to Deir al-Ahmar from Tabarja. The abductors contacted Mansour, the brother of al-Qazzi, at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday informing him that “Rami is in their captivity in Syria.”

Gemayel Calls for Formation of Cabinet Capable of Overseeing Constitutional Deadlines
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 January 2014/Phalange Party leader MP Amin Gemayel called on Monday for the formation of a cabinet capable of confronting all the constitutional deadlines in the country and overseeing the upcoming presidential elections.“Three upcoming deadlines will decide the fate of Lebanon,” Gemayel said after talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi at Bkirki. “It is essential for us to find common grounds and offer compromises as the country demands us to take courageous and responsible stances.”Suleiman's tenure ends in May 2014. The cabinet formation process was put on the front burner after Speaker Nabih Berri proposed a revised 8-8-8 government formula and President Michel Suleiman said he would form a so-called neutral cabinet if the political rivals don't agree on an all-embracing government within ten days. Amid the Lebanese Forces' rejection of Hizbullah's participation in the cabinet, the March 14 camp has reportedly accepted the 8-8-8 formula in principle, but it is awaiting answers pertaining to the ministerial policy statement and the rotation of portfolios among political parties.The 8-8-8 formula divides ministers equally between the centrists and March 14 and 8 alliances, in which each get eight ministers with “decisive ministers” for the March 14 and 8 coalitions. Gemayel pointed out that talks with al-Rahi focused on coordinating the best ways to end the current situation in the country. “All sides are being flexible regarding the cabinet formation process,” he said. Asked about the start of the STL sessions last week in a suburb outside The Hague nine years after the huge Beirut blast that killed ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Gemayel expressed hope that the assassination of his son Pierre would be included in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.Pierre was assassinated in 2006 in broad daylight while passing through the Beirut neighborhood of Jdeideh.

Aoun Describes Hariri's Stance Concerning Cabinet as 'Brave'

Naharnet Newsdesk 20 January 2014/Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun hailed on Monday ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri's stance regarding the cabinet formation process, describing it as “brave.”
“Hariri's stance facilitates the formation of the new cabinet and is a foundation for also forming a new parliament,” Aoun said. On Friday, head of al-Mustaqbal movement Hariri announced that he is showing positivity in the cabinet formation process and noted that Hizbullah is a political party that is leading a “big coalition.”A stance that was praised by various political parties. Aoun pointed out that “there's no specified timeframe to form a new cabinet.”However, he stressed that obstacles have demolished and consultations are currently focusing on specifying its structure. The cabinet formation process was put on the front burner after Speaker Nabih Berri proposed a revised 8-8-8 government formula and President Michel Suleiman said he would form a so-called neutral cabinet if the political rivals don't agree on an all-embracing government within ten days. Amid the Lebanese Forces' rejection of Hizbullah's participation in the cabinet, the March 14 camp has reportedly accepted the 8-8-8 formula in principle, but it is awaiting answers pertaining to the ministerial policy statement and the rotation of portfolios among political parties. The 8-8-8 formula divides ministers equally between the centrists and March 14 and 8 alliances, in which each get eight ministers with “decisive ministers” for the March 14 and 8 coalitions.

Syria's Assad: Hariri trial tool to 'pressure Hezbollah'
January 20, 2014/Agence France Presse
DAMASCUS: Syria's President Bashar Assad, in an exclusive interview with AFP, has accused the court trying four suspects in the assassination of Lebanon's former premier of being "politicized" and aimed at pressuring his ally Hezbollah. "Nine years have passed since the beginning of this trial. Has justice been served? Every accusation was made for political reasons," he said on Sunday, days after the Special Tribunal for Lebanon began hearing evidence in the 2005 killing of Rafiq Hariri."We have not seen any tangible proof put forward against the parties involved in the case," added Assad, whose regime came under suspicion in the killing, along with Lebanon's powerful Shiite group. "The real question should be: why the timing? Why now? This court was set up nine years ago," he added. "I believe that the whole thing is politicized and is intended to put pressure on Hezbollah in Lebanon in the same way that it aimed at putting pressure on Syria in the beginning, immediately after al-Hariri's assassination," he said. Hariri was killed in a massive car bombing in Beirut in February 2005. His supporters accused both Syria and Hezbollah of carrying out the attack, which also killed 21 others. Four members of the group are on trial in absentia for the killing before the special UN-backed court in The Hague, which has taken years to gather evidence and begin hearing the case. Anger over Syria's alleged involvement in Hariri's death erupted into popular demonstrations in Lebanon that forced Damascus to withdraw its troops from the country after nearly 30 years. Hezbollah has dismissed the court as a political tool for the United States and Israel, and refused to turn over its members for trial. The group is a key ally of the Damascus regime and has dispatched fighters to battle alongside Syrian troops against a rebel uprising.

Assad expects to run again, rejects power deal

January 20, 2014/By Rana Moussaoui, Sammy Ketz/Agence France Presse
DAMASCUS: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad said there is a "significant" chance he will seek a new term and ruled out sharing power with the opposition seeking his ouster, in an exclusive interview with AFP before the Geneva II peace talks. Speaking on Sunday at his presidential palace in Damascus, Assad said he expected Syria's war to grind on. And he called for the talks scheduled to begin on Wednesday in Montreux in Switzerland to focus on what he termed his "war against terrorism". "I see no reason why I shouldn't stand," he said of presidential elections in June. If there is "public opinion in favour of my candidacy, I will not hesitate for a second to run for election". "In short, we can say that the chances for my candidacy are significant." Assad appeared at ease, wearing a navy blue suit and smiling regularly throughout the 45-minute interview. He answered the first three questions on camera, and an AFP photographer was able to take pictures. He spoke from the plush surroundings of the Palace of the People on a Damascus hillside, but said he neither lives nor works in the building, finding it too large, preferring his office or home. Assad, 48, came to power in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez, who ruled for nearly 30 years. He was elected in a referendum after his father's death and won another seven-year term in July 2007. Assad dismissed the opposition, which says it will attend the peace talks, as having been "created" by foreign backers. "It is clear to everyone that some of the groups which might attend the conference didn't exist until very recently," he said. "They were created during the crisis by foreign intelligence agencies whether in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, the United States or other countries."
"When we sit down with these groups, we are in fact negotiating with those countries," Assad said. Opposition representation in government would mean "the participation of each of those states in the Syrian government," he added. He mocked the Syrian opposition leaders, who are based abroad. "Last year, they claimed that they had control of 70 percent of Syria, yet they didn't even dare to come to the areas that they had supposed control of," he said. They "come to the border for a 30-minute photo opportunity and then they flee. How can they be ministers in the government?" "These propositions are totally unrealistic, but they do make a good joke!"The peace talks are meant to build on the Geneva I accord, which called for a transitional government but made no mention of Assad's departure.
The discussions are backed by both the United States, which supports the rebels, and Russia, a staunch Assad ally.
Syria's conflict began in March 2011, with peaceful protests that spiralled into an armed uprising after a brutal regime crackdown.
Assad said his forces were "making progress".
"This doesn't mean that victory is near at hand; these kinds of battles are complicated, difficult and they need a lot of time."
"But when you're defending your country, it's obvious that the only choice is to win," added Assad, who deems all those who oppose his regime "terrorists".
"This battle is not..., as Western propaganda portrays, a popular uprising against a regime suppressing its people and a revolution calling for democracy and freedom," he said.
"A popular revolution doesn't last for three years only to fail. Moreover, a national revolution cannot have a foreign agenda."
Assad warned of the consequences if his government lost the war. "Should Syria lose this battle, that would mean the spread of chaos throughout the Middle East."
He rejected any distinction between the rebels and radical jihadists, despite a recent backlash by the armed opposition against the Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. "Regardless of the labels you read in the Western media, we are now fighting one extremist terrorist group comprising various factions," he said.
Assad said this should be the primary focus of the peace talks.
"The Geneva conference should produce clear results with regard to the fight against terrorism in Syria," he said.
"This is the most important decision or result that the Geneva conference could produce. Any political solution that is reached without fighting terrorism has no value."
Assad also said localised ceasefires, which have happened in areas around the capital, could "be more important than Geneva". And he insisted that he had not considered leaving Damascus, where he lives with his wife Asma and their three children. "Fleeing is not an option in these circumstances. I must be at the forefront of those defending this country and this has been the case from day one."
Despite reports of war crimes by both Syrian forces and rebels, Assad said his troops had never massacred civilians.
"These organisations do not have a single document to prove that the Syrian government has committed a massacre against civilians anywhere," he said, accusing rebels of "killing civilians everywhere". "The army does not shell neighbourhoods. The army strikes areas where there are terrorists."
But, he added, "there is no such thing as a clean war in which there are no innocent civilian victims".
'Why are there such evil people?' Assad defended the role of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, whose fighters are battling alongside his troops, noting that combatants from around the world had joined the opposition.
But he said the withdrawal of all foreign fighters was "one element of the solution in Syria".
Despite his diplomatic isolation, Assad confirmed that Western intelligence agencies had reached out to his government on the issue of counter-terrorism.
"There have been meetings with several intelligence agencies from a number of countries," he said.
But he added that Syria rejected security or political cooperation with countries that have "anti-Syrian policies".
In particular, he accused France of becoming a "proxy state" for Qatar and Saudi Arabia. All three are key rebel backers.
He also said many aspects of his life were unchanged.
"I go to work as usual, and we live in the same house as before." But Assad added that his children, like other Syrian children, asked difficult questions.
"Why are there such evil people? Why are there victims? It's not easy to explain these things to children," he said.

UN's last-minute Iran invitation throws Syria talks into doubt
January 20, 2014/Daily Star/UNITED NATIONS/ANKARA: An unexpected last-minute U.N. invitation for Iran to a peace conference on Syria threw the talks into doubt on Monday, with Washington demanding Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon withdraw his offer and the Syrian opposition threatening to pull out. Iran is the main foreign backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its presence has been one of the most contentious issues looming over the first talks to be attended by both Assad's government and opponents. The talks are set to start on Wednesday in Switzerland but diplomats said the entire conference was now in jeopardy.
"Is Geneva going to happen? That is the question we can't answer at the moment," a Western diplomat said. After the clamourous response to his invitation, Ban said "intensive and urgent" discussions were under way.
Adding to dark clouds, Assad said he might seek re-election this year, effectively dismissing any talk of negotiating his departure from power, his enemies' main demand.
The West and the Syrian opposition have long said Iran must be barred from the conference unless it first accepts an accord reached in Geneva in 2012 calling for a transitional government for Syria, which they see as a step towards unseating Assad. Ban said he had issued the invitation after Iran's foreign minister assured him Tehran accepted the earlier accord. But Iran said it had done no such thing and had accepted Ban's invitation "without pre-conditions" - the phrase it has long used to spurn the earlier accord. That put Western countries on a collision course with the United Nations: "If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communique, the invitation must be rescinded," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. Syria's main political opposition in exile - the National Coalition, which agreed to attend the conference known as Geneva 2 only two days ago - said it would announce it was withdrawing from the talks unless Ban revoked his invitation within hours. "We are giving a deadline of 1900 GMT for the invitation to be withdrawn," Anas Abdah, a member of the National Coalition's political committee, told Reuters. Ban said his invitation was based on an assurance from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that " Iran understands that the basis for the talks is the full implementation of the 30 June 2012 Geneva communique". But Iran's deputy foreign minister Hosein Amirabdollahian appeared to contradict him.
"Setting such a condition to accept the Geneva 1 agreement for attending the Geneva 2 meeting is rejected and unacceptable," the INSA news agency quoted him as saying. " Iran will attend the talks without any pre-condition, based on an invitation by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon." Russia, which has long lobbied for Iran to attend and criticised the opposition and the West for opposing Tehran's presence, said there was no point in a conference without it. "Not to ensure that all those who may directly influence the situation are present would, I think, be an unforgivable mistake," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional foe and the rebels' main sponsor, said Iran should not be permitted to attend because it had troops on the ground aiding Assad. However, it stopped short of saying it would not go or urging the opposition to stay away. The conference had already appeared doomed, with virtually no chance of achieving a breakthrough to end a war that has killed at least 130,000 people. A quarter of Syrians have been driven from their homes and half are dependent on aid, many living in areas where they cannot be helped. Western countries and the opposition say the 2012 accord promoting a transitional governing body means Assad must leave power, and no deal is possible unless he goes. But that fundamental demand, always difficult to achieve, is far less realistic now after a year that saw Assad's position improve both on the battlefield and in the diplomatic arena.
His forces recovered ground, rebels turned against one another and Washington abandoned plans for air strikes, ending two years of speculation that the West might join the war against him as it did against Libya's Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In an interview on Monday with news agency AFP, Assad declared that he was likely to run for re-election later this year, making clear that his removal was not up for discussion.
"I see no reason why I shouldn't stand," Assad said. "If there is public desire and a public opinion in favour of my candidacy, I will not hesitate for a second to run for election."
He ruled out accepting opposition figures as ministers in his government, saying that was "not realistic" and said the Swiss talks should aim to "fight terrorism" - his blanket term for his armed opponents.
A powerful alliance of Islamist rebel groups has denounced the Switzerland talks and refused to attend. Even securing the attendance of the main political opposition National Coalition was a fraught affair, with many groups voting not to go. Syria is now divided, with mainly Sunni Muslim rebels controlling the north and east, Kurds controlling the northeast and Assad's forces, led by members of his Alawite minority sect, controlling Damascus and the coast. Western leaders who have been calling for Assad to leave power for three years have curbed their support for his opponents over the past year because of the rise of Islamists linked to al Qaeda in the rebel ranks.
The al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq in and Greater Syria, which fought battles with other groups and controls the town of Raqqa, imposed sweeping restrictions on personal freedoms in recent days, banning music and images of people. No faction has the muscle to win a decisive victory on the ground. Rich Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia are funding and arming the rebels, while Iran and its Lebanese Shi'ite allies Hezbollah back Assad. Violence is spreading into neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon, and a humanitarian catastrophe is worsening for the millions of Syrians forced from their homes.
Syria is one of the biggest issues dividing Tehran from the West at a time when relations marked by decades of hostility have otherwise started to thaw with the election of comparatively moderate president Hassan Rouhani in Tehran. Global powers agreed in November to ease U.S. and EU sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear programme, but the thaw has so far had little impact on Syria diplomacy.

Netanyahu pours cold water on interim nuclear agreement on its first day

By HERB KEINON/LAST UPDATED: 01/20/2014/The Iranian interim agreement that went into effect on Monday does not prevent Iran from implementing its intentions to create nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Netanyahu said in the Knesset. Netanyahu, in a speech welcoming visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the Knesset on Monday, said that the international community's goal – one that has not yet been achieved -- must be stopping the Iranians from gaining the capacity to build a nuclear weapon. The prime minister likened the manufacturing of the fissile material needed to make a bomb to a train that must pass through three stops: the first stop of enriching uranium to 3.5 percent, the second stop of enriching uranium to 20 percent, and the final step of enriching uranium to 90 percent.
"The agreement in Geneva did away with the 20% stop, but left the train on its track and enables Iran to upgrade the locomotive by developing new centrifuges, so that when the day comes it can leap in a very short time to the final stop on an express track without stopping at an intermediary stop," he said. The final agreement that the world powers negotiates with Iran must take the "Iranian nuclear train off the tracks," Netanyahu said, adding that Iran must not be allowed to have the capability to manufacture a bomb. Netanyahu also said that the international community should be demanding of Iran – at a time when it is relieving sanctions and giving Teheran legitimization – that it end its calls for the destruction of Israel, and the arming of terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.
Harper also addressed Iran, saying that Canada has long held the view that every diplomatic step needed to be taken to keep the Iranians from a bomb, and as a result Ottawa appreciated the efforts of the world powers to find a diplomatic solution. Harper said he hoped it would be possible to "walk the Iranian government back from taking the irreversible step of manufacturing nuclear weapons. But, for now, Canada’s own sanctions will remain fully in place. And should our hopes not be realized, should the present agreement prove ephemeral, Canada will be a strong voice for renewed sanctions."


Iran halts higher-grade uranium enrichment: IAEA report
By Fredrik Dahl | Reuters – VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has halted its most disputed nuclear activity under a ground-breaking deal with six world powers, a confidential U.N. atomic agency report obtained by Reuters showed, paving the way for the easing of some Western sanctions against Tehran. The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency also said Iran had begun diluting its stockpile of uranium enriched to the fissile concentration of 20 percent - a level that took it closer to the capability of producing fuel for an atom bomb. Iran was also continuing to convert some of this reserve into oxide for producing reactor fuel, the IAEA said, making the material less suitable for any attempt to manufacture bombs. Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful. The IAEA will play a pivotal role in checking that Iran lives up to its part of the interim accord by curbing uranium enrichment in exchange for some relaxation of international sanctions that are severely damaging its oil-dependent economy. It has had one to two teams of two inspectors each on the ground in Iran virtually every day of the year to check there is no diversion of nuclear materials, but that number will now increase significantly. The inspection presence in Iran will "roughly double" in order to monitor the implementation of Tehran's agreement with the powers, chief IAEA inspector Tero Varjoranta said. Confirming a Reuters report on Friday, he told reporters the IAEA's extra workload would cost around 6 million euros, much of which will need to be funded by IAEA member states.
Varjoranta, IAEA deputy director general for safeguards, said the U.N. agency's work to verify that Iran had carried out the agreed steps on Monday went "very well ... we could do our work in a very effective manner".
Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, said there had been a "good start" and that Tehran was looking forward to the powers easing sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The IAEA report to member states said: "The Agency confirms that, as of 20 January 2014, Iran ... has ceased enriching uranium above 5 percent U-235 at the two cascades at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) and four cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) previously used for this purpose." It was referring to the Iran's two enrichment plants, at Natanz and Fordow. Cascades are interlinked networks of centrifuge machines that refine uranium. Iran has been enriching uranium to 20 percent concentration of the fissile U-235 isotope since early 2010, stoking Western alarm over the nature of its nuclear program.
While that activity has now stopped, it will continue to produce lower-level uranium with an enrichment level of up to 5 percent under the nuclear agreement with the six world powers - the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia.
The IAEA report also listed other measures Iran had agreed to take under the six-month accord. Those included an undertaking that it would not build any more enrichment sites during the next half year, when Iran and the powers will seek to negotiate a final settlement of Tehran's decade-old nuclear stand-off with the powers. Enriched uranium can have both military and civilian purposes. Iran denies Western allegations that it has been seeking to develop the capability to make nuclear bombs, saying it wants only to generate electricity from enrichment. The IAEA report also said Iran was, as of January 20, not "conducting any further advances" to its activities at the Arak heavy water research reactor, a plant under construction that could yield plutonium as an alternative fuel for atomic bombs once it is operational. Iran denies any such goal. In a January 18 letter to the Vienna-based IAEA, Iran had enclosed information on centrifuge assembly workshops, storage facilities and centrifuge rotor production workshops, the report added.
"The Agency and Iran have also agreed on arrangements for increased access by agency inspectors to the nuclear facilities at Natanz and Fordow, including in relation to weekends and holidays in Iran," the IAEA said.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)


West, Iran activate landmark nuclear deal
By Fredrik Dahl and Justyna Pawlak/VIENNA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Iran has halted its most sensitive nuclear operations under a preliminary deal with world powers, winning some relief from economic sanctions on Monday in a ground-breaking exchange that could ease a threat of war. The United States and European Union both suspended some trade and other restrictions against the OPEC oil producer after the United Nations' nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran had fulfilled its side of an agreement made on November 24. The announcements, which coincided with a diplomatic row over Iran's role at peace talks on Syria [ID:nL5N0KU1X2], will allow six months of negotiation on a definitive accord that the West hopes can end fears of Tehran developing nuclear weapons and Iran wants to end sanctions that are crippling its economy. Iranian officials hailed a warming of ties that will also see their new president make a pitch to international business leaders at Davos later this week: "The iceberg of sanctions against Iran is melting," the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, told Iranian state television. Iran should be able to recover $4.2 billion in oil revenues frozen in foreign accounts over the six months of the interim deal, as well as resume trade in petrochemicals and gold and other precious metals. But EU and U.S. officials stressed that other sanctions will still be enforced during the six months of talks and that reaching a final accord will be difficult. Israel, which has called the interim pact a "historic mistake" and has repeatedly warned it might attack Iran to prevent it developing nuclear arms, said any final deal must end any prospect of Tehran building an atomic bomb - something Iran insists it has never had any intention of doing. The interim accord was the culmination of years of on-off diplomacy between Iran and six powers - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. It marks the first time in a decade that Tehran has limited nuclear operations that it says are aimed mainly at generating electricity and the first time the West has eased its economic pressure on Iran.
"This is an important first step," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "But more work will be needed to fully address the international community's concerns regarding the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program." Ashton, who coordinates diplomatic contacts with Iran on behalf of the six world powers, said she expected talks on the final settlement to start in February. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said those negotiations would be "even more complex" and added: "We go into it clear-eyed about the difficulties ahead." A White House spokesman said the "aggressive enforcement" of the remaining sanctions would continue.
A senior U.S. official said: "This temporary relief will not fix the Iranian economy. It will not come close. "Iran is not and will not be open for business until it reaches a comprehensive agreement."President Barack Obama's administration faces opposition to the easing of sanctions from Israel and from some members of Congress who have threatened to tighten some restrictions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told parliament the temporary pact fell short of preventing Iran from working on nuclear arms. He said: "In the final deal, the international community must get the Iranian nuclear train off the track. Iran must not have the capability to produce atomic bombs." Israel, assumed to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East, has been discomfited by U.S. detente with Iran since the election last year of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate. He is expected to court global business this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The deal took months of secret negotiations between Washington and Tehran and marks a new thaw in relations that have been generally hostile since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Under the interim deal, Iran agreed to suspend enrichment of uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, a short technical step away from the level needed for nuclear weapons. It also has to dilute or convert its stockpile of this higher-grade uranium, and cease work on the Arak heavy water reactor, which could provide plutonium, an alternative to uranium for bombs. The IAEA said Tehran had begun the dilution process and that enrichment of uranium to 20 percent had been stopped at the two facilities where such work is done. "The Agency confirms that, as of January 20, 2014, Iran ... has ceased enriching uranium above 5 percent U-235 at the two cascades at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) and four cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) previously used for this purpose," its report to member states said. It was referring to Iran's two enrichment plants, at Natanz and Fordow. Cascades are linked networks of centrifuge machines that spin uranium gas to increase the concentration of U-235, the isotope used in nuclear fission chain reactions, which is found in nature at concentrations of less than 1 percent. The U.S. government estimates the value to Iran of sanctions relief at about $7 billion in total, although some diplomats say much will depend on the extent to which Western companies will now seek to re-enter the Iranian market.
Analysts said much was still unclear about how world powers could achieve their goal of ensuring Iran cannot, secretly or otherwise, develop the capability to build a nuclear weapon.
Mark Dubowitz, head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a proponent of tough sanctions on Iran, said that by providing short-term economic relief, the West was losing future bargaining power with Tehran. "The interim deal does nothing over the next 12 months to prevent Iran from proceeding with the nuclear-weapon and ballistic-missile research that are the keys to a deliverable nuclear weapon," he said. "Ahead of final negotiations, Tehran will be in a stronger position to block peaceful Western efforts to dismantle its military-nuclear program."
The U.N. nuclear watchdog will play a key role in checking that Iran implements the deal, but its increased access falls short of what it says it needs to investigate suspicions that Tehran may have worked on designing an atomic bomb in the past. "The accord gives the powers and Iran plenty of flexibility in going about reducing Iran's nuclear threat to a level the world will accept," said Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment. "But it hasn't spelled out how they will work with the IAEA to resolve allegations Iran has been working on nuclear weapons." (Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Lesley Wroughton, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland in Washingon, Adrian Croft in Brussels and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Peter Graff and Alastair Macdonald)


Egypt Prepares to Move Forward
By Walid Phares/© 2014 Newsmax.
A miracle on the Nile has been accomplished this week. Tens of millions of Egyptian citizens from all walks of life, Muslims and Christians, conservatives and liberals, seculars and religious, young and old, and in some instances, healthy and sick, have come out to cast a vote in the referendum of the century: either to say yes to new moderate constitution, relatively democratic, or to say no and revert to an Islamist constitution adopted by the previous Muslim Brotherhood regime.
Most likely, an overwhelming majority of voters will chose to move away from the 2012 Islamist regime of Mohammed Morsi and select a more liberating draft, one that reinforces fundamental rights to women and minorities. The referendum will seal a popular uprising that exploded almost a year ago, and culminated in two gigantic peaceful demonstrations last summer against the political oppression of the Ikhwan regime.
In short, we are finally witnessing a real democratic revolution emerging in the largest Arab Muslim majority country in the world. As I predicted in my book, "The Coming Revolution," published before the Arab Spring, the first unorganized wave of protests against authoritarianism would unsettle dictators only to open the door to allow very well organized Islamists to seize power, albeit by elections. But soon enough thereafter, as we are seeing in Egypt and Tunisia, a third wave, more conscious of the totalitarian goals of the fundamentalists and better organized as civil societies, will topple the nascent Islamist regimes before they take root.
This wave will redirect the countries back toward the initial dreams of the Arab Spring. Few in the West are catching the nuances of this three stage evolution of the uprisings. One major reason behind that inability to understand the immensely positive news coming out of the Nile Valley is the coordinated and powerful push back against the anti-Brotherhood revolution, funded by petrodollars and unfortunately disseminated by large segments of specialized Western academia and mainstream media.
Indeed, most of the American foreign policy establishment, in and outside government, has taken a friendly attitude toward the Muslim Brotherhood since the start of the Arab Spring for a variety of reasons, the central one being the immense influence the Islamists enjoy and have enjoyed within the Middle East studies circles in North America for decades.
It is natural that when the Muslim Brotherhood finally seized power in the region, and in Egypt, their sympathizers would praise them and criticize their opponents in the West.
Even after tens of millions of Egyptians rose against the Ikwan regime, apologists in U.S. media relentlessly described the Islamists as moderates and the masses as hysterically pro-military. Egypt’s civil society revolution, if anything, broke the myth of a balanced and fair Western press.
But the most worrisome in Western Muslim Brotherhood apologia is the extent to which it went to cover for the Islamists and smear the silent majorities of the region. The apologists, while hesitantly admitting that Morsi’s regime “displayed mistakes,” criticized the masses of Egypt for provoking a regime change.
The critics argued that Egypt’s opposition should have waited for the next election and sought to win them. This hypocritical argument did not inform the Western public of the real threat to democracy in Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood have hijacked the mechanism that oversees the elections in a way that ensures no future elections would have ever brought back an opposition to power via the Islamist institutions. Such control is similar to what happened in Iran and was also the case in the Soviet Union.
It is true that Morsi came to power via democratic elections, which some argue he had rigged, but regardless of that charge, he nevertheless transformed the country in a fascist state, reminiscent of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in the 1930s: elected almost-democratically, but ruled undemocratically.
In such a situation, the Egyptian people acted better than peoples in any other nation in the world. They went by the book and achieved a miracle on the Nile. In June, a petition to recall Morsi gathered 22 million signatures, the largest in the Arab world. The Islamist dictator resumed his authoritarian actions and unleashed his brown shirts on demonstrators. The army did not budge.
On June 30, 33 million citizens from all walks of life marched peacefully in Cairo and other cities demanding Morsi’s resignation. Normally, when an overwhelming popular majority demands recall, chief executives resign and call for new elections. Instead, in a speech in response to the recall, Morsi declared jihad, opening the path for regime sponsored terror against his own people. It was at that time that the armed forces, led by General Abdelfattah el Sisee, asked the president, who had turned to violence, to refrain and find a solution with the opposition—but to no avail.
The popular revolution, defending itself against a violent, even if elected, president wanted him out, wanted the armed forces to organize the interim government and commit to a referendum followed by legislative and presidential elections.
The Muslim Brotherhood unveiled their masks by transforming their movement, once removed from power, to a massive armed insurgency while al Qaeda linked Jihadists went on a rampage in the Sinai. The Ikhwan shredded their own legitimacy when they leaped to terror, exactly as did the national socialists and fascists of Europe when they destroyed their own legitimacy when they submitted their voters and citizens to bloodshed. Egyptians moved courageously, step by step, to form an interim government, create a constitutional committee, fight the Jihadists in Sinai, and resist the Brotherhood urban violence across the country.
No military regime was established—though the army was capable of having generals directly rule the country. Egypt has passed the era of military coups and regimes, despite the accusations by pro-Ikhwan elites in the West.
The latest stage in Egypt’s march towards the real Spring was the first fully democratic referendum in the modern history of the Arab world.
Fifty three million voters participated in the constitutional exercise that uprooted any legitimacy to the Muslim Brotherhood’s claims of being elected. Three to four times more Egyptians voted against the Islamist constitution than all the Morsi voters, which included those who voted for him simply as a protest against Mubarak.
The Egyptian people are finished with the Ikhwan for good, legally, politically and morally, even if the sympathizers of the fundamentalists are still loud in the West. The country is marching firmly towards the future. They will have legislative elections and then a presidential election and will certainly have lots of problems, all characteristic of a new Arab democracy working its way toward becoming a Mediterranean democracy, somewhere between Turkey and Spain — two countries with comparable military and Islamist pasts.
As the referendum has reinforced Egypt's new legitimacy with undeniable and unprecedented numbers of voters, most of Western media remains bias to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Tera Dahlt, a U.S. congressional fellow who has monitored the referendum told Mohammed Fawzi in an interview in al Balad that "Western press is barely mentioning the Ikhwan terror before and during the consultation and that the New York Times and the Washington Post are not reporting on facts anymore but on behalf of the Brotherhood."
Egyptians seems to move in one direction, against the jihadi terrorists and into the next stages of elections, and the U.S. establishment seems to have stayed behind, on the side of the Islamists.
What the public needs to understand is that a miracle took place on the Nile. An Islamist regime on its way to becoming a Taliban-like power was unsettled by a peaceful popular revolution. There will be debates about the role of the military, the future of the Brotherhood, and the social disparities in the country. But none of these issues can overshadow the fact that a Middle Eastern people rose successfully against totalitarianism with non-violent means, that a silent majority spoke loudly, and that democracy has claimed a major victory — sadly against the goals of current U.S. policy.
President Obama's speech in Cairo in 2009, instead of partnering with the forces of civil society then, emboldened the Ikhwan to raise their perceived caliphate. Egypt's people seem to have moved into the opposite direction in 2014. Washington owes them a new speech.
**Dr. Walid Phares is the author of "The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East," which in 2010 predicted the Arab Spring revolution. He serves as a Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counterterrorism.
© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Bandar bin Sultan's Botched Syrian Intervention Dateline

By: Hilal Khashan/Middle East Quarterly
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In an untypically abrasive speech, Saudi King Abdullah welcomed the ouster of Egypt's president Muhammad Morsi, stating: "Let the entire world know that the people and government of the Saudi kingdom stood and still stand today with our brothers in Egypt against terrorism, extremism, and sedition."[1] However dramatic, this apparent shift from Riyadh's traditional accommodation of perceived enemies, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its regional affiliates, to a more daring foreign policy is too little too late to reverse the decline of its regional power. And nowhere was this weakness more starkly demonstrated than in Riyadh's botched Syrian intervention, led by its most celebrated diplomat—Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
A Broken Tradition of Cooptation
The foundations of Saudi foreign policy were laid under historical circumstances that were completely different from today's political situation. From the 1930s to the early 1950s, Western presence in the Middle East was quite strong with the region enjoying geopolitical homeostasis. The rise of radical regimes in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, coupled with Moscow's growing involvement in the region, did not seem to threaten Riyadh's domestic and international stance, and the intensifying U.S.-Saudi relations, cemented by mutual commitment to combating communism, steered the kingdom through the region's periodic upheavals well into the late 1970s.
Saudi King Abdullah (l) meets with President Obama in Washington, June 29, 2010. Riyadh has been openly critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East and has sent unmistakable signals of its displeasure. Most Saudis worry that a vacillating and unserious commander-in-chief in Washington may leave them twisting in the region's political winds.
This self-assurance played a central role in the Saudi royal family's nonconfrontational approach and its preference for quiet diplomacy.[2] Military weakness, equilibrium, and calming situations were seemingly the three pillars of Riyadh's foreign policy orientation. The royals ruled out asserting the kingdom as a military power and, thanks to oil wealth and religious significance, chose to make it a cornerstone of the regional balance of interests.[3]
The Iranian revolution and subsequent regional developments, notably the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the recent Arab upheavals, undermined this delicate balance of interests and made Riyadh's accommodative policy increasingly untenable. Things came to a head during the 2011 Shiite uprising in Bahrain, which the Saudis feared might spread to their own territory. Having helped to quell the restiveness in the tiny neighboring kingdom, Abdullah enlisted the services of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former veteran ambassador to Washington, to take Saudi foreign policy in a more assertive direction.
The Prince of Sensitive Missions
Son of the late Saudi crown prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (d. 2011), Bandar began his political career in 1978 as King Khaled's personal envoy to Washington bypassing Ambassador Faisal al-Hegelan.[4] He quickly impressed President Jimmy Carter by enlisting the support of Sen. James Abourezk (Democrat, S. Dakota) in the toss-up vote on the Panama Canal treaty, and his subtle diplomacy paved the way for Congress to pass the Saudi F-15 package shortly thereafter.[5] In 1986, Bandar entered the limelight as a result of his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal and, four years later, played an instrumental role in convincing hesitant Saudi royals to invite U.S. troops into the kingdom to cope with the consequences of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Since then, he has served as a vital liaison between Washington and Riyadh. In 2005, upon the completion of Bandar's 22-year stint in Washington, King Abdullah appointed him to lead the country's National Security Council.
Bandar's advice was sought in large part due to the mounting evidence that implicated Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, Riyadh's ally in Beirut. Following the July 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah and the latter's crippling of the Fouad Seniora government, Bandar convinced Abdullah to invest in creating a Sunni militia to operate under the command of Hariri's son Saad. This fateful but ill-studied decision undermined Bandar's credibility when, in 2008, Hezbollah's militiamen stormed west Beirut and effortlessly dismantled Saad's militia in a matter of hours. Bandar had evidently failed to appreciate the strength of Hezbollah or the ineptitude of Hariri's leadership.
The Saudi royal family is seriously concerned about the turn of events in the region and the possibility of demands for political reform such changes might initiate. With more than two-thirds of its tribally and religiously heterogeneous population alien to the austere Wahhabi doctrine,[6] there is very little in common between the Najd-originated ruling Wahhabi dynasty and its Shiite subjects in the oil-rich eastern province or Shafii and Maliki Sunni Muslims in Hijaz. Likewise, the kingdom's southern subjects mostly belong to Yemeni tribes where Shiite Ismailis and Zaydis proliferate.
Nevertheless, this failure did not deter Abdullah from calling on Bandar again in July 2012 to head the Saudi intelligence apparatus. The Saudi king had already become disturbed about the course of events in Syria and Bashar Assad's refusal to leave office. He may have thought that Bandar, who knew how to deal with Saddam Hussein, could work some magic with Bashar. In turn, mindful of Bandar's deep unease with regional Shiite ascendancy, Tehran's state-controlled media dubbed him the "prince of terrorists."[7]
President George W. Bush meets with Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan (r), at the Bush ranch, August 27, 2002, in Crawford, Texas. Many Americans noted at the time the seeming supplicant position of their president. In 2005, King Abdullah appointed Bandar to lead the Saudi national security council.
U.S. Indifference and the Iranian Surge
For years, the Saudis sought to accommodate Iran and Syria to no avail. They even coerced Saad Hariri to swallow his pride and forgo the truth about his father's assassins, forcing him to announce that "he had made a mistake in blaming Syria for his father's killing."[8] Yet Saudi concessions did not placate Tehran and Damascus for long: From the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011, the mullahs in Tehran made the decision to prevent Assad's collapse and instructed their Lebanese proxy Hezbollah to commit troops as part of its collective effort to keep the regime in power.
For Riyadh, this behavior amounted to a confrontation that required a response. After more than two years of silence, the Saudis finally decided to take sides in Syria, only to realize that their support of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) would be matched by Tehran's bolstering of Assad's military machine.
Even more dismaying to the Saudis was Washington's response—or lack thereof—to the situation. Given the supposed close relationship between the two countries, the fact that the Saudis did not have a clue about the administration's frame of mind on Syria was shocking though they were not the only ones to take President Obama's early warnings on the Syrian use of chemical weapons at face value. Exasperated by Washington's inaction, foreign minister Saud al-Faisal turned to the international community and implored it "to stop this aggression against the Syrian people."[9]
The Saudis have every reason to feel disheartened, having failed to beat sense into Assad and to engage the Iranians diplomatically. And while Riyadh's defense agreements with Washington have not become completely irrelevant, most Saudis worry that a vacillating and unserious commander-in-chief in Washington may leave them twisting in the wind.
Bandar's Botched Syrian Policy
The Saudis believe that allowing Assad to stay in office will prolong the uprising and endanger their own stability.[10] Given the weakness of the Free Syrian Army, the continuation of the armed conflict only serves to increase the presence of jihadists, notably al-Qaeda-affiliated groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Nusra. As long as such groups remain confined to northern Syria, the Saudis need not be overly concerned, but the prospect of these groups proliferating in southwest Syria close to the Jordanian border has begun to preoccupy them. Such an intrusion might mean that the eventual march of jihadists to the Saudi frontier is a foregone conclusion.
While born of the same Salafist ideology as the kingdom's own Wahhabist brand of Islam, these jihadist groups claim a purity of motive and a deadly modus operandi that endangers the House of Saud. Muhammad ibn Saud adopted Wahhabism in the mid-eighteenth century and sought to extend his rule throughout Arabia. His great-great-great-grandson ibn Saud allied himself with the Ikhwan Wahhabi army in 1911-27 to consolidate his reign in the current boundaries of Saudi Arabia. The Ikhwan's attempts to export its jihad to Iraq and Transjordan compelled ibn Saud to crush them in the battle of Siblah in March 1929. Whereas Saudi monarchs have been content with their territorial domain, today's jihadists in Syria aspire to rejuvenate the Ikhwan's original mission.[11]
To combat the threat, King Abdullah again enlisted Bandar's services. The prince had not hidden his view that Bashar had to go because his inability to detect red lines in politics had made Assad injurious to himself, his country, and his Arab neighbors.[12] As The Wall Street Journal put it, "CIA officials knew that KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] was serious about toppling Assad when the Saudi king named prince Bandar bin Sultan to lead the effort."[13]
In an effort to convince Russia to drop its support of Assad, Bandar (r) reportedly offered President Vladimir Putin (l) a trade package comprising a $15 billion arms deal and a pledge to refrain from competing with Russia in the European gas market. But the offer also came with threats. Bandar is alleged to have said, "I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics … The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us."
In an effort to find a solution to the conflict, Bandar offered Russian president Vladimir Putin what looked like a lucrative trade package comprising a $15 billion arms deal and a pledge by the GCC to refrain from competing with Russia in the European gas market. This might have worked had Bandar dispensed with the stick that accompanied his carrot. Putin, who seems to consider himself Obama's sole rival in international politics, was infuriated when Bandar promised to rein in Chechen insurgents and prevent them from targeting the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia.[14]
While Bandar has been described "as a pivotal figure in the struggle by America and its allies to tilt the battlefield balance against the regime in Syria,"[15] there is mounting evidence that Washington is not really looking to dislodge Assad. Despite past U.S. pronouncements that Assad "must go," there is a growing realization in Washington that the alternative to the Syrian despot might actually be worse with at least one account reporting that "the Americans informed the Russians that the Syrian regime must be present in any agreement to ensure smooth transition."[16]
Thanks to Bandar's efforts, Riyadh did supply the Free Syrian Army with a few obsolete and ineffective shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles in June and at least fifty Russian-made Konkurs antitank missiles.[17] But this is hardly enough to topple Assad, and there seems to be an inverse relationship between Riyadh's rhetoric and reality on the ground: The more the Saudis talk about arming the FSA, the more obvious it is that the Assad regime is still in control of the situation.[18] In fairness to Bandar, his failure to alter the military balance on the ground in Syria has less to do with his ineptitude than with U.S. restrictions on arms supplies to the FSA: Saudi military aid to the Syrian rebels goes mostly through Jordan, which in turn requires CIA authorization for passing U.S.-made arms into Syria.[19]
Given the course of events in Syria, it is highly unlikely that Bandar will prevail against Assad's regime or Iranian regional maneuverings. Damascus's promised cooperation with U.N. inspectors in dismantling its chemical weapons arsenal has won it rare praise from U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, deflecting previous criticisms and demands and giving the Assad regime a vital respite. An end to the Syrian conflict is not in sight, and the great-power agreement is unlikely to lead to an enhancement of Riyadh's status as a regional power. Bandar has failed in Syria, and the royal family is reportedly "dissatisfied with his performance there."[20]
The Worst Is Yet to Come
Bandar is in desperate need of scoring a victory in Syria to obscure mounting internal problems in Riyadh, including the split over succession and the rise of pro-Muslim Brotherhood advocates in the kingdom such as Awad al-Qani and his as-Sahwa Current.[21] Thus, recent reports of Bandar's meddling in Iraq's sectarian strife,[22] if true, may indicate a desperate ploy to deflect criticism at home from his Syrian failings. But this feint is also doomed to failure as tilting the balance of power against the Assad regime is not contingent upon destabilizing Baghdad. If anything, it is likely to increase Iraqi Shiite involvement in the Syrian armed conflict against the opponents of the regime. No less alarming, the spread of violence in areas close to Saudi Arabia carries the risk of spillover into the desert kingdom.
Saudi influence on U.S. Middle East policy, especially on issues that directly affect the kingdom's interests, is quite limited and incommensurate with the volume of the two countries' bilateral, political, security, and economic interests. Washington perceives Riyadh as a quietist player dependent on U.S. power to ensure the kingdom's safety from external threats. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that Saudi requests to shape the formulation of certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy will be disregarded. Riyadh may dislike Iran's predominance in Iraq, but Tehran and Baghdad have found a modus vivendi since Saddam's toppling in 2003, and the Obama administration is unlikely to challenge this arrangement given its expressed goal of military disengagement and its recent opening to Tehran. The administration will simply not allow Riyadh to restrict its political options even when they conflict with the kingdom's own interests.[23]
The Saudi royals at one point, especially since the recent Arab uprisings, thought that they could reassert themselves as a stabilizing regional power. But the truth of the matter is that they are actually part of the Arab strategic vacuum they hoped to be capable of redressing. Given Riyadh's seeming inherent inability to engage in meaningful political reform, promote social liberalization, and tolerate religious plurality, all it can possibly do is sit tight and hope that the regional status quo ante can be restored before too long.
**Hilal Khashan is a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.
[1] Asharq al-Awsat (London), Aug. 19, 2013.
[2] Al-Jazeera Studies (Doha), Aug. 24, 2011.
[3] Arab News (Jeddah), Oct. 12, 2012.
[4] David B. Ottaway, The King's Messenger: Prince Bandar bin Sultan and America's Tangled Relationship with Saudi Arabia (New York: Walker and Company, 2008), p. 30.
[5] William Simpson, The Prince: The Secret Story of the World's Most Intriguing Royal Prince, Bandar bin Sultan (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), p. 54-7.
[6] Al-Khabar (Algiers), May 31, 2010.
[7] Press TV (Tehran), Sept. 20, 2013.
[8] The Daily Star (Beirut), Oct. 7, 2010.
[9] Al-Jazeera News (Doha), Sept. 1, 2013.
[10] Al-Quds al-Arabi (London), Oct. 17, 2013.
[11] Ahmed Mansour, "The Origin of Terrorism in Muslim History," International Quranic Center, Falls Church, Va., accessed Oct. 23, 2013.
[12] Sabq (Riyadh), June 19, 2013.
[13] The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 25, 2013.
[14] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), Aug. 10, 2013.
[15] The Independent (London), Aug. 26, 2013.
[16] As-Safir (Beirut), Aug. 21, 2013.
[17] The Independent, June 17, 2013.
[18] Al-Manar TV (Beirut), Aug. 31, 2013.
[19] The Guardian (London), Apr. 14, 2013.
[20] Al-Akhbar (Cairo), July 10, 2013.
[21] Al-Manar TV, Aug. 29, 2013.
[22] Al-Sumaria News (Baghdad), Aug. 20, 2013.
[23] Al-Hayat (London), June 23, 2013.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech to the Knesset

The following is a text of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech to the Knesset, delivered at approximately 6:30 pm Jerusalem time on Monday January 20, 2014. The following has been adapted from a prepared text distributed to reporters ahead of the speech. The actual speech, as a result, may differ slightly from you see here.
And thank you for inviting me to visit this remarkable country, and especially for this opportunity to address the Knesset.
It is truly a great honour.
And if I may, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my wife Laureen and the entire Canadian delegation, let me begin by thanking the government and people of Israel for the warmth of your hospitality.
You have made us feel extremely welcome.
We have felt immediately at home.
Ladies and gentlemen, Canada and Israel are the greatest of friends, and the most natural of allies.
And, with your indulgence, I would like to offer a reflection upon what makes the relationship between Canada and Israel special and important because the relationship between us is very strong.
The friendship between us is rooted in history, nourished by shared values, and it is intentionally reinforced at the highest levels of commerce and government as an outward expression of strongly held inner convictions.
There has, for example, been a free trade agreement in place between Canada and Israel for many years an agreement that has already proved its worth.
The elimination of tariffs on industrial products, and some foodstuffs, has led to a doubling in the value of trade between our countries.
But this only scratches the surface of the economic potential of this relationship and I look forward to soon deepening and broadening our mutual trade and investment goals.
As well, our military establishments share information and technology.
This has also been to our mutual benefit.
For example, during Canada’s mission to Afghanistan, our use of Israeli-built reconnaissance equipment saved the lives of Canadian soldiers.
All such connections are important, and build strong bridges between us.
However, to truly understand the special relationship between Israel and Canada, one must look beyond trade and institutions to the personal ties of friendship and kinship.
Jews have been present in Canada for more than 250 years.
In generation after generation, by hard work and perseverance, Jewish immigrants, often starting with nothing, have prospered greatly.
Today, there are nearly 350,000 Canadians who share with you their heritage and their faith.
They are proud Canadians.
But having met literally thousands of members of this community, I can tell you this:
They are also immensely proud of what the people of Israel have accomplished here of your courage in war, of your generosity in peace, and of the bloom that the desert has yielded, under your stewardship.
Laureen and I share that pride, the pride and the understanding that what has been achieved here has occurred in the shadow of the horrors of the Holocaust;
the understanding that it is right to support Israel because, after generations of persecution, the Jewish people deserve their own homeland and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland.
Let me repeat that: Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so.
This is a very Canadian trait, to do something for no reason other than it is right even when no immediate reward for, or threat to, ourselves is evident.
On many occasions, Canadians have even gone so far as to bleed and die to defend the freedom of others in far-off lands.
To be clear, we have also periodically made terrible mistakes as in the refusal of our government in the 1930s to ease the plight of Jewish refugees but, as a country, at the turning points of history, Canada has consistently chosen, often to our great cost, to stand with others who oppose injustice, and to confront the dark forces of the world.
It is, thus, a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular.
But, I would argue, support today for the Jewish state of Israel is more than a moral imperative it is also of strategic importance, also a matter of our own, long-term interests.
Ladies and gentlemen, I said a moment ago, that the special friendship between Canada and Israel is rooted in shared values.
Indeed, Israel is the only country in the Middle East, which has long anchored itself in the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
These are not mere notions.
They are the things that, over time and against all odds, have proven to be the only ground in which human rights, political stability, and economic prosperity, may flourish.
These values are not proprietary; they do not belong to one nation or one people.
Nor are they a finite resource; on the contrary, the wider they are spread, the stronger they grow.
Likewise, when they are threatened anywhere, they are threatened everywhere.
And what threatens them, or more precisely, what today threatens the societies that embrace such values and the progress they nurture?
Those who scorn modernity, who loathe the liberty of others, and who hold the differences of peoples and cultures in contempt. Those who, often begin by hating the Jews, but, history shows us, end up hating anyone who is not them. Those forces, which have threatened the state of Israel every single day of its existence, and which, today, as 9/11 graphically showed us, threaten us all.
And so, either we stand up for our values and our interests, here, in Israel, stand up for the existence of a free, democratic and distinctively Jewish state or the retreat of our values and our interests in the world will begin.
Ladies and gentlemen, just as we refuse to retreat from our values, so we must also uphold the duty to advance them.
And our commitment as Canadians to what is right, fair and just is a universal one.
It applies no less to the Palestinian people, than it does to the people of Israel.
Just as we unequivocally support Israel’s right of self-defence, so too Canada has long-supported a just and secure future for the Palestinian people.
And, I believe, we share with Israel a sincere hope that the Palestinian people and their leaders… will choose a viable, democratic, Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish state of Israel.
As you, Prime Minister [Netanyahu], have said, when Palestinians make peace with Israel, Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations — it will be the first.
Sadly, we have yet to reach that point.
But, when that day comes, and come it must, I can tell you that Israel may be the first to welcome a sovereign Palestinian state, but Canada will be right behind you.
Ladies and gentlemen, support – even firm support – doesn’t mean that allies and friends will agree on all issues all of the time.
No state is beyond legitimate questioning or criticism.
But our support does mean at least three things.
First, Canada finds it deplorable that some in the international community still question the legitimacy of the existence of the state of Israel.
Our view on Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute and non-negotiable.
Second, Canada believes that Israel should be able to exercise its full rights as a UN member-state and to enjoy the full measure of its sovereignty.
For this reason, Canada has spoken on numerous occasions in support of Israel’s engagement and equal treatment in multilateral fora.
And, in this regard, I should mention that we welcome Israel’s induction this month into the western, democratic group of states at the United Nations.
Third, we refuse to single out Israel for criticism on the international stage.
Now I understand, in the world of diplomacy, with one, solitary, Jewish state and scores of others, it is all too easy “to go along to get along” and single out Israel.
But such “going along to get along,” is not a “balanced” approach, nor a “sophisticated” one; it is, quite simply, weak and wrong.
Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, we live in a world where that kind of moral relativism runs rampant.
And in the garden of such moral relativism, the seeds of much more sinister notions can be easily planted.
And so we have witnessed, in recent years, the mutation of the old disease of anti-Semitism and the emergence of a new strain.
We all know about the old anti-Semitism.
It was crude and ignorant, and it led to the horrors of the death camps.
Of course, in many dark corners, it is still with us.
But, in much of the western world, the old hatred has been translated into more sophisticated language for use in polite society.
People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East.
As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel.
On some campuses, intellectualized arguments against Israeli policies thinly mask the underlying realities, such as the shunning of Israeli academics and the harassment of Jewish students.
Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state.
Think about that.
Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: a state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish, as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history, that is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism.
It is nothing short of sickening.
But this is the face of the new anti-Semitism.
It targets the Jewish people by targeting Israel and attempts to make the old bigotry acceptable for a new generation.
Of course, criticism of Israeli government policy is not in and of itself necessarily anti-semitic.
But what else can we call criticism that selectively condemns only the Jewish state and effectively denies its right to defend itself while systematically ignoring – or excusing – the violence and oppression all around it?
What else can we call it when, Israel is routinely targeted at the United Nations, and when Israel remains the only country to be the subject of a permanent agenda item at the regular sessions of its human rights council?
Ladies and gentlemen, any assessment – any judgment – of Israel’s actions must start with this understanding:
In the sixty-five years that modern Israel has been a nation, Israelis have endured attacks and slanders beyond counting and have never known a day of true peace.
And we understand that Israelis live with this, impossible calculus:
If you act to defend yourselves, you will suffer widespread condemnation, over and over again.
But, should you fail to act, you alone will suffer the consequence of your inaction, and that consequence will be final, your destruction.
The truth, that Canada understands, is that many of the hostile forces Israel faces, are faced by all western nations.
And Israel faces them for many of the same reasons we face them.
You just happen to be a lot closer to them.
Of course, no nation is perfect.
But neither Israel’s existence nor its policies are responsible for the instability in the Middle East today.
One must look beyond Israel’s borders to find the causes of the relentless oppression, poverty and violence in much of the region, of the heartbreaking suffering of syrian refugees, of sectarian violence and the fears of religious minorities, especially christians, and of the current domestic turmoil in so many states.
So what are we to do?
Most importantly, we must deal with the world as we find it.
The threats in this region are real, deeply rooted, and deadly and the forces of progress, often anaemically weak.
For too many nations, it is still easier to scapegoat Israel than to emulate your success.
It is easier to foster resentment and hatred of Israel’s democracy than it is to provide the same rights and freedoms to their own people.
I believe that a Palestinian state will come, and one thing that will make it come is when the regimes that bankroll terrorism realise that the path to peace is accommodation, not violence.
Which brings me to the government of iran.
Late last year, the world announced a new approach to diplomacy with the government in tehran.
Canada has long held the view that every diplomatic measure should be taken to ensure that regime never obtains a nuclear weapon.
We therefore appreciate the earnest efforts of the five permanent members of the security council and germany.
Canada will evaluate the success of this approach not on the merits of its words, but on the implementation and verification of its promised actions.
We truly hope that it is possible to walk the iranian government back from taking the irreversible step of manufacturing nuclear weapons.
But, for now, Canada’s own sanctions will remain fully in place.
And should our hopes not be realized, should the present agreement prove ephemeral Canada will be a strong voice for renewed sanctions.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude with this thought.
Je crois que l’histoire d’israël est UN très bel exemple pour le monde entier.
I believe the story of Israel is a great example to the world.
It is a story, essentially, of a people whose response to suffering has been to move beyond resentment and build a most extraordinary society a vibrant democracy a freedom-loving country… with an independent and rights-affirming judiciary, an innovative, world-leading “start-up” nation.
You have taken the collective memory of death and persecution to build an optimistic, forward-looking land one that so values life, you will sometimes release a thousand criminals and terrorists, to save one of your own.
In the democratic family of nations, Israel represents values which our government takes as articles of faith, and principles to drive our national life.
And therefore, through fire and water, Canada will stand with you.
My friends, you have been generous with your time and attention.
Once more, Laureen and I and our entire delegation thank you for your generous hospitality, and look forward to continuing our visit to your country.
Merci beaucoup.
Thank you for having us, and may peace be upon Israel.