May 24/14


Bible Quotation for today/The collectors of the temple tax

Matthew 17,24-27/"When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?’ He said, ‘Yes, he does.’ And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?’ When Peter said, ‘From others’, Jesus said to him, ‘Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offence to them, go to the lake and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me."

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
To live by faith means to put our lives in the hands of God, especially in our most difficult moments.
Pape François
Vivre avec foi veut dire mettre toute notre vie entre les mains de Dieu, spécialement dans les moments difficiles.


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For May 24/14

Vacuum might not stop at the Lebanese presidency, experts warn/By Kareem Shaheen/May 24/14

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards train a new group to fight in Syria/By: Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya/May 24/14

Why Saudi-Iranian rapprochement will succeed this time/By: Abdullah Hamidaddin/Al Arabiya/May 24/14

The Daily Star Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For May 24/14

Lebanese Related News

Al-Rahi Travels to Jerusalem despite Barrage of Criticism
Lebanon heads for presidential vacuum after final failed vote
A strong state can protect resistance’s role: Sleiman

Farewell President Michel Sleiman

Cabinet OKs New Appointments as Christian Participation during Vacuum Remains Uncertain
Election crisis set to paralyze Parliament in Lebanon

Raad Says Boycott of Presidential Vote Sessions a 'Constitutional Right'
STL Orders Initial Appearances of Ibrahim al-Amin, Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. on May 29
EU: Aviation ban threat to Lebanon aims to spur action

Syria court gives Jumblatt, Khashan legal notice

Salam hopes presidential vacuum will be brief

Machnouk asks NGOs to raise water use awareness
Tele Liban closer to airing World Cup

Hezbollah to keep fighting in Syria

Beirut synagogue to stay closed for now
Unlimited Internet plan coming to Lebanon

Qahwaji Says 'Delicate' Stage Compels Electing New President
Theater director claims 'victory,' passport returned

Jumblatt ridicules Syrian legal notice

Helou best choice for president: Jumblatt

Portuguese-Lebanese running for European Parliament

Lebanon's Arabic press digest – May 23, 2014
Amal MP: Cabinet must be allowed to assume power
Kataeb Says Vacuum Threatens Unity, Parliament Must Not Legislate after Suleiman Leaves
Miscellaneous Reports And News

Pope’s Mideast trip will test diplomatic skills

New pact restores Hamas to the Iranian fold with a $200m annual stipend and military aid

IAEA: Iran cooperating, cutting nuclear stockpile

Iran halts higher-grade uranium enrichment, IAEA report shows

Increasing Russian, Iranian involvement helps Assad make great strides in Syria war

Westen diplomats cool Iran's optimism on nuclear deal

Netanyahu open to exploring alternatives if direct talks prove impossible

Prince Charles compares Putin to Hitler

Golan Druze want to vote for Assad

German Neo-Nazi party set for EU parliament

U.S. says U.N. approves sanctions on Boko Haram
Mortar hits Assad rally in Syria, killing 21  


Pope’s Mideast trip will test diplomatic skills
By The Associated Press | Vatican City
Friday, 23 May 2014
Pope Francis insists his weekend pilgrimage to the Middle East is a “strictly religious” commemoration of a key turning point in Catholic-Orthodox relations. But the three-day mission is the most delicate of his papacy and will test his diplomatic skills as he negotiates Israeli-Palestinian tensions and fallout from Syria’s civil war. For a pope who embraces spontaneity and shuns papal protocol and security, the potential pitfalls are obvious. Not to mention the fact that Francis’ stated purpose for traveling to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank has little to do with the geopolitical headlines of the day. Francis has said his pilgrimage is designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Patriarch Athenagoras. Their iconic 1964 embrace - with the diminutive Paul almost dwarfed by the bearded, 6-foot, 4-inch (1.9-meter) Patriarch of Constantinople - ended 900 years of mutual excommunications and divisions between Catholic and Orthodox stemming from the Great Schism of 1054, which split Christianity. It was the first meeting of a pope and ecumenical patriarch since 1437, when Patriarch Joseph II was forced to kiss the feet of Pope Eugene IV in a sign of subservience. “This meeting just opened the way ... for reconciliation,” the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, told The Associated Press in a recent interview in his offices in Jerusalem’s Old City. The highlight of the trip that begins Saturday will be a prayer service led by Francis and Athengoras’ successor, Bartholomew I, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where the faithful believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The service itself will be historic given that the three main Christian communities that share the church - Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic - will pray together at the same time. Prayer services at the ancient church are usually separate, with each Catholic and Orthodox community jealously guarding its turf, scheduling individual services and getting into occasional fistfights over infractions - stark evidence of the divisions that remain five decades after Paul VI and Athenagoras made a first step toward Christian unity. And tellingly, no representative of the Russian Orthodox Church is expected to attend.
Nevertheless, the Vatican is touting the service as an important step in the tortured millennium of Catholic-Orthodox division that began to be healed in 1964.
During his weekly general audience, Francis asked for prayers. “It will be a strictly religious trip,” he said, adding that he also wanted to “pray for peace in the land that has suffered so much.”
While ecumenical relations are getting the place of honor on this trip, interfaith relations with Muslim and Jews are getting relatively little attention. Unlike the 2000 visit to the Holy Land by St. John Paul II and the 2009 visit by Pope Benedict XVI, no interfaith gathering of Israel’s chief rabbis and the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who is in charge of Jerusalem’s Islamic holy places, is planned.
Francis will meet with the Jewish and Muslim leaders separately, and he is bringing along two old friends from Argentina as part of his papal delegation, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and a leader of Argentina’s Islamic community, Omar Abboud. But the absence of a joint encounter with the local leaders of the three main religions of the Holy Land has drawn some criticism that Francis is losing an opportunity to promote interfaith dialogue, even while ensuring that such an encounter isn’t exploited by participants, as occurred in the past.
“If he comes to the Holy Land and doesn’t take an initiative for the sake of peace, that’s a disappointment,” said Rabbi David Rosen, the head of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee and a veteran of Catholic-Jewish dialogue. Skorka told reporters this week that his presence on the delegation and friendship with the pope showed that interfaith dialogue was possible and that “it is possible to bring Rome and Jerusalem closer together.”Israeli Christians are also getting something of a short shrift since Francis isn’t celebrating a public Mass in Israel, as both John Paul and Benedict did. His only public Mass is in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, where he will also visit children at a Palestinian refugee camp.
“The pope will have a unique opportunity to have a look from a close distance at the political situation and the human difficulties that our people live in: the siege, the checkpoints, the wall,” said Hanna Amereh, head of the Palestinian official committee to receive the pope. Perhaps in an olive branch to Israel, Francis will lay a wreath on Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery that is named for the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl. He’ll also meet with the Israeli prime minister and president, as well as the Jordanian and Palestinian leaders.
Francis will follow in his predecessors’ footsteps by praying at the Western Wall and paying respects at the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. And on the first day of his trip in Jordan, he’ll meet with Syrian refugees to highlight his concern for the plight of Christian refugees fleeing war, poverty and discrimination in the region.
As he did on his first foreign trip to Brazil, Francis is shunning the bullet-proof popemobile his predecessors used overseas in favor of an open-topped car so he can better greet well-wishers.
Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said officials had few concerns about security and the faithful mobbing the pope since “it’s not like we’re going to a country where Catholics are a majority and great crowds are expected.” But it’s not entirely worry free: Israel’s national police issued restraining orders against several Jewish extremists this week for allegedly planning to disrupt the visit. In recent weeks, vandals have scribbled anti-Arab and anti-Christian graffiti on Christian holy sites and properties in the region.

A strong state can protect resistance’s role: Sleiman
May 23, 2014/014/ The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Strengthening the state can be for the benefit of the resistance, President Michel Sleiman said during a farewell meeting with employees of Presidential Palace in Baabda and journalists. “The resistance does not get damaged by the emergence of the state, on the contrary a state can protect its role,” he said. “Why do we need liberation if it does not lead to a refined democratic state based on justice and equal chances?” he asked. “The goal of liberation is to be liberated from slavery, bondage to the leader... or slavery in other fields, those who sacrificed their blood want this kind of liberation and do not want political exploitation [for their sacrifices]."Sleiman also said that despite political hindrances, he remained assured over the situation in the country. “I am not afraid over the situation in Lebanon,” he said. “However, political obstruction has delayed many things.”Sleiman is set to receive well-wishers in his Amchit hometown Sunday, his final day as head of state. A family photo released on Sleiman’s official Facebook page said he would meet supporters and reassure them that this was not the end of his political life. “On Sunday, May 25, my wife and I will meet in our Amchit residence with all those who followed up on my military, political and social path and supported the project of the state, to thank them and promise them to maintain the national work,” the photo caption said.
The president also said that women had assumed a major role in the latest round of administrative appointments. “Twelve women were appointed in top administrative posts,” he said.
Sleiman is set to leave his office in Baabda Saturday, but political sources told the Daily Star earlier that he was adamant on co his political career. The sources said that the 65-year-old outgoing president was seriously considering establishing a political gathering after he leaves office that could turn into a movement or a party.The gathering would initially compromise figures from Jbeil, Kesrouan and the Metn that were close to Sleiman when he served as a president, the sources said.Such a move would be in line with a tradition that emerged following Lebanon’s 1943 independence, with some presidents continuing to work in politics after the end of their terms, pushing principles that they had championed during their tenure.


Al-Rahi Travels to Jerusalem despite Barrage of Criticism
Naharnet/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi traveled Friday to the Holy Land via Amman on a religious visit that has angered Hizbullah, a sworn enemy of Israel. The state-run National News Agency said al-Rahi was accompanied by Bishop Boulos Sayyah and Bkirki spokesman Walid Ghayyad. The patriarch took a private plane from Rafik Hariri International Airport. He did not make a statement before his trip, NNA said. “I took the permission of the president and the premier to visit the Holy Land. I am committed to Lebanese laws,” he told France 24 TV network after landing in Amman. He stressed that the supporters of his visit were more than those objecting it. Angered by a question, al-Rahi walked out of the interview after stressing that he respects Lebanon and its sovereignty and that he will not meet during his visit with “any civilian or political official.” And although the program host urged him not to leave, the patriarch insisted on his protest move, saying “I did not come here to hear condemnations.”“Enough with raising this issue. You do not want to understand,” al-Rahi added. The patriarch's visit is the first by a Lebanese religious official to the Holy Land since the state of Israel was established in 1948 and is intended to fit in with Pope Francis' three-day pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories that begins Saturday. Al-Rahi has come under intense fire from media outlets that support Hizbullah. Some of them have described the visit as a “historic sin.” But he has insisted "it's not a political visit, it's a religious one.""The pope is going to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. He is going to the diocese of the patriarch, so it's normal that the patriarch should welcome him," he told Agence France Presse on Thursday. "It's also normal that the patriarch goes to visit his diocese's parishes," said al-Rahi.
While the patriarch will not be a part of Pope Francis' official delegation, he will welcome the pontiff in Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and then visit the Maronite community in the Galilee, in Israel, Sayyah said. Al-Rahi will not participate in any political meetings with Israeli officials, but he will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Lebanese law prohibits all contact with Israel, technically still at war with Lebanon, and bans citizens from having business dealings with Israelis.  Any Lebanese who travels to the Jewish state can face charges of treason. One exception is Lebanon's Maronite clergy, who are allowed to travel to the Holy Land to minister to the faithful there. The last top Maronite cleric to visit Jerusalem was Patriarch Bolus Moochy. He traveled to Jerusalem in 1964 to receive the pope in the eastern part of the city, ruled then by Jordan. cently warned that al-Rahi's visit would have "negative repercussions.” Party representatives visited him in Bkirki last week. “We hope al-Rahi would take into consideration our stance on his visit to Jerusalem,” Hizbullah's politburo chief Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed said. “Al-Rahi's visit would have negative repercussions in Lebanon and the region,” the official told reporters in Bkirki. But the cardinal has said he was going to the Holy Land "to say Jerusalem is Arab, and I have authority over it.""Jerusalem is our city, our city as Christians before anyone else.""The Christians have been there for 2,000 years, while Israel was created in 1948." Al-Rahi also faces criticism for his plan to visit 2,500 Lebanese who fought in the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanon Army.
They moved to Israel when the Jewish state ended its occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000. Many Lebanese regard them as traitors and want to see them punished.
Source/Agence France Presse


Lebanon heads for presidential vacuum after final failed vote
Lebanese parliamentarians failed in a last effort to elect a successor to President Michel Suleiman before his term expires. (File photo: Reuters)
By Laila Bassam, Reuters | Beirut /Al Arabiya
Friday, 23 May 2014
Lebanese parliamentarians failed on Thursday in a last effort to elect a successor to President Michel Suleiman before his term expires, leaving a political vacuum as the country struggles to cope with spillover from Syria’s civil war.
Parliament’s fifth attempt to vote for a new president was abandoned when deputies failed to reach a quorum on Thursday, 48 hours before Suleiman is due to leave the presidential palace.
The deadlock stems from deep divisions, worsened by sectarian tensions over Syria’s conflict, between Lebanon’s two main political blocs: the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the rival March 14 camp which backs Assad’s opponents. “We are heading for a vacuum in the presidential palace,” parliamentarian Khaled el-Daher told reporters after Thursday’s session which was boycotted by March 8 deputies because of the failure to agree on a consensus candidate. The deadlock comes as Lebanon struggles to cope with more than 1 million refugees who fled neighbouring Syria and now form up to a quarter of the population, straining the economy and upsetting Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance. Most of the refugees, like the rebels fighting to topple Assad, are Sunni Muslims. Assad, from Syria’s Alawite minority which is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, is backed by Shi’ite Hezbollah and its patron Iran. Lebanon’s presidency, allocated to the Maronite Christian community under Lebanon’s sectarian division of power, is one of the three main political offices alongside the prime minister - a Sunni Muslim - and parliamentary speaker - a Shi’ite. “The country is heading into the unknown and nobody knows whether this vacuum will be brief or prolonged,” March 14 parliamentarian Ahmed Fatfat told Reuters. “We have entered a new and dangerous phase”.
Despite Fatfat’s dire warning, most Lebanese have become accustomed to protracted political stalemate whenever the time comes to choose a new parliament, government or president.
Salam took a year to find support for the government he formed in March, while parliamentary elections which were due last summer were postponed until this November, stymied by the same standoff holding up the choice of new president. In the end, Lebanese politicians have relied on agreement between outside patrons - Saudi Arabia for March 14 and Iran for March 8 - to resolve differences.
But Syria’s war has polarised regional players just as it has Lebanon’s domestic factions, and Lebanon is currently just one problem in a multitude of Middle East crises.
“The Lebanese think that as soon as the Saudis and Iranians sit down at the negotiating table, the third party will be Lebanon. That’s absolutely not correct,” said Nabil Bou Monsef, a columnist at Lebanon’s Al-Nahar newspaper, arguing that regional powers have other priorities. In the absence of an elected successor, Suleiman’s powers will pass to Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government, which is also supposed to prepare for a parliamentary election later this year. But Bou Monsef said the presidential vacuum, which he predicted could drag on as long as a year, might well affect the timing of the parliamentary vote too. “Another extension of the parliamentary term looks certain,” he said.

Farewell President Michel Sleiman
May 23, 2014/The Daily Star /Ahead of the expiration of President Michel Sleiman’s term Sunday, he confirmed Thursday that he would not even consider extending his tenure, bucking a trend set by many former presidents.This commitment to the wording of the Constitution is admirable, and is just one example of Sleiman’s strengths throughout the last six years. Having led the country throughout one of the toughest periods since the Civil War ended, Sleiman has calmly negotiated tense political waters, amid a faltering economy and an often dire security situation. But despite the violence and unrest that plagued the country, Sleiman will leave his seat assured that Lebanon is perhaps safer than it has been at any point over the last two years, which is in large part to his overseeing security measures put into place. He has stood by the Army as a national institution, and was instrumental in receiving its recent $3 billion boost from Saudi Arabia. Other institutions too have received his unwavering support, at times of great instability, and even the commercial sector is looking up. As a champion of dialogue sessions, Sleiman also assured the total approval of the Baabda Declaration, which stressed Lebanon’s neutrality in the face of the encroaching Syrian fire and set the stage for discussion of a defense strategy. Sleiman has also visited more countries than any other predecessor, both acting as an ambassador for this small but mighty country, and reaching out to the all-important diaspora, who have oftentimes felt neglected by their government back home. It can only be hoped that Sleiman’s successor, whomever and whenever that might be, has the same qualities of resilience and calmness under pressure that Sleiman has displayed throughout his presidency.


Raad Says Boycott of Presidential Vote Sessions a 'Constitutional Right'
Naharnet /MP Mohammed Raad, the head of Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance bloc, on Friday described the behavior of lawmakers boycotting parliamentary sessions to elect a new president as a “constitutional” right. “MPs are addressing the issue of electing a president according to their constitutional, legal, political, human and national right,” Raad said during a Hizbullah ceremony in the southern town of Jbaa. This right “is being practiced by those who want to preserve the country and pave the ground for the election of a president who can safeguard the country and its strength,” the MP added.
The parliament had failed Thursday to elect a new president in the fifth round of the polls that was seen as a last-ditch effort to pick a new head of state before the expiry of President Michel Suleiman's six-year term on Sunday. The election could not take place because the majority of the March 8 alliance's lawmakers boycotted the session. Referring to Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea without naming him, Raad said the LF chief's nomination was “exploited” by his allies during the constitutional timeframe, noting that they would start searching for other candidates after the deadline passes. The Hizbullah lawmaker said the rival camp's conduct was detrimental to the electoral process. The March 14 coalition has fielded Geagea as its official nominee in the presidential race but the LF leader received 48 votes during the first round of polls, falling short of the 86 votes needed to be elected president. Geagea is known for his opposition to Hizbullah's policies and his presidential program contains a clause on ending Israel's occupation of the Shebaa Farms through negotiations with Syria and the U.N. ahead of integrating the party's arsenal of weapons into the Lebanese Armed Forces. But Raad reminded in his speech that “we in Lebanon have come a long way to control our own decision, preserve our sovereignty, prevent aggression against our people and achieve an equation of deterrence that our enemy cannot overlook.”


STL Orders Initial Appearances of Ibrahim al-Amin, Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. on May 29
Naharnet/Contempt Judge at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Nicola Lettieri ordered on Friday the initial appearances on May 29 of the Accused in the case against Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. and its editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin. The journalist and the media organization are charged with contempt before the STL for knowingly and willfully interfering with the administration of justice, the Tribunal said in a statement. The session will be held at 3:00 pm CET. The initial appearances were originally scheduled on May 13, but were postponed upon the request of al-Amin, who asked for additional time to select legal counsel. As stated by the Contempt Judge in the summons, the Accused may decide either to come to the seat of the Tribunal or to make their initial appearance by video-conference, provided that counsel attends in person. The hearings will be public, but the judge may decide to go into closed session if confidential matters need to be discussed. Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. and al-Amin are charged with “knowingly and willfully interfering with the administration of justice by publishing information on purported confidential witnesses in the Ayyash et al. Case.” New TV S.A.L. and deputy head of news at al-Jadeed television Karma Tahsin al-Khayat have been also accused of the same charges. An initial hearing for Lebanese journalists and their media organizations on charges of contempt was held on May 13 at the STL headquarters in The Hague. Al-Jadeed Director General Dmitry Khodr and Khayat entered pleas of not guilty. Al-Amin did not attend the session. In April last year, a list of 167 names of so-called witnesses for the former Premier Rafik Hariri trial was published by a previously unknown group identified as "Journalists for the Truth".
The group said it wanted to "unveil the corruption" of the STL. Both al-Akhbar and al-Jadeed published the list.


Cabinet OKs New Appointments as Christian Participation during Vacuum Remains Uncertain
Naharnet/The cabinet appointed on Thursday new employees in public administration in a cabinet session haunted by uncertainty over Christian ministers' possible boycotting of ministerial meetings following the expected vacuum in the presidency. Prime Minister Tammam Salam's government appointed on Thursday afternoon Suzanne al-Khoury Yohanna as director general of civil status at the interior ministry, several media outlets reported. Also, Judge Omar Hamzeh was appointed as director general of municipalities and Hoda Salloum as director general of the traffic and vehicles department.
And a new board of directors was appointed for the Rafik Hariri University Hospital. The ministers also agreed on allocating millions of dollars to execute new roads in different regions in the country.
“The cabinet has earmarked $18 million for executing the Tannourine al-Tahta-Tannourine road project and $6 million for the Ehmej-Laqlouq road project,” Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil revealed in a tweet during the session. Meanwhile, LBCI television reported that the government earmarked $8 million for executing the Daraoun-Harissa-Ashqout road project, and $27 million for the Mayrouba-Nahr al-Bared- al-Termos road. Another $46 million were earmarked to execute the Mar Shaaya- al-Atshana road, and to link Baabdat-Beshlama road to Zahle, that in addition to executing the Jal El Dib bridge in al-Metn. In a separate matter, the ministers approved Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq's suggestion to issue new biometric passports. Accordingly, old passports will become invalid as of 2015.
But LBCI said that the use of new passports will not necessarily kick off in 2015, as several countries have not yet adopted this biometric system. Salam hoped at the beginning of the session that all political forces would join efforts to elect a new president and not to allow the vacancy period to protract, three days before President Michel Suleiman's term in office comes to an end.
Suleiman's tenure ends on May 25, but MPs failed on Thursday morning for the fifth time in electing a new head of state over differences between the March 8 and March 14 coalitions.
Several reports have said that Christian lawmakers and ministers are considering boycotting parliamentary and ministerial sessions following the expected vacuum in the top Christian post in the Republic.
Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon announced before the session that the Christian independent figures of the March 14 coalition will decide on Friday on whether to take part in the cabinet and the parliament's sessions amid the presidential vacuum. Meanwhile, FM Bassil, who is also a Free Patriotic Movement official, declined to comment on this issue. “There is no need to fear for the security situation in the event of vacuum and Christians are rational and won't paralyze the cabinet,” Mashnouq commented on the controversy.

Election crisis set to paralyze Parliament in Lebanon
May 23, 2014/By Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Christian parties plan to boycott Parliament sessions in response to a looming presidential vacuum as lawmakers failed Thursday for the fifth time in a row to pick a successor to President Michel Sleiman, three days before his six-year term expires. Parliament’s repeated failure to elect a new president has underscored the lawmakers’ inability to break the stalemate, and subsequently shifted attention to regional and international powers to help in filling the presidential void. Political sources said they expected the presidential vacuum to last a few months with any hope of a breakthrough hinging on regional and international intervention. After Thursday’s session failed to elect a president over lack of quorum, Speaker Nabih Berri said that he would call Parliament into session at any time that a consensus candidate was agreed upon or a quorum of MPs was reached. “If any positive developments emerged, I will immediately call for an election session,” Berri told The Daily Star. He said if new president was not elected a few days after the presidential vacuum, he would call for a regular Parliament session every 15 days.“The problem is not with Parliament, but with politicians who have failed to agree on a [presidential] candidate,” Berri said.
He added that he was adamant on Parliament’s legislative role, including a May 27 session to discuss and approve the salary scale bill for civil servants and public teachers. Apparently responding to Christian lawmakers who have threatened to boycott Parliament sessions in protest at a presidential vacuum, Berri said he rejected using the power vacuum as a pretext to disrupt Parliament’s legislative role. “I don’t want to set precedents to obstruct Parliament’s role on the pretext of a presidential vacuum,” Berri said, adding: “Anyone who wants to boycott [Parliament] is free to do so. But a boycott will be contrary to democracy.”Parliament’s failure to elect a successor to Sleiman has pushed Lebanon closer to a presidential vacuum, increasing Christian concerns over the country’s delicate power-sharing formula.
Addressing a Cabinet session he chaired at the Grand Serail, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said until a president is elected, the government would assume full executive powers and care for the people’s affairs. He called for combined efforts by all political parties to elect a new president so that the period of a presidential vacuum would not be long.
Interior Minister Nuhad Machnouk ruled out the resignation of Christian ministers over the presidential vacuum. “Christian leaders would not threaten political stability,” he said before entering the Cabinet meeting. Machnouk added that Christian leaders are “too wise to stall the Cabinet’s work.”
Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra said his party was coordinating with other allied March 14 Christian groups to boycott Parliament sessions in response to a vacuum in the country’s top Christian post.
“We will only attend sessions to elect a new president or sessions to discuss extraordinary issues,” Zahra told The Daily Star. “We will boycott ordinary Parliament sessions, including the [May 27] session to discuss the salary scale draft law,” he said. “Our position is intended to push the lawmakers into electing a new president.” Zahra said the Kataeb Party tended to take a similar position on boycotting Parliament sessions. LF MP George Adwan said Parliament should not be allowed to legislate while the presidency seat is vacant.
“It is true that the government combined can replace the president according to the Constitution ... But we cannot behave as if nothing has happened. We should not be called to attend sessions and legislate as if there is a president in office,” Adwan told reporters in Parliament after Thursday’s session. “The lack of quorum would lead to a vacuum in the presidential post and ultimately a vacuum in the Christian component in the country, and this would cause Parliament to lose the authority to legislate,” he said. “Legislation in the case of a void in the president’s seat is allowed only if institutions’ paths are at risk,” Adwan added. The Daily Star’s attempts to reach Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel for comment on the impact of the presidential void on the Cabinet and Parliament meetings were not successful. But Gemayel said last week his party would not attend Parliament sessions in the event of a presidential vacuum.
Two Kataeb MPs said a final decision on whether to boycott Parliament and Cabinet sessions would be taken during a meeting Friday to be chaired by party head Amine Gemayel.
“A meeting of the Kataeb Party’s mini-political bureau will decide on whether to attend Parliament and Cabinet sessions amid the presidential vacuum,” Kataeb MP Fadi Haber told The Daily Star.
Kataeb MP Samer Saadeh said the party has still three days before Sleiman’s mandate expires to decide on whether to attend Parliament session if a new president was not elected.
MP Ibrahim Kanaan from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc said the bloc would meet Monday to decide on Parliament and Cabinet meetings in the event of a presidential vacuum.
As in last week’s session, only 73 lawmakers showed up Thursday, well below the two-thirds quorum (86) of the legislature’s 128 members required to begin the session.
As they did in previous sessions, lawmakers from Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies thwarted a quorum by boycotting Thursday’s meeting apparently to pressure their March 14 rivals to reach agreement beforehand on a consensus candidate for the presidency. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, the March 14-backed candidate for the presidency, called Thursday “a sad day” and accused the March 8 coalition of obstructing the Parliament sessions because it was not confident of winning. “The state now is crippled and it becomes a caretaker one,” said Geagea, who followed the Parliament session from his Maarab residence, north of Beirut. “The state gets crippled when the presidential post is vacant, and this is what we are facing at this stage.” “The March 8 side did not attend the sessions because it was not sure of the victory of its candidate, thus plunging the country into a vacuum,” he said.


Qahwaji Says 'Delicate' Stage Compels Electing New President
Naharnet/Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji described on Friday the stage that the country is passing through as “delicate,” expressing hope that the political arch-foes would reach consensus over the presidential deadlock ahead of the May 25 constitutional deadline. “The dangerous situation in the country raises fears on vacuum in the presidency,” Qahwaji said in Order of the Day.
He called on soldiers in a statement to mark the occasion of the Resistance and Liberation day, which commemorates the Israeli army’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000, to “safeguard the country's unity and stability.”The parliament failed anew on Thursday to elect a president in a fifth session of its kind, raising fears that the vacuum in the country's top Christian post would affect Lebanon's power-sharing agreement under which the president should be a Maronite, the premier a Sunni and the speaker a Shiite. “The upcoming stage is delicate and critical and you will have to be keen to keep your oath and promise,” Qahwaji added. The army chief called on soldiers to be “attentive and disciplined to safeguard Lebanon despite all the unfortunate developments.”He considered that the “army and resistance martyrs made Lebanon a model in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”


Kataeb Says Vacuum Threatens Unity, Parliament Must Not Legislate after Suleiman Leaves
Naharnet/The Kataeb party on Friday urged electing a new president, warning that vacuum in the state's top post threatens unity in the nation. "We call on the nation's MPs to benefit from the remaining hours (before the president's term ends) to elect a new head of state because vacuum in the presidency suspends the role of a main constituent in the country and the state, and also threatens Lebanon's unity,” it said in a released statement after an extraordinary meeting chaired by party leader Amin Gemayel. The statement elaborated: “The president is a symbol of the state and it is not permissible to adapt to vacuum, fearing its dangerous consequences on the National Pact and the country.”The Kataeb urged lawmakers who have been boycotting parliamentary sessions dedicated to electing a new head of state, particularly Christian MPs, to fulfill their “sacred duty, be present at the parliament, secure quorum, and vote for a new president.” "Otherwise, the people should press all concerned parties as of May 25 to save the Republic.”In this regard, the party also demanded respecting the Constitution's articles 73, 74, and 75, which stipulate that the parliament becomes an electoral body, not a legislative one, until a new president is elected. "In the same context and to assure respecting these constitutional articles and the National Pact, the Kataeb party asks the cabinet to act in caretaker capacities, rather than fully assume the powers of the president, in case of vacuum.”The party then assured that its officials are communicating with all political factions in the country, particularly with its allies in the March 14 coalition, to elect a new head of state.President Michel Suleiman's tenure ends on May 25, but MPs failed on Thursday morning for the fifth time in electing a new head of state over differences between the March 8 and March 14 coalitions. In the first round of votes at the parliament, no candidate was able to garner the support of the required number of MPs to take office. And in the second, third, fourth and fifth rounds, voting did not take place for lack of quorum at the parliament after the March 8 alliance's MPs, except for Speaker Nabih Berri's Liberation and Development bloc, boycotted the sessions.

Vacuum might not stop at the Lebanese presidency, experts warn
May 23, 2014 /By Kareem Shaheen /The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A contagion of political paralysis threatens Lebanon’s institutions and could spread to the Cabinet and Parliament after the failure to elect a president before the Sunday deadline, experts and analysts said. The deadlock will enshrine foreign interference in Lebanon’s political process and shows the need for constitutional reforms that regulate the nomination and election of the president, the only Christian head of state in the Middle East, they said. The lack of a consensus choice for the presidency means there will be no head of state elected before Sunday’s deadline, barring a “miracle,” experts said. “With the end of the deadline on May 25 at midnight, we will be having a vacuum in the presidential seat,” said Mario Abou Zeid, an expert on Lebanese politics at the Carnegie Middle East Center. MPs failed to elect a president after persistent boycotts by the March 8 bloc, who have refused to attend until a consensus candidate is agreed upon by all parties. The Cabinet is required to assume the powers of the presidency if the deadline to elect the head of state passes with no resolution. There is also speculation that some Christian MPs and ministers could boycott Parliament legislative sessions and Cabinet meetings after Sleiman leaves office in protest over the vacuum, raising fears that a presidential void could extend to the executive and legislative authorities. Lebanon also has to conduct parliamentary elections in November, raising the possibility that the MPs who are expected to elect the president may themselves see their mandate expire amid the vacuum. Such a broad power vacuum would signal a “total collapse of institutions,” Abou Zeid said.
This scenario would also raise unprecedented questions of constitutional power, in addition to limiting the political influence of the Christian community through the absence of a president.
But the issue of a presidential vacuum also raises deeper, more fundamental questions about the nature of Lebanese democracy and the role of the people in choosing their leaders.
Ultimately, none of the more controversial candidates, like Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun or Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, took part in an impartial contest for parliamentary votes. Instead, the president is likely to be chosen through compromise. Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed, a senior political official in Hezbollah, said last week that a form of consensual democracy, rather than “typical democracy” exists in Lebanon. “This is democracy. People have to run for elections and then MPs decide on who is more eligible,” Abou Zeid said. “When we start these discussions, we are, I believe, changing even the principle of democracy, of having people running for elections.” Moreover, presidential hopefuls do not have to announce their candidacy in advance or run a campaign that subjects their programs to scrutiny, opening the door to back-room deals and compromises that are open to foreign interference. “Someone can be nominated during the session and be elected to the presidency,” said Elias Farhat, a retired Lebanese Army general and military strategist. “This is a fundamental hole in the Constitution,” he said, adding: “ Lebanon remains beholden to foreigners since a president can be elected in the last 15 minutes.”Experts said the Constitution should be amended to regulate the nomination and campaigning process, to avoid such paralysis. But despite the presidential vacuum, the situation in Lebanon is less fractious than it was in prior presidential crises.
The end of President Amine Gemayel’s term, toward the end of the Civil War in 1988, saw two rival governments battling for control. The crisis that followed the end of President Emile Lahoud’s term in 2007 saw the assumption of power by the government of Fouad Siniora, which lost any veneer of legitimacy after the resignation of its Shiite ministers, and ended with clashes in May 2008 that threatened to spiral into another civil conflict. “Today, the Lebanese government represents all factions and can take over the authority constitutionally,” Farhat said. He added that even if Christian ministers and MPs decide to boycott legislative and Cabinet sessions, the paralysis would create pressure toward a timely election. Experts said a regional consensus would be needed in order to elect a president agreeable to both sides of the political divide. Observers have banked on a regional rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to defuse tensions between their proxies in Lebanon, the March 14 and March 8 coalitions, respectively, ultimately leading to political compromise. “That vacuum will extend itself without having a regional consensus on a president who can meet the conditions of the political parties in Lebanon,” said Kamel Wazne, director of the Center for American Strategic Studies in Beirut. But the best Lebanon could hope for is a defusing of tension that could offer glimmers of hope for a compromise. A broader political reconciliation between the March 8 and March 14 political blocs will require much longer to fulfill, with Saudi Arabia and Iran needing to settle differences throughout the region in Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, where the interests of the two regional powers clash. “We don’t see this happening soon,” Wazne said. “It’s going to be a while before we see a president and a political process to carry Lebanon forward.”But Farhat, the retired general, said foreign interference is already pervasive in the presidential election. “The negotiations to elect the president are happening in Paris, not in Beirut,” he said.

Hezbollah has no plans to stop fighting in Syria
May 23, 2014/By Misbah al-Ali /The Daily Star /Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah will deliver a speech in the southern town of Bint Jbeil this weekend to mark Resistance and Liberation Day.
Many wonder whether he will make any announcements regarding the party’s military involvement in Syria, in light of recent speculation that Hezbollah is considering retreating from Syria, or at least suspending its military operations in Lebanon’s neighbor. A high-ranking Hezbollah official confidently told The Daily Star that pulling the party’s troops from Syria “is unlikely and not on the table at all ... We will not withdraw from the Syria fighting at all because it is an existential battle in every sense of the word, and it comes with obligations and sacrifices as large as the danger.”Hezbollah announced that it was involved in the neighboring conflict in May last year, the same month of the Resistance and Liberation Day, which celebrates the party’s triumph over Israel in 2000 when the country finally ended its occupation of south Lebanon. According to the party’s opponents, Hezbollah has drowned due to its involvement in Syria, which has dented its popularity, and has also contributed to the incitement of strife between Sunnis and Shiites in the Arab world.  But Hezbollah does not seem too preoccupied with these readings, according to the official, and instead believes that the Syrian battlefield is the real decision maker. In his speech this weekend, Nasrallah is expected to reaffirm that Hezbollah stands behind its decisions, especially regarding its military role in Syria, which is likely to be heavily discussed in the leader’s speech, including in terms of the party’s fighters’ achievements. Hezbollah does not necessarily feel that the Syrian crisis is a threat to its political agenda, but rather sees it as a real existential danger to essential components of the Arab world. The official went on to justify the party’s involvement in Syria, saying that when the conflict began, Hezbollah had called for dialogue between the regime and the rebels and did not enter the battlefield.  “But when serious threat began, not to our political resistance program but to the coexistence of the people of the Arab region and with the unprecedented spread of the takfiri danger, there had to be a crucial decision to confront [this], whatever the sacrifices,” he said. He went on to list the accomplishments on the field, saying that it was perhaps the battle of Qusair in the summer of 2013 that was the most effective. In November, the party, along with Syrian regime forces, attacked the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta and took control of the towns of Nishabieh, Blalieh and Otaibeh. The official said the operation foiled Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan’s plan to topple the regime and led to the fall of the Qalamoun region despite its difficult geographical nature.
“But the party wanted to effectively eliminate the centers that were responsible for producing car bombs and suicide bombers as well as completely severing connection between Syrian rebels and their supporters in Lebanon,” the official explained. After taking control of Qalamoun, the party’s greatest victory, fighting moved toward Jawbar and Mliha, eventually leading to the regime seizing the main portal to rural Damascus, eastern Ghouta.
According to the official, this further fixed the party’s understanding of the Syrian reality and the aims of the rebels. “ Hezbollah could not stand idly by,” he said. The party’s battle was not only limited to the military and field operations, but also had political implications and reflections on Lebanon’s domestic political scene and, specifically, the presidential election. Hezbollah’s victories in Syria are likely to bear numerous results that will emerge soon, according to the official. First, President Bashar Assad is bound to win in the upcoming presidential election, giving him a mandate to reorganize the political agenda after the failure of Geneva I and II conferences and the retreat of the opposition on field. Second, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is predicted to head the new Iraqi government. Third, the U.S.-Iranian negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program is expected to bear fruit in June, which would lead to redrawing the political map of the region. “We will not respond to simplistic and superficial invitations regarding the Syrian crisis,” the official concluded. “We are engaged in the conflict there until the end, and our withdrawal from there is only a pipe dream as long as the other party has lost bets on the Syrian crisis once and for all.”


Jumblatt ridicules Syrian legal notice
May 23, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt Friday ridiculed the Syrian legal notices accusing him and an Lebanese journalist of undermining the state’s reputation. “It would have been more eloquent if the lawsuit was filed in Damascus instead of Latakia, so that it goes along with the nature of the accusation and its gravity and seriousness, especially given that the Syrian state, keen on the state of law and institutions, is preparing for the largest democratic electoral process in history,” Jumblatt said in a statement. Jumblatt, an outspoken critic of the Assad regime, said that he was waiting for the Syrian state to send him a list of the expenses of the lawsuit as the norms stipulate. “And I will not forget to add this lawsuit to the file of other cases; I will make a catalog out of them and distribute it to friends for free!”The Criminal Court in Latakia issued legal notices against Jumblatt and Lebanese journalist Fares Khashan in a lawsuit dating back to 2006, when Syria’s military court filed a case against Jumblatt and “others revealed by investigation,” accusing the defendants of “defaming” the state by blaming Syria for a series of bombings and assassinations in Lebanon in 2005. At the time, there were arrest warrants out for Jumblatt, Khashan and MP Marwan Hamade. Jumblatt said that he never intended to undermine the Syrian state and that is why he called for a political solution to rescue what remains of Syria “after the Assad regime committed murders and crimes and caused the displacement of millions inside and outside Syria and detained hundreds arbitrary.”

EU: Aviation ban threat to Lebanon aims to spur action
May 23, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: EU Ambassador to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst said Thursday that the EU’s threat to ban Lebanese carriers from flying over Europe if a national civil aviation regulatory authority is not formed soon was aimed at encouraging authorities to implement safety measures. “We have been pushing for the formation of the regulatory authority for quite some time because this step is in the interest of Lebanon and maintain safety and security in the aviation filed,” Eichhorst told a conference at Beirut Chambers of Commerce attended by Middle East Airlines Chairman Mohammed Hout and the ambassadors of various European countries. She said her previous appeals to speed up the formation of the regulatory authority fell on deaf ears, and stressed that Lebanon was simply being held to the same standards as other countries. In a statement, the EU slammed remarks by Transportation Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, who has questioned the motives behind the EU’s warning. The statement said the International Civil Aviation Organization has constructively engaged with the Lebanese authorities, seeking guarantees about the oversight mechanisms for aviation safety in Lebanon. The EU has repeatedly called on Lebanon to implement Law 481, passed in 2002, which calls for establishing an independent civil aviation authority. “On 10 April 2014, the European Commission has again reminded the Lebanese General Directorate of Civil Aviation of the urgent need to implement the law, as well as to give concrete answers to the International Civil Aviation Organization in order to resolve the current aviation safety challenges,” the EU said in its statement, pointing to technical assistance it had provided to help Lebanon address these concerns. “Lebanese authorities assured the EU that complying with international regulations on civil aviation safety is a top priority for the country.” Zeaiter told The Daily Star Wednesday that he was surprised by Eichhorst’s statement, particularly after having a meeting with her that he described as positive. “There is a certain mechanism we need to follow. ... We can’t be pressed to form the [regulator] right now,” the minister said. “If the EU wants to send a delegation to inspect [safety at] the airport, then they are more than welcome.” Hout meanwhile sought to assure travelers that there was no issue with the safety of his airline’s flights. The MEA chairman said Eichhorst had explained during a meeting that “she was trying to apply the requirements acceptable by the European Union,” but stressed that the lack of an independent civil aviation authority did not mean that safety standards did not exist. Hout stressed that Zeaiter was very enthusiastic about the formation of the regulatory authority and understood its importance. Hamdi Chouk, the former director general of the Civil Aviation Department at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport, told The Daily Star that there was no excuse for failing to establish the regulator, noting that “we have waited 12 years to form this committee,” and that the EU would not compromise on its demands. He also emphasized that the safety measures adopted by the airport and MEA are very good, adding that the national carrier has an excellent safety record.

U.S. says U.N. approves sanctions on Boko Haram
The Associated Press, UNITED NATIONS/Friday, 23 May 2014
The U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions against the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Boko Haram, which has carried out a wave of deadly attacks and the recent abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria, the United States said Thursday. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power welcomed the council’s action, calling it “an important step in support of the government of Nigeria’s efforts to defeat Boko Haram and hold its murderous leadership accountable for atrocities.” Nigeria, which is serving a two-year term on the council, asked the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against al-Qaeda to add Boko Haram to the list of al-Qaeda-linked organizations subject to an arms embargo and asset freeze. The 14 other council member had until 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) on Thursday to object and none did. So the committee will now add Boko Haram to the al-Qaeda sanctions list. By adding Boko Haram to the sanctions list, Power said, “the Security Council has helped to close off important avenues of funding, travel and weapons to Boko Haram, and shown global unity against their savage actions.”Nigeria’s U.N. Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu said Wednesday “the important thing is to attack the problem, and that is terrorism.”The al-Qaeda sanctions list currently includes 62 entities and groups, and 213 individuals who are also subject to travel bans. Boko Haram’s 5-year-old Islamic uprising has claimed the lives of thousands of Muslims and Christians, including more than 1,500 people killed in attacks so far this year. The group, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” has tried to root out Western influence by targeting schools, churches, mosques, government buildings and security forces. The homegrown terror group was largely contained to the northern part of Nigeria before expanding its reach with the help of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist network’s affiliate in West Africa. At a summit in Paris on Saturday aimed at hammering out a plan to rescue the 276 girls, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said “Boko Haram is acting clearly as an al-Qaeda operation.” The Nigerian president only reluctantly accepted outside help after years of insisting that Boko Haram was a local problem.
French President Francois Hollande told the summit that Boko Haram is armed with weapons that came from Libya following the ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, and the training took place in Mali before the ouster of its al-Qaeda linked Islamist leaders. As for the money, Hollande said its origins were murky.


Westen diplomats cool Iran's optimism on nuclear deal
AP, Reuters/05.22.14/Ynetnews,7340,L-4522882,00.html
While Rouhani says deal is 'very likely' to be finalized by July deadline, Western diplomats say sides are not much closer than they were in February. Western diplomats cast doubt Thursday on an optimistic assessment by Iran's president, who said his country will likely meet a July target date for a nuclear deal with six world powers. Iran and six world powers met last week to start drafting a deal, but the talks broke without that work beginning. Neither side gave details of the differences. The lack of progress in the Veinna talks between Iran and United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany had raised doubts over the prospects for a breakthrough by the self-imposed July 20 deadline. President Hassan Rouhani sought to inject optimism into the process on Thursday, telling reporters in Shanghai that a July deal remains "very likely" - although he did not rule out that more time might be needed. "I think the negotiations have reached a very important and sensitive and tough juncture," Rouhani told a news conference through an English interpreter. He was in China to attend a regional summit this week and held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"We cannot expect it to be resolved in just a couple of meetings, but we are not pessimistic about the final agreement. We still have time. We can achieve this. We can even do it by the deadline."
An interim deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany was reached in November in Geneva, aimed at persuading Iran to curb parts of its nuclear work, in return for a limited easing of sanctions. Rouhani said an early deal would benefit all but there was "no rush" to finalize the talks. If the deadline was not met, the interim agreement could be extended for another six months, he said. "The signs, the indications that we have been receiving in the past few days, are telling us that it is very likely that we can come to an agreement by the end of July," he said.
To reach a deal by the deadline will require good will on the part of the six countries opposite Iran at the negotiating table. In addition, "some certain countries behind the scenes who want to create problems" should not be given a chance to "sabotage" the talks, he said. "If we don't achieve success it means that the other side is very stubborn because my government is ready to be logical, is ready to interact with the rest of the world and cooperate with the rest of the world," he said. After three months of mostly comparing expectations rather than negotiating compromises, the sides had intended to start drafting a final agreement in the Vienna talks that could end more than a decade of enmity and mistrust and dispel fears of a wider Middle East war. But two Western diplomats told The Associated Press the two sides are not much closer than they were in February, at the start of the latest round of talks aimed at putting constraints on Tehran's nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. The diplomats spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks. The diplomats said a UN report expected Friday will certify that Iran - which denies any interest in nuclear weapons - is honoring a preliminary deal committing it to limiting certain nuclear activities, including ending enrichment to a level only a technical step from weapons-grade uranium. Spokeswoman Gill Tudor said the UN atomic agency would not comment until the report is published. The main differences, according to the Western diplomats, include:

 •The United States and its Western allies want to limit Iran to 3,000 centrifuges to churn out reactor fuel-grade enriched uranium. Iran last week insisted it needs 100,000.
•The West wants Iran to reconfigure a nearly finished reactor that would produce substantial waste plutonium, another pathway to nuclear arms. Iran is refusing.
•The US wants a heavily fortified underground enrichment facility shut or repurposed. Iran says no.

Increasing Russian, Iranian involvement helps Assad make great strides in Syria war
Ynetnews/Published: 05.23.14,7340,L-4522894,00.html
Analysis: For the first time since the 80s, Russian consultants arrive in Syria to advise Assad's generals, while Tehran sends Iranian Guard soldiers to aide the Syrian president.
Ahead of the presidential elections in Syria next month, President Bashar Assad is making a considerable effort to regain control of areas of his country.
And, indeed, the Syrian regime has been recently successful, after years of battle, in seizing control of the key city Homs and the Qalamoun mountains area near the border with Lebanon, which provides Assad with a territorial link to Hezbollah-controlled areas in the Beqaa Valley. On the other hand, Assad recently lost control of the Syrian Golan area that is bordering Israel, after the Syrian army's Brigade 60 crumbled under the pressure and abandoned its posts, including the brigade commander. Assad's regime currently controls a narrow corridor leading to the deserted city of Quneitra and the city itself. Another corridor under Assad's control is from the Damascus area to the Druze villages in the Hadar area, where he has many supporters and where Hezbollah is also operating.
There are several reasons behind these achievements, among them the loyalty of the Syrian army to its president, and the fact the country's minorities are afraid of the radical Sunni Muslims. But Western intelligence believes that the main reason is an increasing involvement of Iran, Russia and Hezbollah in the civil war raging in Syria.
Arab media has recently quoted credible sources as saying that for the first time in over a decade, Russian consultants have been seen among Syrian army units in the midst of actual fighting. The Russian consultants aide the different units' commanders, all the way up to the battalion commanders level.
The Russian consultants are advising the Syrian commanders on fighting against guerrilla fighters; experience the Russians gained fighting in Afghanistan and more recently in Chechnya, where Muslim Jihadist fighters were involved, similar to those in Syria. The Russian consultants are also aiding the Syrian army receive advanced weaponry arriving from Russia, as well as in collecting and processing intelligence.
Russian mercenaries are guarding the oil fields in eastern Syria, which are under Assad control. Russian involvement in such a scale and in such intensity hasn't been seen in Syria since the 1980s.
The Russians are not alone. The Iranians, who have been continuously aiding the Assad regime, have become more directly involved in the fighting in Syria.
Tehran, according to Arab press reports and comments recently made by the Iranian Guard Corps commander, is now sending Iranian Guard fighters to Syria. Some 300 Iranian Guard soldiers are currently fighting in Syria, likely in Aleppo, where the Assad regime has encountered many difficulties. While the Iranian Guard's involvement is new, Shi'ite militias recruited in Iraq and Iran by the Islamic Republic have been fighting in Syria long before the Iranian Guard Corps arrived. The third player increasing its involvement in Syria is Hezbollah, whose men are operating both covertly and openly in the fighting in Syria. The Syrian army's current assault on Daraa and Nawa in southern Syria, on the border with Jordan, is aided by hundreds of Hezbollah fighters.
The objective is to block the route for supplies and Jordanian reinforcement for the rebels controlling the area, who are mostly from the al-Nusra Front and other al-Qaeda-linked groups.
In this context it is important to note that the rebels controlling the Syrian Golan Heights are from secular or moderate Islamist groups, and that Israel has passed on a message to these groups that it would not tolerate the presence of the International Islamic Jihad, al-Nusra Front and other radical groups close to the border. On the whole, it appears Assad's control of Syrian territories has slightly improved. He now controls the main cities, but has difficulties in the Damascus and Aleppo areas, as well as on the border area with Turkey. The rebels' situation may not be good - they are fighting amongst themselves and are not getting the anti-aircraft weapons they've been begging Washington to give them - but Assad's chlorine gas attacks aren't deterromg them and they continue to fight.
It appears the war in Syria will continue for a while longer.


New pact restores Hamas to the Iranian fold with a $200m annual stipend and military aid
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 23, 2014/The Palestinian Hamas terrorist group has been restored to the Iranian fold and won the promise of an annual allowance of $200 million per year, military assistance and advanced weapons on a par with the hardware supplied to Jihad Islami. DEBKAfile’s sources report that this deal was secretly sealed in Doha on Thursday, May 22, at a meeting between Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Hamas’s politburo head Khaled Mashaal.
It culminated a month of intense Hamas-Tehran negotiations, which were conducted quietly in parallel with Hamas’s unity talks with the rival Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
(This double track was first revealed by DEBKA Weekly 635 on May 16: Hamas forges Unity with Fatah – But Also Reopens Gaza Door to Iran.)
Hamas is now reinstated as a member of the radical Iran-Syrian-Hizballah Middle Eastern bloc, with all the accoutrements of an ally which it forfeited by turning its back on Bashar Assad at a low moment in the civil war. Tehran has promised to restore the flow of cash and advanced weapons, and go back to training Hamas operatives at courses run by the Revolutionary Guards.
US Secretary of State John Kerry knew this was going on when he met Abbas in London on May 14, but preferred not to raise the issue. Israel’s Justice Minister and negotiator, Tzipi Livni, likewise ignored the Hamas-Tehran pact when she talked to Abbas the next day.
Before clinching the deal, Iran required Meshaal to publicly endorse Iran’s policy in Syria and his support for Bashar Assad.
The Hamas politburo chief accordingly stated in Doha Thursday night that he “welcomed the position of Tehran toward Syria,” adding: “We will never forget Syrian President Bashar Al- Assad’s support for the Palestinian nation.”
Meshaal was fully backed by his own movement. Shortly before the Kerry-Abbas interview in London, the Hamas Shura Council, its supreme forum for policy and military decisions, carried three resolutions:
1. Hamas would strive to restore its ties with Tehran.
2. Khaled Meshaal would travel to Tehran to discuss the military and financial aspects entailed in the restoration of ties.
3. The revived pact with Iran should not interfere with the steps towards uniting the two Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and reconciling their rulers, Hamas and Fatah.
DEBKAfile’s military sources add that Hamas was not only desperate for an influx of funds to its empty coffers, but extremely worried by Iran’s massive investment in building up another terrorist organization, Jihad Islami, as its senior military arm in Gaza. It was taking shape as a modern army, larger and better equipped and trained than Hamas’ own military wing, Ezz e-Din al-Qassam.
In recent months, hundreds of Jihad fighters were returning home from Iran, after training at Revolutionary Guards courses for commanders and taking instruction as military engineers and technicians for handling the new weapons. Iran was spending large sums on high-quality arms in Libya and getting them smuggled through Egypt into Gaza for Jihad.
Hamas leaders feared that if they did not move fast to repair their ties with Tehran, the Jihad Islami would soon take their place as the dominant military force in the territory.
The deal struck Thursday in Doha confronts Israel with Iran about to be ensconced solidly - not just in Syria and Lebanon, but also on the Gaza Strip to the south. Tehran's most radical surrogate forces, like Hizballah on Israel's northern border, are being armed to the teeth with the most sophisticated tools of war.


Iran’s Revolutionary Guards train a new group to fight in Syria
Friday, 23 May 2014 /Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya
Hassan Rowhani’s government and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) do not appear to have difficulties in acquiring new approaches and methods when it comes to supporting Tehran’s staunchest ally, the Assad government.
First of all, Iran propped up Assad with advisory and intelligence assistance. Billions of dollars in credit, and increasing professional and military training assistance followed. Later, Hezbollah was ordered by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his IRGC generals to fight on the side of the Assad.
Following these moves, the IRGC sent approximately 5,000 military officers and trainers to Syria, according to multiple documentations and videos captured by reporters. Iranian leaders have not denied that they are backing up the Assad regime until they eliminate the rebels, whom they have labeled as terrorists.
“Recruiting refugees or asylum seekers to fight in other countries is an exploitation of their vulnerable situation ”
Intriguingly, IRGC leaders are now making a tactical shift to target another group: refugees and the Shiite community. Several reports have recently indicated that IRGC leaders are currently recruiting Afghan refugees to fight in Syria, helping Assad’s government to regain some of the territories from rebels, beat back the rebel groups, and tip the internal balance of power in favor of the Syrian government. Iranian authorities are offering a stipend of approximately $500 per month and a promise of residency to the Afghan refugees.
A violation of refugee rights?
Setting aside the military aspect of this move by the IRGC, it should be noted that recruiting refugees or asylum seekers to fight in other countries is an exploitation of their vulnerable situation and a violation of their basic refugee rights. The decrease of international forces in Afghanistan, and the 2014 deadline of the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces, has increasingly ratcheted up Iran’s political leverage over Afghanistan and negatively impacted vulnerable Afghan citizens, refugees, and asylum seekers in Iran.
According to the latest report by Human Rights Watch, Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in Iran encounter arbitrary abuse, are deprived of their basic refugee rights, and denied work on a systematic basis. Accordingly, an estimate of 800,000 Afghans have registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as refugees in Iran— monitored by UNHCR and granted some legal status— and approximately two million live in Iran without refugee status.
Millions of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers are denied refugee status by the Iranian government, which means that they cannot obtain international legal rights linked to the refugees’ legal rights. Gaining refugee status would have also granted them access to basic aid, such as education and medical assistance. Accordingly, many children have been arrested, separated from their families, and forced to return to Afghanistan. They are also asked to pay for their food and transportation while they are detained.
According to the Human Rights Watch report, “Afghan migrant children in Iran can be arrested at virtually any time, with little or no access to legal due process or the protections guaranteed children under international law. Children can be arrested as they move around the towns in which they live.”
In addition, Iran does not grant residency or citizenship to Afghan refugees. Beside these legal inadequacies and abuses, the recruitment of these refugees to fight in another country is a clear method of exploitation of their vulnerable conditions. Promising residency and living salaries to fight in Syria and to help Assad capitalizes on the helplessness of the refugees.
The reasoning, intentions, and rational
First of all, as the conflict continues in Syria, the number of IRGC officers and Hezbollah fighters in Syria has ratcheted up in the last two years. This has led to an increase in the number of casualties among Hezbollah and IRGC fighters. The number of funeral ceremonies in Iran and Lebanon for those IRGC and Hezbollah fighters who lost their lives while fighting for Assad, the Islamic Republic, and Hezbollah, has greatly grown.
The tactical shift by Iranian authorities in finding alternatives to assist Syria can be an answer and solution to deter the increased number of their casualties. The size of Afghan refugees in Iran is enormously significant when it comes to combating, assisting Assad’s forces in the battle, and reducing the required number of trained Iranian and Hezbollah forces.
Secondly, the majority of Afghan refugees living in Iran are Shiite. Beside the monetary and residency incentives given to these refugees, the ideological landscape of the battle is utilized by Tehran– creating a Shiite vs Sunni conflict. This ideological underpinning can be manipulated in order to justify and encourage Afghan refugees to fight in this battle and serve Iran’s national, strategic, security, and geopolitical interests. In the long-term, this tactical shift can bear significant regional consequences when it comes to the regional balance of power. As the Islamic Republic gave birth to one of the most powerful non-state actors and Shiite groups in the region, Hezbollah, the recruitment and focus on training Afghan refugees can be a new platform to serve Tehran’s interests by strengthening the strategic Shiite alliance in the region. One of the strategies that the IRGC has mastered, has been giving life to non-state actors, particularly Shiite groups such as the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) and the Mahdi Army in order to not only influence the domestic policies of that given country, but to also have leverage over regional politics, and serve Tehran’s regional objectives. What we are witnessing in regards to Iran’s focus on Afghan refugees might give rise to other powerful Shiite non-state actors such as Hezbollah.

Why Saudi-Iranian rapprochement will succeed this time
Friday, 23 May 2014
By: Abdullah Hamidaddin/Al Arabiya
A Saudi-Iranian rapprochement that did not seem possible a few months ago is now happening. Saudi Arabia invited Iran’s foreign minister to visit the country. Hashemi Rafsanjani is also coming. This is good news for the future of a region that has suffered from devastating conflicts since 1980 when the Iran-Iraq war broke out. Yet there are analysts who insist that it will fail, or that this is not the right time for it. And I think they are mistaken.Let us take, as an example of major analytical mistakes, the prevailing expectations after the U.S.-Iran rapprochement. The Gulf countries in general were angered by that surprising and fast paced rapprochement; and most analysts could only think of how the American step would push away the Gulf States from America, and make them seek other alliances to ensure their security. Some even suggested that the Saudis and the Israelis would form an alliance against Iran. Of course they were all wrong. The U.S. - Gulf alliance is still as secure as ever, and will remain so as long as there is a mutual need between both. For the foreseeable future, the U.S. will consider Gulf oil an integral part of its national security. And the Gulf countries will consider the U.S. the only reliable and dependable ally in the world. “The fact is that Saudi-Iranian strategic interests are much more important that the conflict in Syria”
The reason those analysts made such a mistake about Gulf-U.S. relations is that they looked at them through the prism of issues of conflict, and not through the prism of strategic geo-political realities. They saw the U.S. and the Saudis disagree over Syria and Egypt and then they concluded that Iran will be the last straw. They didn’t see that the balance of power which created the Gulf-Saudi alliance has not shifted for the past 70 years. Lots of things have happened over those seven decades, but the reasons to stay together have remained intact. So regardless of all differences, regardless of all political rhetoric, this is an alliance that will continue. Now they are making the same mistake. They see the Iran-Saudi Arabia conflict through the prism of regional conflict. Iran’s position in Syria, in Yemen, in Iraq and Lebanon are at odds with Saudi interests. They miss looking at it from a geo-political perspective. The Saudi-Iranian conflict was mainly about the Iranian-American conflict. Saudi Arabia has no inherent conflict with the Iranians, on the contrary positive relations with them would benefit the Saudis. But Iran had to first realign its positions in a way that meets the interests of the U.S. and the world. Then the Saudis could step in. And this is exactly what is happening.
Wait and see
Some would say one should wait and see how the matter between the U.S. and Iran develops. Who knows what the Iranians are up to? Who knows if they will live up to their commitments or not? I think that waiting is wrong. There is a new trend in the region, and the most prudent step is to be an early follower, not a late comer. The Saudis can always withdraw if this trend recedes or changes direction.
There will remain issues which the Saudis and the Iranians will never agree on. That’s normal in any relationship between states. But the strategic value of those differences will change. The Syrian tragedy serves as an example. The Iranians would have wanted it to spill over into Jordan to threaten the Saudis. This was when they were head to head against the Americans. Today the Iranians will continue to support Bashar, but will no longer been keen for a spillover. What some of us forget, is that the nuclear deal has a subtext, which is to stop seeking to disrupt Gulf security affairs.
The Saudis and the Iranians will continue to disagree over Syria, but they will no longer use it against each other. The strategic value of Syria has changed. But we need to acknowledge that the only way the Syrian crisis will come to an end is when the Saudis and the Iranians reach an agreement over it. This agreement will not succeed overnight. But it needs to start. And now is a good time.
The fact is that Saudi-Iranian strategic interests are much more important that the conflict in Syria. And for that reason the Saudi-Iran rapprochement will succeed; with a few bumps along the way, eventually we will have warm relations with our neighbor across the river.