LCCC ENGLISH DAILY
Bible Quotation For
Today/Closing Appeal for Steadfastness and Unity
"Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. a, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen."
analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 20/14
Obama and Iran: A rendezvous with history or failure/Joyce Karam /Al Arabiya/November 20/14
The Eastern Question, 2014 Style/Eyad Abu Shakra /Asharq Al Awsat/November 20/14
Erdoğan’s Sad Search for Past Glories/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed /Asharq Al Awsa/November 20/14
Jordanian Parliament Holds Moment of Silence – for Synagogue Terrorists/Dave Bender/Algemeiner/November 20/14
Lebanese Related News published on November 20-21/14
Saudi Asks Security Council to Put Hizbullah on Terror List
MP, Marwan Hamada At the STL: Jumblatt urged Hariri to leave Lebanon after Assad meet
Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel Brushes Off Aoun's Proposal as 'Elimination War, Dangerous Scheme'
Aoun set to take on Geagea in presidency race
Abu Faour slams slaughterhouse conditions Mixed feelings as Karantina slaughterhouse closes Food safety to top Cabinet agenda
Abou Faour Orders Closure of Unlicensed Drinking Water Companies
Hizbullah Dismisses as 'Sonic Bubble' Saudi Call for Labeling It Terrorist
Salameh outlines anti-money laundering laws
Report: UAE to Appoint Ambassador to Lebanon after Salam's Visit
Al-Rafehi Elected Head of Muslim Scholars Committee after Jdeideh's Resignation
Beirut, Tripoli Abattoirs Closed for Renovation, Halba Restaurant Shut Down over Food Poisoning
'Positive' Signs from Ain al-Tineh over Possible Mustaqbal-Hizbullah Dialogue
March 14 Urges Govt. to Implement Security Plan in Bekaa in Light of Btedei Unrest
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Saudi Asks Security Council to Put Hizbullah on Terror List
Naharnet /20.11.14/Saudi Arabia on Wednesday asked the U.N. Security Council to put Hizbullah on its list of "terrorist organizations," although the Lebanese group was not included in the terror blacklist recently issued by the kingdom. "We call on the council to place Hizbullah on the list of terrorist organizations," Saudi envoy to the Security Council Abdullah al-Muallemi said.The list issued by Riyadh on March 7 had mentioned the Islamic State group, Yemen's Huthi rebels, Syria's al-Nusra Front and pro-Iran Saudi Hezbollah, which is not affiliated with the Lebanese group. Muallemi stressed that his country is committed to "international cooperation aimed at eradicating terrorism," noting that "Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries that confronted terror." "The threat of foreign fighters in Syria is not limited to the country in which they are carrying out their acts, as it rather transcends the borders to reach the entire world," Muallemi added.
Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel
Brushes Off Aoun's Proposal as 'Elimination War, Dangerous Scheme'
Naharnet /Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel on Thursday rejected a proposal by Free Patriotic Movement chief Michel Aoun on limiting the presidential battle to himself and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, describing it as a “war of elimination” against democracy.
“General Aoun's proposal is a 'war of elimination' that is aimed at getting rid of everyone,” Gemayel said during an interview on LBCI television. "This is very dangerous," he added. “Should we reduce all the Lebanese to two candidates? I refuse that such an approach be imposed on the Lebanese because such an approach would abolish all politics,” Gemayel said. On Wednesday, Aoun announced his willingness to attend a parliamentary session aimed at electing a new president if political forces pledge to limit the voting process to him and Geagea. “I'm willing to go to parliament if I receive pledges that the electoral battle will be limited to me and Geagea,” said Aoun during an interview on MTV.
But Gemayel slammed Aoun's suggestion as an attempt to “abolish democracy.” “Impeding the process of electing a new president is a heresy,” he added. “The approach of (limiting electoral competition to) Aoun and Geagea is not on the table and we in March 14 have done everything in our capacity to secure the election of a president but all our initiatives were met with rejection,” Gemayel noted. The parliament on Wednesday failed for the sixteenth time to elect a president due to a lack of quorum as Geagea reiterated his accusation that Aoun's Change and Reform bloc is obstructing the polls. The first session was held on April 23 but none of the candidates received the sufficient amount of votes to be elected president. Hizbullah and Aoun's bloc have been boycotting electoral sessions due to a disagreement with the March 14 camp over a compromise presidential candidate. Geagea has accused them of adopting such measures in order to blackmail political blocs into electing Aoun as president. Gemayel noted that his candidacy was mentioned during the Bkirki Maronite meetings, adding that he believes that “the next president must immunize the domestic scene and hold talks with the foreign forces.” “Domestically, my concern is focused on uniting the Lebanese and the foreign policy must be based on neutrality,” he added.
“The parliamentary situation has proved that none of the candidates can garner the majority of votes and I told (al-Mustaqbal movement leader MP Saad) Hariri that we have no choice but to overcome this obstacle,” Gemayel said. Commenting on efforts by Speaker Nabih Berri and Druze leader MP Walid Jumblat to launch dialogue between the rival parties, Gemayel said: “Nowadays, there are dialogue efforts and we must reach a solution with any candidate, be it me or anyone else.” As for the controversial extension of parliament's term, Gemayel described it as “an erroneous course and an eschewal of duties.” “We're willing to go to parliamentary polls if the Constitutional Council reverses the extension law and we believe that the circumstances are appropriate for holding elections,” he added.
Lebanese Parliament Fails Anew to Elect President as Geagea Calls for Holding Hizbullah, FPM Accountable
Naharnet/20.11.14/The presidential election session was postponed for the sixteenth time on Wednesday following a lack of quorum at parliament as Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea reiterated his accusation that the Change and Reform bloc was obstructing the polls.
Speaker Nabih Berri scheduled the new electoral session for December 10. This is the fifteenth time the elections was postponed over a lack of quorum. The first session was held, but none of the candidates received the sufficient amount of votes to be elected president.
Geagea declared in a press conference that Hizbullah and the Change and Reform bloc are responsible for the deadlock, demanding that they be held accountable for their actions.
“The Change and Reform bloc is hindering the polls by forcing us to choose between a strong president or vacuum,” he added. “We disagree with the bloc on its view of a strong president. Their candidate may be strong in his recklessness as demonstrated during some civil war incidents,” he said in reference to bloc chief MP Michel Aoun. “No one had the right to force others to function according to their whims,” noted Geagea, who is a presidential candidate. “The Change and Reform bloc has yet to return to its conscience and rectify the political situation in Lebanon,” he lamented. Moreover, he remarked that Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had announced recently that Aoun was the March 8 camp's presidential candidate, “so why didn't their MPs head to parliament and elect him?”
“A large number of our problems will be solved with the election of a president. It will rid us of this government, end the concept of the extension of parliament's term, and breathe life into our economy,” said the LF leader.
Addressing renewed discussions on the new parliamentary electoral law, Geagea said: “A new law will serve all the factions and ease tensions.”He added that following the extension of parliament's term, the LF had agreed with Berri to resume the meetings of the committee tasked with devising a new law. “Each party should propose its own electoral law and then each draft-law would be subject to a vote. The one with the greatest support will be adopted,” he explained. “The Change and Reform bloc has however started hindering these efforts by demanding an explanation of Article 24 of the constitution,” he revealed. “Why is the bloc now demanding the explanation of this article? It enjoyed a majority in the cabinet of former PM Najib Miqati and could have tackled the case back then,” he noted.
Lebanon has been without a president since May when the term of Michel Suleiman ended. Hizbullah and the Change and Reform bloc have been boycotting electoral sessions due to a disagreement with the March 14 camp over a compromise presidential candidate.
Geagea had previously accused them of adopting such measures in order to blackmail political blocs into electing Aoun as president. Despite the ongoing rift over the Christian's most prominent post at the state, lawmakers attended earlier this month a session to extend their tenure. The MPs voted once again to delay parliamentary elections and extended their mandate until 2017, which was met by a huge popular dismay. The session however was boycotted by Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement lawmakers and the Kataeb Party, which is affiliated to the March 14 alliance. In May 2013, the parliament voted to extend its own mandate for 17 months after the rival political parties failed to reach a deal on a new electoral law other than the one based on 50 small-sized districts in a winner-takes-all system.
March 14 Urges Govt. to Implement Security Plan in Bekaa in Light of Btedei Unrest
Naharnet /The March 14 General Secretariat condemned on Wednesday the recent clashes in the eastern Bekaa town of Btedei, saying it was a sign that the “state is incapable of seizing control of security.”It said in a statement after its weekly meeting: “The government should implement a security plan in the Bekaa similar to the one adopted in the North.”“The Bekaa has been witnessing security, social, and political instability since the eruption of the Syrian conflict,” it remarked. “The instability increased with Hizbullah's participation in the fighting in Syria. It has heightened sectarian tensions and paved the way to kidnappings, theft, and drug abuse,” it noted. The recent sign of this insecurity was the weekend's unrest in Btedei, said the March 14 General Secretariat. “The government succeeded in implementing a security plan in the North and it is failing to do so in the Bekaa because of Hizbullah's refusal,” it stressed. “The party is using its illegitimate arms to bully others and refusing to cooperate. Security and political officials have complained over this matter,” it stated. “The General Secretariat therefore demands the March 14 parliamentary blocs to pressure the government to implement the security plan in the Bekaa,” it said. “Any lax approach in this matter will expose the Bekaa, and the whole of Lebanon as a result, to further deterioration,” it added. Sobhi and Nadimeh Fakhri were killed and their son Romeo was wounded during weekend clashes between the Lebanese army and a number of gunmen west of Baalbek. The gunmen were fleeing raids carried out by the Lebanese army in the Dar al-Wasaa area when they entered the Fakhri house with the intent of taking their vehicle. The family refused to meet the demands of the armed men, which prompted them to shoot the couple and their son. The residents of Btedei have warned they would go after the criminals if the authorities failed to arrest them. They held the Jaafar clan responsible for the crime. The Jaafar clan, however, issued a statement in which they voiced regret over “the martyrdom of Nadimeh and Sobhi Fakhri.”
Aoun offers to take on Geagea in presidency race
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/Nov. 20, 2014
BEIRUT: MP Michel Aoun said Wednesday he was ready to face off with his Christian rival, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, in a presidential vote in Parliament if there was no third candidate, an unexpected stance that was quickly rebuffed by MP Walid Jumblatt.
Jumblatt said he would not withdraw his party’s candidate, Aley MP Henri Helou, from the presidential race as demanded by Aoun to attend a Parliament session to elect a president. “I respect Gen. Aoun’s opinion, but we have the right to a democratic competition,” Jumblatt said on his Twitter account. Aoun, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, also demanded that rival parliamentary blocs pledge that there would be no deal behind the scenes over the presidential election as a condition to challenge Geagea over the country’s top Christian post. “I am ready to go to Parliament to fight the presidential battle against Geagea provided that all [blocs] pledge that there will be no deal under the table,” Aoun said in an interview with MTV station Wednesday night.
“If the presidential battle is confined to me and Geagea, I will go to Parliament,” he said. “The offer I made includes Geagea only because he has been challenging me. I want guarantees the presidential vote will take place and the [Parliament] session will not be turned into a party.”Aoun’s remarks came shortly after Parliament failed Wednesday for the 15th time since April to elect a president over a lack of quorum, prompting Speaker Nabih Berri to postpone the session to Dec. 10.
Lawmakers from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc and Hezbollah’s bloc and its March 8 allies have thwarted a quorum with their persistent boycott of parliamentary sessions to elect a president, demanding an agreement beforehand with their March 14 rivals on a consensus candidate for the country’s top Christian post.Earlier Wednesday, Geagea lashed out at Aoun and Hezbollah, blaming them for scuttling the vote with their boycott of Parliament sessions. While Geagea is the March 14-backed presidential candidate, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah earlier this month named Aoun as the March 8 coalition’s candidate. Helou is also the candidate of Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party. With neither the March 8 bloc, nor the March 14 coalition being able to muster majority votes to win the presidency, Jumblatt, with his 11 MPs, is seen as the kingmaker whose support for any of the two coalitions can tip the balance in its favor. Aoun charged that all Maronite presidents had been appointed by outside powers.“I want the Christian position to represent the Christians ... I have proposed a solution through the election of the president directly by the people,” he said. Aoun, whose bloc has filed a challenge with the Constitutional Council against the extension of Parliament’s mandate earlier this month for two years and seven months, said he was waiting for the council’s decision. The council will meet Friday to look into the FPM’s appeal against the extension of Parliament’s term. Despite Wednesday’s failed bid to elect a president, Berri said Wednesday he was still optimistic about breaking the presidential deadlock. He also said he was still making efforts with Jumblatt to open channels of communication between Hezbollah and the Future Movement, whose strained ties have raised sectarian tensions in the politically divided country. Berri was quoted by MPs during his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence as saying that he still sees “positive signals over the presidential election issue.”Meanwhile, Geagea accused Aoun and Hezbollah of derailing the presidential vote with their boycott of Parliament sessions. “The Change and Reform bloc and Hezbollah are responsible for the situation in which we are living today because of their obstruction of the presidential election. The time has come to hold them accountable, or let them attend the electoral sessions,” Geagea told a news conference at his residence in Maarab, north of Beirut.He scoffed at the March 8 argument that Aoun can be a strong president if elected.“Aoun has been obstructing the electoral sessions on the pretext of imposing two choices: either a vacuum or the election of a strong president. This logic is unacceptable,” Geagea said. He implicitly accused Aoun of recklessness. “In our eyes and the eyes of others, Aoun is not a strong president because neither recklessness nor anarchism can lead to a strong presidency.”
Hizbullah Dismisses as 'Sonic Bubble'
Saudi Call for Labeling It Terrorist
Naharnet /Hizbullah on Thursday dismissed Saudi Arabia's call for the U.N. Security Council to label the Lebanese party as a “terrorist” group, shrugging it off as a “sonic bubble.”“The Saudi envoy's remarks at the U.N. Security Council served Israel's interests,” Hizbullah sources told al-Mayadeen television. Saudi envoy Abdullah al-Muallemi had on Wednesday called on the Security Council to put Hizbullah on its list of “terrorist organizations.” But the Hizbullah sources played down Muallemi's call as “nothing but a sonic bubble.”“Hizbullah is a resistance movement and the Saudi envoy to the U.N. is trying to tarnish its image,” said the sources, noting that “the Saudi rhetoric has no practical value in light of the current balance of power inside the Security Council.”“This stance reflects the real disappointment of the Saudi leadership over the failure of its scheme in Syria,” the sources added. The development comes despite the fact that Hizbullah was not included in a recent Saudi terror list. The list issued by Riyadh on March 7 had mentioned the Islamic State group, Yemen's Huthi rebels, Syria's al-Nusra Front and pro-Iran Saudi Hezbollah, which is not affiliated with the Lebanese group.
Salam laments loss of country’s youth over lack of jobs
The Daily Star/Nov. 20, 2014/BEIRUT: Lebanon is losing its youth to emigration due to a lack of job opportunities, Prime Minister Tammam Salam highlighted Wednesday during a meeting with a number of students at the Grand Serail. Speaking on the mass emigration of Lebanese youth, Salam said that “Lebanon is a small country that can’t provide job opportunities to all its graduates.”In recent years Lebanon has graduated 35,000 engineers and 12,000 doctors, numbers that far exceed demand in the market, he noted. Another problem linked to education is the fact that Lebanon has a surplus of universities, all of which require consistent monitoring, Salam added, saying the Cabinet had delayed the approval of approximately 12 university departments in an effort to ensure that standards of education remain up to par. The students’ visit was arranged by the prime minister’s wife Lama, who has organized the meet on a weekly basis. Students also raised the issue of civil marriage while asking about sectarian restrictions on Lebanese youth. The prime minister said the subject was “highly sensitive, especially in the Lebanese community, which is riddled with sectarian and religious considerations.” Salam downplayed the importance of legalizing civil marriage, and said that the country had “worries that are much greater.”
But he noted that every person was free to make his or her own decisions without having anyone else’s opinion imposed on them. “I am with human rights and not [with] restricting it,” he said. As for the role of Lebanon’s youth in politics, Salam said political engagement stems from parliamentary elections. In that regard, the prime minister called for a new electoral law that would blend both proportional and majoritarian systems. Salam also called for the reduction of the voting age, which is currently set at 21. The students also discussed the ongoing presidential stalemate, with the premer stressing the need to elect a president. With regards to the controversial extension of Parliament’s mandate, the prime minister reiterated his belief that current conditions were not suitable for carrying out parliamentary polls.
IS Demands Release of Five Islamist
Inmates in Return for Each Captive Serviceman
Naharnet /The Islamic State group announced on Wednesday its readiness to release the Lebanese soldiers and policemen, who were taken captive by the jihadist group along with al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front in August, if the Lebanese state sets free five Islamist inmates in return for each captive. MTV quoted a Syrian source in Syria's al-Qalamoun area as saying: “The IS agrees to kick off negotiations with the Lebanese side as soon as possible.”“The group is demanding five Roumieh inmates in return for each captive after sympathizing with the relatives of the soldiers and policemen.”Earlier on Wednesday, al-Mustaqbal daily reported that IS is demanding the release of 22 Islamist inmates from Lebanese jails in return for setting free one of the soldiers or policeman taken captive.
The newspaper quoted official sources as saying that the IS called for the release of 22 of the inmates in a prisoners swap. The Nusra has said that the hostage crisis would end if 10 inmates held at Lebanese prisons would be freed for each hostage or seven Lebanese inmates and 30 female prisoners held in Syria would be released for each abducted soldier and policeman or if five Lebanese and 50 women inmates would be freed. The soldiers and policemen were taken hostage when the jihadists overran the northeastern border town of Arsal in early August. Al-Mustaqbal said Tuesday that the Lebanese authorities officially informed the Qatari-appointed mediator, Syrian Ahmed al-Khatib, that it had approved the demand to exchange each captive with five Islamist inmates and 50 female prisoners. The relatives of the servicemen burned tires and blocked roads Monday after they said IS extremists threatened to kill their loved ones. The jihadists already have already killed three of the captives, beheading two.
The families of the captured men have surrounded the Grand Serail, which is Prime Minister Tammam Salam's office, with protest tents, demanding the government to negotiate faster.
Monday's demonstration began after militants threatened to kill more hostages unless the government revoked sentences handed down to Islamist prisoners Friday night. Four Islamist militants received life sentences, while a fifth was sentenced to death in absentia.
MP Khaled Daher has strong criticism of Army
Wassim Mroueh/The Daily Star/Nov. 20, 2014
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Violence could erupt again in the north at any moment, according to Future bloc MP Khaled Daher, who accused the Army of using more force than was necessary in recent clashes in the area in order to cover up for Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria.
“Is the problem over in Tripoli? Was it addressed properly? Or will state [security] agencies set more traps in the city?” Daher said in an interview with The Daily Star at his Tripoli residence. He said that he expected Army Intelligence to continue to stir up trouble in the area. A harsh critic of the Army because of what he deems its targeting of Sunnis, Daher made headlines in October when media reports that Ahmad Salim Mikati, an ISIS-affiliated man arrested during an Army raid the same month, had confessed to having had a WhatsApp conversation with the lawmaker. But Daher dismissed the media reports, saying he did not have any links to the suspect. “These accusations are silly. I met Mikati 11 or 12 years ago and that’s it,” he said. “I did not telephone him and he did not telephone me.
“I do not even have his phone number ... If he had telephoned me, I would have warned him against making mistakes.” The Army clashed with Islamist militants inspired by ISIS and the Nusra Front in Tripoli and other parts of the north shortly after the raid. The military was able to restore order in the north after four days of fighting. The battles in Tripoli were led by fugitive Islamists Shadi Mawlawi and Osama Mansour. The fighting killed 42 people, including eight civilians, 11 soldiers and 23 gunmen.
Daher said that Army Intelligence personnel should be held accountable for disproportionate use of force during Tripoli’s battle. “How many fighters battled the Army in the Tripoli souqs? Just 13 ... does this require using tanks, artillery and thousands of soldiers?” Daher said, adding that Mansour and Mawlawi had had only 20 fighters. “Why blow the problem out of proportion when it is small? Why don’t you address it properly? Why are you trying to make out to the Americans, Arab states and embassies that there is a big problem and terrorism? “Honestly, this is aimed at covering up the terrorist activities of Hezbollah, which is sending thousands of fighters to Syria.” Daher also accused the Army Intelligence of being behind the rounds of fighting between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad that have plagued Tripoli over the past few years. He also blamed Tripoli’s political figures, including Future Movement MPs, for not doing enough to protect the northern city. “Our political and religious leaders are not fulfilling their duties. It is a shame that Tripoli witnesses 20 rounds of fighting and they do not put an end to this by calling a spade a spade and saying who is responsible for it,” he said. Despite some differences, Daher said he had normal ties with his colleagues in the Future bloc, and that they said in closed-door meetings what he said in public about the Army’s behavior. Daher explained that media outlets affiliated with both March 8 and March 14 groups were imposing a media blackout on him under the pretext that he was attacking the Lebanese Army.
“There has been a clear attempt to suppress my voice lately because I was raising my voice for the sake of my people and country and in order to reform [state] institutions and prevent what has happened [in Tripoli] from happening,” Daher said. “You are the first people breaking the media siege imposed on me.”Daher claimed that he had “never attacked the Army” in his life. “I was criticizing irregularities and warning against insulting and harming supporters of the March 14 coalition, and the Sunnis in particular.”
MP, Marwan Hamada At the STL: Jumblatt urged Hariri to leave Lebanon after Assad meet
Kareem Shaheen/The Daily Star/Nov. 20, 2014
BEIRUT: Syrian President Bashar Assad threatened to “break Lebanon” on former premier Rafik Hariri’s head if he did not acquiesce to the demands of Damascus, according to new testimony at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that also touched on Hezbollah’s relationship with the embattled Syrian leader. “You believe that you can dictate a new Lebanese president to Syria,” MP Marwan Hamade said, quoting a conversation between Assad and Hariri in August 2004. “You are making a mistake because you are ignoring that we are the ones who decide this.”
“No, it will be Emile Lahoud, and if you try to object, I will break Lebanon on your head and Walid Jumblatt’s head,” he added. In a tweet to The Daily Star, Jumblatt confirmed the veracity of the statement.
Hamade’s testimony described in open court for the first time the details of the notorious, stormy meeting in Damascus between Assad and Hariri, during which the Syrian president ordered Lebanon’s premier to obey his orders and back the extension of Lahoud, the pro-Syrian president at the time. The deeply unpopular move led to a breakdown in relations between Assad and Hariri, the passage of Resolution 1559 calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon and the disarmament of all militias. Prosecutors allege the conspiracy to assassinate the former premier began about a month later.Both Hamade and Jumblatt met Hariri immediately after the meeting with Assad, and the former minister, who was once an ally of Hafez Assad and himself survived an assassination attempt two months later, described Hariri’s disheveled state as he arrived at Jumblatt’s Clemenceau residence. “Hariri considered the threat extremely dangerous on both of them,” he said.
Hamade recalled a macabre conversation between Hariri and Jumblatt, in which the Druze leader advised Hariri to back the extension, resign from government, and leave Lebanon to protect himself.
“I will shoulder the threat,” Jumblatt told Hariri, according to Hamade. “In the mountain I can protect myself.” In a chilling response, Hariri said: “But Walid, Assad told me that he will reach you even if you are with the Druze.”
The STL is tasked with prosecuting those responsible for the Valentine’s Day bombing in 2005 that killed Hariri and 21 others, and plunged Lebanon into turmoil and street protests that ended Syria’s tutelage over its neighbor.
The court has indicted five members of Hezbollah in connection with the attack, and the hearings are part of their trial in absentia.
No Syrian official has been charged over the Hariri assassination, and prosecutors have not indicated that they plan on issuing new indictments in the case. But they said the examination would help elucidate a motive for Lebanon’s worst political murder in recent history.
Prosecutors have long focused on the actions of the suspects in tracking Hariri and purchasing the vehicle that was allegedly used to carry out the bombing, but have stopped short of saying why members of Hezbollah would seek to assassinate the premier.
Hamade is the first of over a dozen “political witnesses,” including former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who are set to testify on the deterioration of relations between Lebanon and Syria ahead of the assassination. Prosecutors said they may also call on Jumblatt to testify.
Hamade said that Jumblatt was convinced Hariri was in “imminent danger,” and that the best way to ensure his personal protection was to leave Lebanon. He said the two Lebanese politicians would occasionally joke about which one of them would be assassinated first.
But Hamade said they did not believe the regime would take a step as drastic as killing senior Lebanese leaders. Hamade said Hariri believed his international clout and good relations with the West and other Arab states would act as a “deterrent” against Syria or any other organization killing him, and instead feared more for Jumblatt’s safety. Hariri often used that clout to defend Syria and block accusations against it of sponsoring terrorism, often intervening with French President Jacques Chirac in particular.
Hamade said their bloc decided instead to gather the strength of the civilian opposition to Syria’s tutelage over Lebanon ahead of the 2005 parliamentary elections that were expected to favor Hariri’s bloc. Hariri wanted to avoid open conflict with the Syrians ahead of the elections. “I understood that the relationship between us and Damascus had gone beyond the red lines, and that we had to recover our strength as an opposition, a peaceful opposition, to oppose Syria’s expansion and infiltration in all sectors of Lebanon,” he said.
Hariri ultimately acquiesced to a constitutional amendment extending Lahoud’s mandate, while Jumblatt and his bloc, including Hamade, voted against the measure.
Hamade said Hariri and his allies believed that if the extension was blocked there would be “bombings, strife, assassinations, revenge attacks; things of that type are already in the dictionary of the Syrian regime since 1975.”
But the race to amend the Constitution and re-elect Lahoud progressed in tandem with the deliberations over Resolution 1559, which raised Syrian fears that it would lose influence in Lebanon.
Hamade said that Syrian tutelage had effectively rendered the Lebanese Foreign Ministry a “branch of the Syrian Foreign Ministry,” with identical statements sent to U.N. bodies.
Though Resolution 1559 called for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon, Hamade said that Jumblatt and Hariri both stressed with foreign governments that Hezbollah’s arms would be dealt with through internal Lebanese dialogue, not imposed by the international community. Hamade said the Syrians had forcefully disbanded other militias in south Lebanon, including the Amal, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Communist Party militias, and deliberately limited resistance activities to Hezbollah, because of the party’s close ties with Syrian intelligence and Iran. He said the “special relationship” between the Syrian regime and Hezbollah was apparent with the party’s participation in the conflict in Syria, where Assad is fighting an uprising that has lasted nearly four years. “It’s enough to see who is defending the Syrian regime in Syria right now,” he said. Hamade is expected to continue his testimony Thursday before being cross-examined by the defense.
Jordanian Parliament Holds Moment of Silence – for Synagogue Terrorists
November 19, 2014/Dave Bender/Algemeiner
In an unprecedented gesture of hostility towards Israel, the Jordanian Parliament on Wednesday opened a cabinet meeting with a moment of silence for the two Palestinian terrorists who slaughtered five Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue a day earlier, Israel’s NRG News reported. Lower House Speaker, Atef Tarawneh, then went on to recite a prayer in memory of the “martyrs,” Uday and Rassan Abu-Jamal, killed by Israeli police as they shot and hacked to death four rabbis at prayer and a police officer who later succumbed to his wounds. Along with the sixty second memorial, one MP demanded the governing body compose a letter condemning what he called “the Zionist attacks on Jerusalem and its inhabitants after a ‘heroic act’ committed by the two east Jerusalem residents.”
The attackers rampaged through the small hall, one opening fire at point-blank range on the gathered men, while the second hacked at them with a butcher’s meat cleaver, as they stood wrapped in religious garments and deep in silent prayer.
MP Assaf Shoubaki moved to congratulate members of the Spanish parliament, who, on Tuesday – just hours after the attack – decided in a symbolic vote, to recognize an independent Palestinian state. Spain’s ruling Popular Party rejected unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood and insisted that recognition could only come through peace talks with Israel. The resolution was put forward by the opposition Socialist Workers’ Party last month. Shoubaki asked the European Union and the United Nations to join the decision, stand by the Palestinian people, and to strengthen ties with them. The Spanish vote followed similar declarative gestures by the British, Irish and Swedish parliaments, calling on Israel and the Palestinians to work towards a two-state solution. Meanwhile, the French National Assembly is expected to vote on a similar proposal at the end of the month. On Nov. 13, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Amman with King Abdullah and American Secretary of State John Kerry in a failed bid to quell violence in Jerusalem.
On Nov. 5, Jordan recalled its ambassador, in the first such move since its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, in the wake of protests by thousands of Jordanians, who called for abrogating the agreement over what they claimed were Israeli “violations” on the Temple Mount complex. “Why are you keeping the embassy of the Jews? It should be demolished with everyone in it,” opposition Muslim Brotherhood chief, Sheikh Hamam, said at the rally, according to Haaretz.
Netanyahu and Abdullah also met secretly in Amman on Nov. 3, in hopes of finding a way to lower tensions between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem.
Erdoğan’s Sad Search for Past Glories
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed /Asharq Al Awsat
Thursday, 20 Nov, 2014
I’ve read a great deal of criticism by a number of Arab writers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for recently claiming during an Istanbul summit of Muslim leaders from Latin America that Muslim sailors, not Christopher Columbus, had discovered the Americas.
For me, and perhaps for many others, Erdoğan’s statement was highly entertaining. However, perhaps some others were likely to find it infuriating, if they suffer from inferiority complexes and blame Westerners or others for stealing everything, including the discoveries and accomplishments of Muslims! His statement may also subject him to the mockery of yet more groups, such as Arab intellectuals. Erdoğan was most probably addressing people at the level of their own intellectual capabilities by stripping all the positive characteristics of his rivals and ascribing them to himself.
Can dredging up the narrative of who discovered America change history? What’s certain is that it will not alter the present, as today there are certain nations at the forefront of our era, while others—such as ours—lag behind. What’s ironic is that as Erdoğan made that statement, the European Space Agency announced that their Rosetta spacecraft, which they launched 10 years ago, finally landed on a comet. The landing is the first of its kind. Imagine: a decade-long year journey to study a comet in the unknown reaches of space.
Can Erdoğan tell us what we were doing to ourselves in the past 10-year period? We saw the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, the looting of dozens of cities, the murder of hundreds of thousands of people, and some dictators replaced by even worse ones.
By repeating the same kind of tales as Libya’s late Muammar Gaddafi, Erdoğan has gone from successfully overseeing a renaissance of his country’s fortunes to joining the ranks of political jesters and swindlers, all for the sake of satisfying an idle audience through taking credit for other people’s achievements. What Hazem Saghieh wrote in his article on political leaders’ confusion during disputes rings true in this case. Saghieh said these leaders tended to escalate political disputes by dragging in culture and history. Therefore, tactics are employed according to the needs of the moment.
Who discovered America? If by this we really mean to ask who were the first humans to set foot on the continent, then scientists will confirm that thousands of years ago there were neither Arabs nor Muslims there. If what is meant is an enquiry as to who conquered it, then Muslims may have arrived there later, just as other sailors who traversed the Atlantic Ocean arrived on its eastern shores—but this is of no consequence; no one is fighting over who discovered the rest of the Earth, because this is of no value and it’s nothing to take pride in. The United State is an extension of European civilization, which is the successor of previous civilizations.
Our false pride is not limited to history, making false claims about William Shakespeare’s origins, claiming to be the innovators of aviation, or aggrandizing our contributions in the fields of chemistry, physics and medicine, but also extends to PhD holders and researchers. Our reality will not change and we will continue to go backwards if we cling to a mentality that does not appreciate education and the sciences, and which takes pride in flaunting degrees and holding governmental posts.
Boasting about the past as Erdoğan is doing, and remaining static as religious fundamentalists do, is to exploit people’s frustrations and their inability to escape the rut they have been living in for centuries.
Erdoğan has the Turkish experiment, meaning he has the recent present to draw examples from instead of borrowing myths from the past. Where is the value in Muslims arriving on a hill in a land that is today known as Cuba if they had no role in its development?
Muslims’ relationship with America is symbolized by the lines they stand in to attain a visa from American consulates in order to escape their countries and governments and find a safe haven for their children, a job to make a living, hospitals to treat their illnesses, and universities to get an education. That is the modern reality.
The Eastern Question, 2014 Style
Eyad Abu Shakra /Asharq Al Awsat
Thursday, 20 Nov, 2014
The recent resolution of internal differences within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was a significant development, as these have allowed the enemies of the Arab Mashreq (East) to score an undeniable victory in Yemen.
Equally significant is the beginning of the hearing of political testimonies at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was set up by the UN Security Council to try the assassins of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri and others, as well as looking into the alleged role of the Syrian regime in that crime. The tribunal has spent the previous months dealing with technical and forensic issues.
Last, but not least, are the details that have emerged about the proposals from the UN’s special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to “freeze” the situation on the battle fronts, create “autonomous areas,” and postpone any discussion of the future of President Bashar Al-Assad and the staging of multi-party elections. This runs contrary to the spirit of the Geneva I conference, which called for Assad’s departure and the creation of a transitional administration as the main preconditions for any negotiated settlement.
In fact, these three developments are inseparable, and have arrived against a backdrop of escalating terrorist violence from jihadists operating under the veil of “political Islam,” and the collapse of hopes for a for Israeli–Palestinian peace settlement. The relationship between the rising popularity of “political Islam”—in all its shades and facets—and the insistence of the Israeli Right on destroying the credibility of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim moderates is a direct one. In doing so it relies on Washington’s inaction in the face of Israel’s policy of accelerating its land-grabs and settlement-building, as well as its incitement and exploitation of religious fundamentalism with the intention of turning what has been a struggle against occupation into a religious war, one that defies logic, awareness, and any attempt at reconciliation.
Incidentally, the rehearsal for such a “religious war,” launched to serve political ends, is nothing new, and is not limited to Israel. What we witness today throughout the Arab Mashreq is salient proof. Iran is busy stoking Sunni–Shi’ite tensions with its sectarian militias, from Iraq to Lebanon and Gaza, via Syria—not forgetting Yemen and the continuous attempts to foment conflict among the GCC countries. The Israeli Right see a benefit in a religious war that eliminates moderate Palestinians who are qualified to conduct genuine and serious peace negotiations, leaving the Palestinian arena to religious forces who understand nothing but violence and exclusion, while failing to provide the average citizen anything on a land which is threatened with being either seized or destroyed. On the other hand, Iran’s leaders are using Islam as a camouflage to hide their true nationalist project, as it would be difficult for them to invade the region under the banners of Persian nationalism. Between the two sides there is an intersection of interests which incentivizes them to promote an “alliance of minorities” with Russo–American blessing. Indeed, de Mistura’s leaked plan is nothing but the implementation of this on the ground in Syria.
At the moment we are revisiting what was known as “the Eastern Question” during the final days of the Ottoman Empire, in addition to the familiar problems of “Sunni–Shi’ite Fitna,” the Sykes–Picot Agreement, and of course, the Balfour Declaration.
Yes, “the Eastern Question” applies to Arab lands inhabited by Christians since ancient times, and saw them take root, flourish and establish a glorious theological, cultural, scientific, and social heritage that has enriched world civilization. If ISIS’s threat to Iraqi Kurdistan and the Baghdad regime established by the occupation of Iraq in 2003 was the spark that alerted the West to react, the Christians’ fears were also instrumental in building up the mood for action.
Here I do not only mean ISIS’s onslaught against Christian (also Yazidi and Shabak) towns and villages in Nineveh Province in northwestern Iraq, but also the positions taken by Christian religious leaders in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. They viewed Sunni jihadist extremists like ISIS as a far more dangerous immediate threat even than the growing influence of Iran’s Ayatollahs and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the region. Without denying the fact that Assad’s regime is exploiting the extremists’ excesses, and without rejecting the possibility that its embedded shabiha (Assad’s militias, or thugs) may be taking part in them, there have been some serious incidents. Two prominent bishops, one of them a brother of the Patriarch of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, were kidnapped near Aleppo in April 2013, causing great shock and revulsion within the Christian Syrian community. In Lebanon, the Maronite Patriarch, who has been more critical of Sunni extremists than Shi’ite extremism even before his elevation to the Patriarchate, made his position clear during his early foreign visits to France and Russia, where he expressed his preference for Assad staying rather than being replaced by extremist Muslims. As for the two Antiochian Orthodox and Catholic patriarchs—both Syrian—they have always maintained good relations with the Damascus regime, and have been worried about the apparent hijacking of the Syrian revolution by radical Islamist groups following the reluctance of the international community, led by the USA, to effectively support the moderate groups, which included Christian figures such as Michel Kilo, George Sabra, and others.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the conference held by the In Defense of Christians organization in Washington, DC in September, which aimed to “empower the Middle Eastern Christian Diaspora and energize the American people to stand in solidarity for the protection and preservation of Christians in the Middle East.” Among those who financed and organized the event were several wealthy pro-Assad and even pro-Hezbollah Christian businessmen from Syria and Lebanon. Although what came out of the conference attempted to avoid provocations, its overall theme and atmosphere encouraged a Republican US senator to say that Middle Eastern Christians “have no greater ally than [Israel]”—perhaps as a guarantor for the region’s religious minorities. His naive speech was booed by some of the audience and criticized by senior clergy in attendance.
Be that as it may, the “autonomous” areas as envisaged in de Mistura’s leaked plan would almost likely be drawn with religious, sectarian and ethnic considerations in mind. Any wise observer now accepts that a future Syria cannot be the same as the pre-March 2011 Syria, as a result of the massacres and uprooting of thousands of people that has taken place and the resulting deep animosities. Thus, even if Syria survives intact, it can only do so as a loose federal state.
This begs two questions: Was it not more worthwhile to have imposed “safe havens” and “no-fly zones” before in order to minimize the number of casualties and force Assad to the negotiating table? How come the idea of “autonomous areas” now makes sense while “no-fly zones” are still being rejected?
The answer: It is “the “Eastern Question”!
Kerry to join Iran nuclear talks in Vienna
Thursday, 20 Nov, 2014
Paris, AP—US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Vienna later Thursday to join high-level nuclear negotiations with Iran as a deadline for an agreement fast approaches.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry would be going to the Austrian capital from Paris to “check in” on the talks. It was not yet determined how long he would stay in Vienna, leaving open the possibility that he might not remain until Monday’s deadline for a deal. Kerry is to meet with the US negotiating team in Vienna late Thursday before scheduling meetings with other participants.
Kerry had been expected to join the Vienna negotiations, but the timing of his arrival at the talks had been uncertain until shortly after he arrived in Paris for talks with the Saudi and French foreign ministers after two days of similar meetings in London with his British and Omani counterparts. Kerry is to hold a news conference in Paris after seeing French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and before departing for Vienna.
With Monday’s deadline for a deal looming, Kerry has embarked on a frenzy of high-stakes diplomacy in a last-minute push to secure an agreement — or at least prevent the process from collapsing after talks were already extended once.
Senior negotiators in Vienna have spent three days racing against the clock to forge a pact over the next five days that would prevent Iran from reaching the capability to produce atomic weapons.
Despite Kerry’s efforts, though, signs increasingly pointed to the Nov. 24 deadline passing without a deal and the negotiations being extended a second time.
In London on Tuesday and Wednesday, Kerry met with Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi of Oman, a key bridge between Washington and Tehran, a senior US official said. Bin Alawi was in Tehran last weekend.
Oman is not party to the negotiations among Iran, the US, Britain, China, France, Russia, the European Union and Germany. But it is unique among the Gulf Arab states for the close ties it maintains with Iran, having hosted high-level nuclear talks earlier this month and served as the site of secret US-Iranian gatherings dating back to 2012. Those earlier discussions laid the groundwork for an interim nuclear agreement reached a year ago, which the so-called P5+1 countries now hope to cement with a comprehensive accord in Vienna.
In Washington on Wednesday, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be Kerry’s deputy at the State Department said he believed it would be difficult to meet the deadline.
“It’s not impossible,” said Tony Blinken, currently Obama’s deputy national security adviser. “It depends entirely on whether Iran is willing to take steps it must take to convince us, to convince our partners that its program would be for entirely peaceful purposes. As we speak, we’re not there.”
Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador to the US, wouldn’t rule out an extension and said a nuclear deal could lead to better relations between Iran and world powers on regional crises in Syria and Lebanon.
“If these negotiations fail, there won’t be any winners,” Wittig told reporters in Washington.
Kerry’s meetings with Fabius and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal are considered critical because French objections last year delayed the adoption of an interim agreement by several weeks, and Saudi Arabia remains deeply concerned about the potential for Iran to win concessions from the West.
The Obama administration also is trying to satisfy the concerns of Republican and many Democratic lawmakers at home.
Republican senators sent a letter to the White House on Wednesday urging the administration against trying to circumvent Congress in any deal with Iran. “Unless the White House genuinely engages with Congress, we see no way that any agreement consisting of your administration’s current proposals to Iran will endure,” said the letter, which was signed by all 45 Senate Republicans.
In a twist, many in Congress who previously opposed further extensions of talks with Iran now see that route as a preferable to an agreement that doesn’t do enough to cut off possible Iranian pathways toward a nuclear bomb.
Republicans in particular want more time so they can attempt to pass new sanctions legislation that would pressure Iran into greater concessions. Their plan is to bring up a package of conditional penalties after January, when they take the Senate majority, according to GOP Senate aides who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
Some Democrats are on board with that effort, though Obama has threatened to veto any new sanctions threatening the diplomacy.
Even Israel, which has been among the most hostile to the West’s diplomatic overtures toward Tehran, is suggesting it is amenable to an extension. The option would allow time for a better agreement to be negotiated through additional economic sanctions on Iran, a senior Israeli official said.
The new plan for Syria: A two-year truce
Thursday, 20 November 2014
Abdulrahman al-Rashed /Al Arabiya
I could not understand United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura’s plan for resolving the crisis, leaks of which have recently been published. The leaked plan suggests there are two contradictory projects being considered as part of one package: a regime ruled by Bashar al-Assad and areas ruled by armed opposition groups; all of whom would agree to stop fighting for two years.
I am not certain whether my analysis is correct but there may be intentional ambiguity here so that solutions can be drawn up according to each party’s ability to make concessions at a later stage. To reduce the ambiguity, we will assume there are four readings of Mistura’s project, in light of the reality in Syria today. His idea suggests the solution is one where Syria is decentralized given the myriad of players in the conflict and the diminishing presence of the regime on the ground. As a result, the plan suggests that each party would continue to rule the areas they presently control.
“If [the U.N.'s] Mistura insists on promoting the idea of a truce without concessions, this will mean extending the regime’s rule for two more years”
The first interpretation would see Assad remain as president in Damascus but would open the government up to opposition participation. Assad’s authority, however, would be limited to whatever areas he still controls in Syria while the Free Syrian Army would continue to manage its areas and other belligerent parties would manage theirs. Of course, terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham would be excluded from this partnership. This means that the regime and the opposition must not only accept keeping Assad in power but they must also ally with him to fight against terrorist organizations. If my interpretation is correct, I would tell Mistura to keep watching Hollywood movies as they are closer to reality than the possibility of implementing this far-fetched proposal.
My second reading is that the plan calls for making concessions and setting the minimum of acceptable demands. In this scenario, Assad would exit power and a hybrid consisting of the government’s remains along with the moderate opposition would be formed and each party would continue to control the areas it currently oversees. This interpretation is closer to the Geneva I aims but it does not foresee one centralized regime. Although this solution carries within it the seeds of dispute, it’s a relatively reasonable formula. However, Assad will refuse to leave power.
The third reading is that the plan calls for making concessions but without a joint government, while halting fighting for a period of two years. The Assad regime would thus remain in power but without Assad as president and his successor would govern Damascus. This solution would make all parties feel as though they have won, albeit partially.
The last possibility - and I’m afraid this is the most likely one - is similar to the third one in terms of freezing the situation by sealing a truce deal for two years. This solution, however, would see the same regime and the same president stay in power. Meanwhile, the opposition would run its own areas but would not be allowed to arm itself, all the while the regime would be repairing its broken army and refilling its warehouses with ammunition.
Mistura’s suggestion in the latter case is similar to the Israeli solution for the Palestinian territories: a local administration submissive to the enemy! Just like the first interpretation, most open-minded and tolerable opposition parties would reject it and anyone who agrees to such a plan and signs up to it would be killed on his doorstep.
It seems to me that all possibilities are inspired by the Somali example. The African country of Somalia has divided as a result of domestic fighting and ended up without one single regime and lacks a centralized government. The situation was left stagnant due to the presence of some 10 inharmonious factions.
Extending the regime’s rule
If Mistura insists on promoting the idea of a truce without concessions, this will mean extending the regime’s rule for two more years. We smell an Iranian-like scheme here. Since the beginning, postponement has always been the scheme of Assad and his Iranian ally. In the summer of 2011, i.e. around five months after the anti-Assad revolution erupted, the Syrian president promised to adopt Turkish suggestions for reform and promised the Turks that he would carry out political reform to end the peaceful protests calling for his ouster. However, everyone later found out that this was a mere trick to begin mass murder operations.
In the spring of 2012, Assad lured in the Russians and promised them that he would end the revolution in two months if they supported him. He thus involved them in the war and actually lost more than he gained. Last year, he resorted to the idea of using the help of foreign militias and groups from Iran, Hezbollah and other Iraqi factions, thinking this would help him to achieve qualitative and quantitative victory. His supporters cheered this move but a year-and-a-half on, the opposition continues to besiege him and it is still capable of blocking the airport road in Damascus itself. What’s worse is that chaos erupted and the monster called ISIS surfaced.
Therefore, extending time has always been a bad factor for Syria and the world. Now Mestura is suggesting a two-year truce which might mean keeping Assad in power. He’s thus repeating the Iranian idea of buying the Syrian regime time to strengthen itself. The trick is that instead of the opposition paying attention to the factor of time, they will be preoccupied with territorial details and with issues of governance without resources or arms to fight the enemy.
Obama and Iran: A rendezvous with history or failure?
Thursday, 20 November 2014
Joyce Karam /Al Arabiya
Looking back at 1979, former President Jimmy Carter recently said on CNBC: “I think I would have been re-elected easily if I had been able to rescue our hostages from the Iranians.” It was Iran that cut short the legacy of an American President with the hostage crisis and it is Iran today that could save Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy if a deal is reached Monday on the negotiations over its nuclear program.
But don’t hold your breath. The outcome of the 10th round of negotiations taking place in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 is all but certain. The chances that a comprehensive deal will be reached by Monday range according to U.S. officials is between 40 and 50%. Regional diplomatic sources in Washington put this number even lower, telling Al Arabiya News that a breakthrough with Iran is not imminent. The UK is already floating the prospect of an extension and U.S. officials are hinting at big gaps in the negotiations.
Gaps make deal unlikely
A comprehensive agreement with Iran preventing it from obtaining a nuclear weapon would make history and could be transformational for U.S.-Iranian relations and regional security. It might not promise Obama a grand moment like Richard Nixon’s in China in 1972, but it would be a key accomplishment for the 44th president at a time when his other regional goals from ending the military involvement in Iraq to achieving peace between Israelis and the Palestinians are in shambles. The devil is in the details, however, and those are not boding well for a breakthrough on Monday.
“A deal with Iran is the one goal, other than counter-terrorism, that has defined Obama’s efforts in the Middle East”
The gaps between the two camps remain too big to bridge in five days, and range from enrichment technicalities to duration and phases of implementation of any agreement. While the P5+1 would like the number of Iranian centrifuges to be reduced from 19,000 to 4000, Khamenei aspires to have that number at 190,000 in 2020. The U.S. is also eyeing a long-term agreement which would last for 15 years at least, while Iran prefers a shorter timeline that would not exceed ten years.
For Iran, a key demand is lifting sanctions including U.N. resolutions as soon as a deal is reached. That’s a big red flag for the U.S. Congress that Obama is unlikely to ignore and risk a backlash at home. Access to military sites, and verification of the agreement are also in contention between the negotiators. While these hurdles could be surpassed if a political decision is made in Tehran, it is looking less likely that this outcome will be achieved on Monday.
Not for lack of trying
A failure in the Vienna talks, however, won’t be for lack of trying. Obama and from the very early days of his Presidency in 2009 penned down letters to the Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, with a fourth one dispatched last month according to the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. administration fully understands that Khamenei holds the keys for a final deal. A senior U.S. official told reporters ahead of the talks in Vienna: “There are some fundamental decisions that have to get made, and I’m sure they can only be made by the supreme leader and the president of Iran.”
In essence, a deal with Iran is the one goal, other than counterterrorism, that has defined Obama’s efforts in the Middle East, softening his tone on Syria at times, and putting a lid on sanctions so as not to sabotage the nuclear negotiations. Obama also broke precedents in communicating with Tehran, with the four letters to Khamenei and a phone call last year to Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, the first at this level since 1979.
Obama’s approach while it helped the atmospherics of the negotiations and lowered the tension between what the hardliners on both sides label as “Great Satan” and “the axis of evil,” it might fall short of striking a full deal.
Status-quo and extension
In an event of not reaching a deal, it is in both Tehran’s and Washington’s interest to maintain the status-quo and not seek escalation. That is why an extension of the talks with a continued cap of enrichment, is the most likely alternative to a breakthrough, thus rolling over the prospect of an agreement to a later date and avoiding a dramatic collapse of the process.
A critical player in the event of extending the talks would be the U.S. Congress, which is transitioning to full Republican control on January 20. Both Iran and the Obama administration seem to be aware of this new reality, which weakens the U.S. president’s hand and makes Tehran more reluctant in trusting the prospect of sanctions relief later. Philip Gordon, Obama’s adviser on the Middle East, put it bluntly to JTA this week that an extension would “drastically” reduce the chances of a deal later.
The main rationale behind Gordon’s argument is that potential pressure from U.S. Congress and the ticking clock on enrichment makes it harder to compromise to Tehran. Ken Sofer, the Associate Director for National Security and International Policy at American Progress, tells Al Arabiya News that while ”a nuclear deal with Iran wouldn’t require Congressional approval right now but the bigger question is whether a Republican-controlled Senate would put up enough bureaucratic and legal hurdles to make it impossible for the U.S. to uphold its side of the deal.” The new Republican led Senate, Sofer adds, “could limit the president’s ability to suspend enforcement of U.S. sanctions passed into law by Congress.”
While President Obama could veto new Congressionally approved sanctions, Sofer warns that “the political cost would be extremely high, and it would significantly reduce Obama’s leverage on other legislative priorities such as immigration reform.”
The next five days in Vienna are crucial for Obama’s foreign policy legacy and for containing Iran’s nuclear ambition. A failure at a comprehensive and internationally accepted deal will be a setback for regional security, and one that promises a continuation of the current status-quo between a more nuclear Iran and the West.
Officials: Iran nuclear talks deadline may be extended from November 24 to March
By REUTERS /11/20/2014/.J.Post
VIENNA - A deadline for resolving a 12-year-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program may be extended from Monday until March because of sharp disagreements between Tehran and Western powers, officials close to the talks said on Thursday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive in Vienna later for what Washington and its allies had hoped would be the culmination of months of difficult diplomacy between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
The aim is to remove sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its atomic program, but the talks have long been deadlocked: the timing for lifting sanctions and future scope of Iran's uranium enrichment are key stumbling blocks.
"Important points of difference remain," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a joint news conference with Kerry, who met him in Paris on his way to Vienna later on Thursday.
The latest round of talks between the six began on Tuesday and are likely to last right up to the self-imposed Nov 24 deadline for a final agreement.
"Some kind of interim agreement at this point is likely, or perhaps at best a framework agreement by Monday that needs to be worked out in the coming weeks and months," a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
US Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said this week a comprehensive deal would be difficult, but not impossible to achieve by Monday. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he was not optimistic but that there may be a way of extending the deadline.
A senior Iranian official had similar expectations.
"We need more time to resolve technical issues and don't forget that the time frame for lifting sanctions is still a huge dispute," the Iranian official said, adding that an extension until March was a possibility. Western officials also suggested March was an option, with a resumption of talks in January.
The officials said, however, that Iran and the six were not actively discussing an extension yet and would push for a deal by the deadline, which has already been extended from July.
Officials close to the negotiations, which began in February, say that Iran wants all key sanctions on oil exports and banking terminated almost immediately, not merely suspended as the United States and European officials have said.
Tehran rejects Western allegations it is amassing the capability to produce atomic weapons and has refused to halt its enrichment program.
It has been under international sanctions for eight years and the US, European Union and U.N. measures have crippled its economy by slashing its oil exports and causing inflation to soar and the value of its currency to plummet.
'Concerned' Kerry Joins Troubled Iran Nuclear Talks as Russia Urges 'New Spirit'
Naharnet/U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Vienna Thursday to join troubled nuclear talks four days before a deadline, with Russia warning that getting a deal will be "very difficult."Speaking in Paris earlier, Kerry said that together with British counterpart Philip Hammond -- who Wednesday said he was "not optimistic" -- he was "concerned about the gaps." "We all are," Kerry said. Hammond had also suggested that the best hope was making enough progress to extend the deadline for a second time after an earlier cut-off point of July 20 was missed.
But Kerry, due to meet Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Thursday evening, said the parties "are not discussing an extension. We are negotiating to have an agreement."
Iran and the six powers have been negotiating intensively since February to turn an interim accord with Iran reached a year ago into a lasting agreement before November 24. Such a deal, after 12 years of rising tensions, is aimed at easing fears that Tehran will develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian activities -- an ambition the Islamic republic has always hotly denied. Russia's main negotiator in the talks, Sergei Ryabkov, said Thursday that the talks were being held in a "tense atmosphere" and that agreeing the mammoth accord would be tough.
"In the current situation it will be very difficult to get a deal unless there is a new spirit," Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russian agency RIA Novosti. He warned: "A possibility like we have at the moment (to get a deal) is very rare. This is a crucial moment and to let it pass would be a serious mistake with grave consequences."
Some areas appear provisionally settled in what would be a highly complex deal that would run for many years, even decades. But two key issues remain: enrichment -- rendering uranium suitable for peaceful uses but also, at high purities, for a weapon -- and the pace of the lifting of sanctions.
Diplomats say Iran wants all sanctions lifted at once. The six world powers want however to stagger any suspension to be sure that Iran would not renege on its commitments.
Iran wants to massively ramp up the number of enrichment centrifuges -- in order, it says, to make fuel for a fleet of future reactors -- while the West wants them dramatically reduced. Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi stuck to this position on Thursday, saying Iran would increase its enrichment capacity to 190,000 SWU (Separative Work Units) -- around 20 times its current ability -- within eight years.
The six powers say Iran has no such need in the foreseeable future. Russia is contracted until 2021 to fuel Iran's only power reactor at Bushehr and last week signed a deal to build -- and fuel -- several others.
Salehi also said the much-reported idea of exporting its stockpile of low-enriched uranium -- enough for around eight bombs if purified to weapons grade -- "makes no sense."
Upping the ante, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that a deal was possible but only if the other side showed "political will ... and doesn't make excessive demands."
Iran's speaker of parliament Ali Larijani meanwhile told Iranian media: "We are constantly cooperating (but the other side) is raising the tone."
He added: "We hope that the other side will behave in a rational manner ... and won't take the wrong path."
Paris said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius would be in Vienna on Friday but it was unclear when other counterparts might arrive.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country is a crucial player in the talks, will only attend if there is sufficient progress, Ryabkov told Russian media this week.
"With the arrival of Kerry the talks will move into a more serious direction," RIA Novosti cited a source in the Russian delegation as saying on Thursday.
"Much depends on what decisions he will bring from Washington".
Lavrov was due to meet his Saudi counterpart in Moscow on Friday, and therefore cannot be in Vienna before Saturday, a foreign ministry spokesman said in Moscow on Thursday.
"A deal is still possible by November 24," Arms Control Association analyst Kelsey Davenport told Agence France-Presse.
"The remaining obstacles can be overcome if both sides are willing to show some flexibility."
Agence France Presse