May 6/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 14,7-14. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him."Philip said to him, "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us."Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.

Free Opinion
A Lebanese 'Vinograd'.By: Walid Choucair. May 6/07
Diverging US and Arab Views on the Sharm el-Sheikh Meetings.By: Raghida Dergham. May 6/07
A good peacemaking attempt by the US that can be improved. Daily Star. May 6/07
An exhausted US looks for a multipolar exit strategy.By David Ignatius. May 6/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for May 6/07
Aoun relentless in pursuit of Lebanon presidency.Ya Libnan

Hizbullah will not disarm.Ynetnews
Italian Parliament Speaker In Lebanon.Naharnet
Aoun: Christians will be Shocked if I Don't Become Next President.Naharnet
Sfeir Does Not Support Aoun's Presidential Elections Offer-Naharnet
Saniora, Berri at Loggerheads
Five Syrians Wounded in a Dispute with Lebanese Family
Saniora: All-Party Participation Makes Lebanon 'Strong'
Hand Grenades Found in Akkar
Five More Suspects Linked to Ziads' Killing
Lebanese PM: War hurt investment.PRESS TV
Germany Promotes 'Rare Opportunity for Middle East Peace
Diplomats From Muslim Countries Study Vatican Politics
No Breakthrough in U.S.-Iran Relations
Pope and Khatami Support Iraq Stability
Arab Peace Movers to Meet EU Counterparts
For Israel's sake, go-Winnipeg Free Press
Canadian Missing in Syria. 580 CFRA Radio
Hariri file could bring Syria back to the negotiation table.Khaleej Times
Struggling to Stop Fighters at the Border.Washington Post
Presidential polls present hurdle to Lebanon's summer.Monsters and
Iraq-Al Qaeda Connection: What Do We Really Know?Family Security Matters

Latest News Reports From the Daily Star for May 5/07
Sfeir stresses need to adhere to Constitution
Siniora calls on all Lebanese to rally behind state
Mourners pay tribute to Abi Lamah's 'sacrifices'
Details emerge on killing of 'two Ziads'
UNIFIL denies reports of weapons smuggling in South
Calm returns to Nahr al-Bared after gunfight
US Embassy launches education scholarship
Head of Italian Chamber of Deputies to visit Beirut
Some say quota for female candidates will not be enough
New electoral law would weaken patronage, sectarianism
High-speed winds cause damage in South
AUB to host 41st Middle East Medical Assembly
Children rally to urge leaders to avoid strife
Volunteers to help clean up beaches
Clubs turn blind eye to restrictions on underage drinking
FPM members at NDU protest disbanding of student cabinet

Sfeir Does Not Support Aoun's Presidential Elections Offer
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir returned home Friday from a visit to the Vatican, stressing that he is not a candidate for the presidency and rejecting Gen. Michel Aoun's proposal for the people to directly elect a head of state. Sfeir, talking to reporters at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport, said the forthcoming presidential elections should be held according to the constitutional agenda and in line with constitutional norms. "The constitution states that a two-third quorum should be achieved for parliament to convene and elect a president," Sfeir stressed. Asked to comment on Aoun's proposal for electing the president directly by the people, Sfeir said: "This requires a constitutional amendment, and the constitution cannot be amended in a blink."A reporter recited names of perceived presidential candidates, adding to them Sfeir's, and asked the Patriarch: Who do you choose for president? Sfeir replied: "All of them are knights of the arena, except myself."Sfeir had met Pope Benedict XVI and ranking Vatican officials during his visit. Beirut, 04 May 07, 20:08

Aoun: Christians will be Shocked if I Don't Become Next President
Gen. Michel Aoun has said that his Free Patriotic Movement and Lebanon's Christians will be in "shock" if he was not elected as the next president.
Aoun, in an interview with Al Arabiya satellite TV network late Friday, said: "It will be a shock to all Christians. If 70% of Christians cannot bring a president then this is a problem.""I will not back off from nominating myself. I will not support any other person. I will not agree on anyone," he said.
"It would be politically impolite if I agree on someone else…I am a candidate," he added.Aoun also revealed that he would launch an initiative in the next couple of days "that would include a broad outlook on the sequence of local events and international resolutions."He also denied that Hizbullah was smuggling arms to Lebanon via Syria saying "there are enough weapons." Beirut, 05 May 07, 09:13

Saniora, Berri at Loggerheads
Premier Fouad Saniora on Saturday made a sharp retort to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, saying his recent remarks were "unnecessary during such critical circumstances."Sources close to Saniora quoted the prime minister as saying "the published remarks of Speaker Nabih Berri around some internal issues were unnecessary in such critical circumstances."Saniora was referring to an accusation made by Berri that the prime minister had "targeted" Shiites by not inviting the General Director of the General Security Department Gen. Wafik Jizzini to a security meeting in the aftermath of the killing of Ziad Ghandour and Ziad Qabalan. The bodies of Ghandour, 12, and Qabalan, 25, were found southeast of Beirut on Thursday April 26, three days after being kidnapped from their car. The same sources told An Nahar daily that immediately after the bodies were found, Saniora invited the army's Intelligence Chief Brig. Gen. George Khoury, the General Director of the Internal Security Forces Brig. Gen. Ashraf Rifi and general prosecutor Said Mirza for a meeting to inquire about leads in the twin murder. They said that Education Minister Khaled Qabbani attended the meeting "by coincidence" to decide on whether to suspend classes at schools and universities. The sources added that Jizzini would have been "logically" present at the meeting had Saniora called for a meeting of the Central Security Council which also includes the ministers of defense and interior and the army chief.
Berri on Friday also imposed conditions to end the ongoing political impasse, warning that any settlement to the crisis will not take place unless all cabinet decisions taken by the "illegitimate" government are reassessed. "Let them (ruling majority) know that from now on any inner-Lebanese reconciliation or political settlement will be conditioned on reassessment of all decisions taken by the cabinet or in any other public institution," the daily As Safir quoted Berri as saying. Beirut, 05 May 07, 08:19

Five Syrians Wounded in a Dispute with Lebanese Family
Five Syrian citizens were wounded in a dispute with a Druze Family in the mountain resort of Ein Darah Friday, police sources reported.
The sources told Naharnet the five were admitted to hospitals in the Aley and Chouf districts for treatment. One source said the dispute broke out as a fist fight between the five Syrians and Ayad Yahya, a native of Ein Darah. Yahya, according to the source, was "obviously outnumbered by the five. He was beaten up and his car sustained damage. He pulled a shot gun and opened fire at them, two were wounded."Yahya's father rushed to help his son, "and neighbors interfered in the fight as well. The remaining three Syrians suffered minor wounds as a result", the source explained. He stressed that the incident was not of a political nature. Beirut, 04 May 07, 18:52

Will Secret Talks Lead to Mideast Breakthrough?
Academics and Officials Say Israel Is More Likely to Agree to Palestinian State With a Jordanian Guarantee That a Future Palestine Will Not Rise Up Against It
JERUSALEM, Israel, May 3, 2007 —
Desperate for a Mideast breakthrough, Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli academics and officials have begun secret talks on forging a confederation between Jordan and a future Palestine, ABC News has learned.
According to the plan, Jordan would assume future security responsibility over the West Bank and perhaps Gaza alongside the Palestinians -- possibly facilitating the declaration of Palestinian independence before President Bush leaves office.
The three sides reason that Israel is more likely to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state with a Jordanian guarantee that a future Palestine will not rise up against it. Jordan and Israel have shared close military and intelligence ties since the two states signed a peace accord in 1994.
A leading figure affiliated with Israel's opposition party, Likud, told ABC News, "The old paradigm of negotiations failed and new ones are necessary." Speaking on the condition of anonymity he added, "This [the confederation option] creates a whole new paradigm with which to operate."
With the ruling Kadima party disgraced following a damning government inquiry into its conduct during the war in Lebanon last summer, a poll released Wednesday in the Israeli paper Maariv showed Likud and its leader Benjamin Netanyahu would sweep the next elections.
The knowledge that Jordanian troops and officials would prevent anarchy or armament in a future Palestine affords Israeli negotiators more flexibility in dealing with the thorny issues of refugees, the division of Jerusalem and territorial concession.
The Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli delegates -- primarily academics and top Palestinian officials from the Fatah party -- have met in Jordan, Israel and several European capitals over the past two months, delegates told ABC News.
The talks started quietly following Jordan's King Abdullah's address to the U.S. Congress on March 7. That speech focused on galvanizing Congress into immediate action on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abdullah said peace between Israel and the Palestinians, not the war in Iraq, is the region's core issue.
While the idea has the quiet support of the Jordanian Royal Court, the monarchy is hesitant to progress with such a plan. The plan, they believe, officially supports the Saudi-sponsored Arab peace initiative, which offers Israel full peace and diplomatic relations with all the Arab states if it evacuates the West Bank and Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 Middle East War.
Ayman Safari, editor in chief of Jordan's Al Ghad daily and former director of information for the Royal Court said, "Jordan is always concerned about retaining its sovereignty. Plans like this should not be seen as turning Jordan into 'the Palestinian state.' Jordan constantly fears the resurgence of claims but has rejected claims by right-wing Israelis in the 1980s that Jordan should be the homeland for all Palestinians."
The Palestinian aim, according to one of the delegates, is to invite the Jordanians into the West Bank to enforce security before a Palestinian state arises. But Safari insists Jordan would only agree to a confederation after a Palestinian state is born.
Under the developing plan, the Palestinians would retain all the other trappings of an independent state. Part of these talks would also focus on a form of Jordanian and Palestinian economic union; the Palestinian economy has been severely stunted by economic sanctions and six years of conflict.
The Jordanian delegate to the talks is former Prime Minister Abdel Salam Majali. Majali led Jordan under former King Hussein, a longtime proponent of the confederation. Over 60 percent of Jordanian citizens are of Palestinian descent, including the kingdom's Queen Rania. Jordan controlled the West Bank from 1948 until it lost it to Israel in the 1967 war.
A Palestinian legislator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in order to avert a total collapse, the Palestinian authority must to be buttressed by something stronger, namely the Jordanian regime. "We have no other choice," he said, "the people are desperate for some diplomatic movement, and above all some stability and security."
A major sticking point in the talks is whether Jordan would assume security control over the Palestinians before a Palestinian state is established, or after. One interim solution is to deploy the 20,000 strong Palestinian Badr Brigade, currently based in Jordan, to the West Bank. Founded in the 1960s to fight Israel, the Badr Brigade is trained by Jordan and answers directly to Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. However, the brigade's staunch affiliation with the PLO and the Fatah party could spark additional unrest between the dueling Hamas and Fatah factions.
A senior Western official here said the United States has no connection to the talks. Yet the source acknowledged that U.S. officials have traveled to observe Badr Brigade training in Jordan.
According to one of the members directly involved in the talks, Abbas supports the talks, and believes they could be integrated with the 2002 Arab Initiative. The 1993 Oslo Accords afforded the Palestinians a graduated level of autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. But the destructive mixture of Palestinian suicide bombers, continued Israeli settlements, Palestinian intransigence and internal Israeli politics soured relations.
A major breakthrough in late 2000 was ruptured by the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising, the Intifada. Since then Israel left Gaza but continues to control the West Bank and its cities. Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

Saniora: All-Party Participation Makes Lebanon 'Strong'
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora on Friday said Lebanon can only be a strong and capable state through all-party participation.
"We are in dire need to join hands and outflank the state which can only be strong and capable through constructive all-party participation," Saniora said in a reconciliatory tone. "We are in dire need to work with Arab and world countries in order to confront perils, achieve national peace and safeguard citizens," Saniora told the opening session of the Arab Economic Forum at Beirut's Phoenicia hotel. "Lebanese, like the rest of the Arabs and humans, want to live, want to develop," he stressed. "No one wants war or animosity," he said softly. Saniora also vowed that his government will exert every effort to put an economic reform program into action. "The economic program is not restricted to monetary reform, but is a social, administrative as well as economic reform program shored up by an emergency plan to upgrade the economy," Saniora said. He said the only way for Lebanon to "rise" would be through a strong, capable state. The two-day meeting was attended by about 500 government and business leaders from 18 countries. Beirut, 04 May 07, 16:08

Hand Grenades Found in Akkar
Five hand grenades were found on the main road between the towns of Jebrayel and Tikrit in north Lebanon's Akkar province, the National News Agency reported Friday.It said workers of a company in charge with rehabilitating the road found the grenades at around 10 am.It said the oxidized explosives, which lay on the roadside, were fitted with detonators.NNA also said that it was the second time that explosives were discovered in the same area. Beirut, 04 May 07, 16:07

Five More Suspects Linked to Ziads' Killing
Five suspects in connection with the April 23 kidnapping and murder of a youth and his 12-year-old neighbor were referred to Mount Lebanon Prosecutor Magistrate Ghassan Oweidat. The daily An Nahar said security authorities on Thursday delivered the suspects -- four Lebanese and a Syrian – to Oweidat and Examining Magistrate Malik Abla. An Nahar said the detainees were charged with "preparations" ahead of the kidnapping of Ziad Ghandour, 12, and Ziad Qabalan, 25, whose bullet-riddled bodies were found four days after their disappearance. It said two other suspects who were taken to custody following the discovery of the bodies were released. The Daily Star, citing a judiciary report, said charges would also be filed against five brothers of pro-Hizbullah Adnan Shamas who was killed during street fighting in Beirut Jan. 25. Ziads' murder was believed to be a vendetta for the killing of Shamas. The Daily Star quoted a security source as saying that the five detainees now in police custody helped the Shamas brothers transport the victims' bodies to Jadra and hide three cars used in the kidnapping and killing. "Suspects who disappeared are said to be within the Lebanese territory and security forces are cooperating with parties that expressed their readiness to offer the help needed to arrest them," The Daily Star quoted the source as saying, in apparent reference to the Shamas brothers.An Nahar said the perpetrators were still at large. Beirut, 04 May 07, 10:31

A good peacemaking attempt by the US that can be improved
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Editorial-Daily Star
The American plan presented to Israelis and Palestinians to take reciprocal measures to ease tensions and return to negotiations over a period of months is either a glass half full, or an idea half baked, or something in between. It is constructive to see the US offering ideas and taking initiatives that try to deal with the legitimate complaints of both sides, with the personal involvement of the American secretary of state. Palestinians and Israelis seem unable to make any breakthroughs themselves on the peacemaking front, and both sides are experiencing internal political fissures that may see their respective unity governments collapse. This is a moment when decisive external diplomatic engagement or intervention can be useful, and in fact little progress has ever been made between Israelis and Arabs without such external mediation and some gentle pressure and cajoling. The United States remains the only party that can play such a role, for better or for worse.
Yet this initiative is also constrained by several parallel factors. The first is that unilateral American diplomacy is unlikely to succeed, given its thin track record and the weak credibility the US enjoys in the region. Pushing for this sort of plan would be more effective if it were channeled through the Quartet, which includes the UN, EU and Russia along with the US. The substance of the mutual concessions and policy changes that are demanded from both sides is not really balanced in terms of the political importance to each side. The Palestinians will say they are being asked to give up resistance to occupation, while the Israelis are asked to give up roadblocks but will maintain their occupation of Palestinian lands. The proposed moves also are likely to instigate domestic political tensions among Palestinians, because they clearly favor the security forces of President Mahmoud Abbas, and aim to weaken the Hamas component of the national unity
The chances of this plan working are slim, however, that is slightly better than the zero possibility of the parties making peace on their own. The US is to be commended for trying to launch an initiative that addresses the concerns of both sides; it should be encouraged to try harder, to work more closely with its international partners, and to keep moving toward a truly even-handed position that refurbishes its credibility and efficacy as a peace-maker.

A Lebanese 'Vinograd'
Walid Choucair Al-Hayat - 04/05/07//
The Vinograd Commission referred back to the complete facts in the records of the Ministry of Defense, the Prime Ministry and the testimonies of senior officials in order to assess the failures of the July War on Lebanon and the performance of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, his defense minister, Amir Peretz, and the resigned Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. The Commission ended its investigations, describing the conduct of these three men in many terms, starting from being impetuous, inaccurate in terms of defining crystal clear targets for the war, absent-minded to proper planning, and inexperienced to being 'extremely violent when it comes to strategic planning'.
If we consider the facts from a scientific and objective point of view, we will see that Olmert lied when he claimed that he won the war on Hezbollah. By manipulating facts, the Israeli Prime Minister, who is incompetent in strategic planning, was trying to derive some credibility and weight in the public eye. However, the public exposed his failures before and after the war without the report of expertise which was issued. The Israelis practically sensed these failures before the Vinograd Commission, which supported this discovery with testimonies and the review of documents in an elaborate and methodical investigation.
Olmert's goal to deny his failures hinged on employing his statements in the internal state of affairs. It is he who waged the war from the very first day with the largest scale of an internal, unified Israeli stance from the government, and it is he who put an end to it with one of the most crucial upheavals that has afflicted the Zionist entity internally, dispelling the near-unanimous support he got in record time, and the deepest crisis that might affect this entity, making the concept of deterrence and the absolute Israeli power in the face of its neighboring countries ambivalent and shaky, after Israel had based its policies on this for decades. Such a crisis goes beyond the incompetent strategic planning of Olmert amounting to the fact that the Israeli institutions cannot by any means continue to boast their military superiority in face of the Arabs. This is a main lesson derived from the steadfastness of Hezbollah in face of this strategy. It is that steadfastness which represented the basis for the victory of the resistance. Olmert and Peretz's inexperience and impetuousness gave an added 'opportunity' for achieving such a victory, according to Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, the day before yesterday.
Celebrating the inauguration of a book fair, the Master of the Resistance spoke of the nation's dire need for 'scientific' thinking and planning in the context of the Vinograd report's results, stressing his respect for the report's condemnation of Olmert, something that wouldn't have happened had it not been for the scientific review of facts.
But what about the scientific review of the facts of the war on the Lebanese side? Such a review is not intended, as implied by some opponents of Hezbollah, to hold it accountable for the war, in the context of the domestic political scene where the Lebanese crisis now allows all kinds of mutual accusations. Holding Hezbollah accountable for this war, whether this is true or not, goes beyond the fact of the absolute Israeli aggressiveness, which was evident from the very first day of the war.
The required scientific review on the Lebanese level should be based on the fact that the assessment of the factors behind the Lebanese victory and steadfastness must not be in turn subject to the targets and factors of the internal political crisis. If Olmert denied his failure for internal reasons and got carried away by the image of the Israeli chief warrior, following the example of historical Israeli leaders to the point of impetuousness; denying the role of the internal unified Lebanese stance against the Israeli aggression, as well as the role played by Premier Fouad Siniora in the political-military confrontation that took place, leads the reviewer to an unscientific reading of the situation. If we deemed the steadfastness of the resistance a main factor, and the failures of the enemy and its leader a second factor, then we should say that the third factor was the unified Lebanese stance in face of the aggression. In addition, the stature of the Lebanese government on the Arab and international levels contributed to an outside pressure on Israel to limit its bombardment targets, among which were power plants, waterworks all over Lebanon, and the leftovers of the bridges, airports, seaports, the government headquarters, parliament, and so on, which added to the confusion of the Israeli commanders. Moreover, the government's stance, which was hailed by Sayyed Nasrallah who cooperated with President Nabih Berry more than once during the war, lead to the amendment of Security Council Resolution 1701 after some Lebanese demands were dropped from its main draft, including the Israeli retreat. The scientific review on the Lebanese side must not disregard that third factor based on other internal, regional, and Syrian reasons aiming at discrediting the government in an attempt to justify hampering the establishment of the international tribunal, in addition to other goals as well. Isn't it logical that the Lebanese review of the war and post-war facts includes an inquiry into the reason behind the shift from the unity of the Lebanese people during the war into the deepest Lebanese fission ever, starting from August 15, the next day after the war ended, and after the famous speech of President Bashar al-Assad

Diverging US and Arab Views on the Sharm el-Sheikh Meetings
Raghida Dergham Al-Hayat - 04/05/07//
Sharm el-Sheikh - The poles of the Iraqi deadlock are pushing for a workshop committed to rescue the country, as well as themselves, each carrying a vision of some start and a hard-to-reach destination.
The ongoing ministerial meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, following the official launching of the International Compact with Iraq (ICI) on Thursday, is a clear demonstration of the Iraqi government's outstanding ability to bring together more than 50 States assuming a key role in its future, including Iraq's beleaguered neighboring States, the world's major powers with permanent seats in the UN Security Council, and the G8 group of industrial nations.
The objective pursued by the Iraqi government to introduce an element of dynamism into the US-Iranian and the US-Syrian relations seemed to dominate the general atmosphere of the ICI.
The same applies to the focus on the Saudi-US and Saudi-Iraqi relations in light of the increasing Saudi preoccupation with Iraq and the increasing US preoccupation with that role.
Egypt, for its part, was determined to float the Arab Initiative, reborn out of the Riyadh Summit, in the Sharm el-Sheikh ICI, as evident in its insistence to arrange for a meeting between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Arab ministerial group tasked with following up on the implementation the Summit's resolutions, which aim to place the Palestinian issue at the forefront of the Arab-Israeli peacemaking.
The Iraqi delegation, however, was keen on drawing all eyes and efforts to focus on the Iraqi file, since it is going through a critical stage that requires nothing short of the undivided attention and new regional roles for Iraq.
According to one of its senior figures, the Iraqi government is convinced that 'everyone was in need of' the US-Iranian-Syrian meetings, and that 'it was the Iraqi effort that kick started such dynamism', paving the way for a US-Iranian and a US-Syrian dialogue aimed at defusing the regional tension.
Key to this dynamism was the March 10 meeting held in Baghdad during which the breakthrough of the US, Iranian, Syrian, face-to-face delegates meeting under one roof took place.
Ever since this meeting, the different parties within the Iraqi government have been working toward creating the atmosphere needed for the foreign ministerial dialogue, which aims to secure the Iranian and Syrian backing of the Iraqi government, which, for its part, is trying to succeed in its security and political plans.
Among these meetings was yesterday's meeting between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, as well as another meeting, possibly with Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
These are not separate bilateral talks within the scope of the US' bilateral relations with both countries, but are rather meetings that will focus on Iraq, as have been the demands of the concerned Iraqi parties. Hard efforts were exerted from these parties to pave the way and set the appropriate atmosphere.
Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, views these encounters as 'crucial' since they 'will result in major regional changes, and act as a turning and shifting point for the US policies with respect to the issue of regional security and the need to open dialogue channels with the region's nations', a dialogue previously ruled out.
Zebari categorically rejects notions that his government has embarked on implementing the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Committee, which called on the US administration to engage both Iran and Syria for the sake of Iraq.
He says: "There is a huge difference, because the Baker-Hamilton Committee demanded direct US talks with Iran because both countries are key players. We told them, however, that this was not the case. We told them to let us speak to them as Iraqis, who have issues with Iran and Syria, and then we will invite you to more talks that focus more on the single, central issue security and stability of Iraq."
As a result, Rice did not discuss the international tribunal or Lebanon during her meeting with Moalem, but instead focused exclusively on Iraq.
The same is expected with the Iranians, where the issue of sanctions, the nuclear file, and Iran's regional role are unlikely to be brought on the table.
According to Zebari, the main objective is to focus on Iraq and avoid floating other agendas pressed for by Syria or Iran and dealing with Lebanon, the Golan or the UN Security Council's resolutions with regards to Iran, as 'this will then make Iraq a secondary issue'.
This is exactly the kind of approach that constitutes a point of regional convergence and polarization. This also means that a regional competition over the priorities of the US agenda is currently talking place, whereby some are demanding an end to the exclusive focus on Iraq with the intent of pushing the US government into taking certain qualitative positions with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli issue, whereas the Iraqi government is demanding a categorical focus on Iraq, which is entering a critical stage of its fate in the next few months.
Rice's spokesman, Sean McCormack, settled the debate over today's possible meetings on Iraq by saying that Rice will only discuss the Syrian role in Iraq with Moallem, rather than the Golan or Lebanon. He added that should Moallem bring up the issue of Lebanon, then 'we will tell him the following: Lebanon's sovereignty, independence, and the establishment of the international tribunal' to try those behind politically motivated assassinations in Lebanon, most importantly those of late Lebanese Prime Minster Rafik al-Hariri and his colleagues, are 'definitely not subject to negotiation'.
The reason for the Rice and Moalem meeting and for the other possible meeting with the Iranian minister is that all parties are feeling trapped after having reached an extremely critical stage in Iraq that is threatening the fate of this entire nation in terms of its existence.
The Iraqi government wanted the ICI in Sharm el-Sheikh to provide it with unequivocal support, free of accountability and pressure. It is convinced that it is exactly this kind of support that will enable it to take the measures needed to achieve reconciliation and defeat terrorism.
It also believes that taking up a regional role geared toward achieving a convergence in the Iranian-US and US-Syrian relations will earn it a distinct regional status, giving it, too, chief trump cards.
Iraq's foreign minister does not deny this view. He states that the concept and perspective are as follows: for the Iraqi government to succeed in the security, political, and economical plan, there is a need for a favorable and supportive regional environment geared in this direction.
He says that succeeding in rescuing Iraq from being a domain for the settling of Iranian-US or Syrian-US scores hinges on its ability to find common grounds for dialogue or talks between these sides in a way that will eventually reflect positively on the security situation in Iraq.
He says: "Our message to the Americans is that we have the ability and the means to achieve all this. We are capable of helping you too, and not just receiving your assistance."
Other participants sought to confront the Iraqi government with its commitments and to subject it to scrutiny. They sought a realization of the promises of reconciliation, and an acceleration of its steps, as well as constitutional amendments, reassessing debathification, the eradication of the militia, and the oil law. They are not merely seeking promises, but rather mechanisms for their swift execution.
A source who was present during the wording groundwork of the final statement said that it was remarkable how Arab Gulf States resorted to a rhetoric that goes beyond the expression of support for the Iraqi government or the recognition of its achievements to what was tantamount to applying pressure on it; while, Iran, for its part, stood against such attempts with a notable impetus of an unequivocal show of support to the Iraqi government.
All that has been said about the Iranian and Syrian demands for a fixed timetable for the withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq has quickly vanished behind a complete consensus, which gave rise to convictions that such demands were either cosmetic in nature or not genuine from the start. Because neither Syria nor Iran really wanted a timetabled withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq, and they don't want this withdrawal.
Another source, familiar with the developments behind the scenes, said the negotiations over the wording of the final statements revealed that the Iraqis are aiming for a 'simple process' without yielding to pressure and without complying with the process needed to create a change on the ground.
Accordingly, the Iraqi government has not been realistic when it comes to expectations with respect to its key neighbors, apart from the two on which it is focusing to pave the ground for their dialogue with the US.
The foreign minister of a GCC State in Iraq's vicinity said "Sixty ministers arrived at Sharm el-Sheikh to provide the cover for a meeting between two", namely: the US and Iranian foreign ministers.
This does not mean, however, that the Saudi-Iraqi relations are of less importance in comparison with their Iranian-Iraqi counterpart, quite the contrary, since the importance of these relations emerged in a exceptional manner during the Sharm el-Sheikh ICI, despite the extensive focus given to the meeting between the US, Iranian and Syrian ministers, or, rather, the absence of a meeting.
On the significance of the presence of Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal in the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, Iraq's foreign minister said it was of equal importance to the Saudi decision to acquit 80% of nearly $18 billion of the debts incurred by Iraq to Saudi Arabia.
"It is a very, very welcomed and an admirably timely gesture, just as their participation in the ICI was an enormously significant gesture for which we thank them," he said.
For his part, US Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan next week to review the Arab position, with particular emphasis on Saudi, with respect to the situation in Iraq.
Cheney may be contemplating expressing uneasiness during his visit to the region, not only on the account of Iraq, but also on the account of the embarrassment the Arab Peace Initiative is causing to Israel and George Bush's administration, which does not want to fall under Arab or international pressure to pressure Israel.
Well-informed sources close to the arrangements underway for Condoleezza Rice's meeting with the ministerial committee in charge of following up on the Arab Initiative said that Rice tried to avoid and evade this meeting under the pretext of her need to focus on the Iraqi issue in Sharm el-Sheikh, which is a discouraging indication of the US administration's position toward the Arab Initiative.
The insistence of Egypt, the conference's host country, however, shook the excuses made by the Rice delegation, who eventually agreed to the meeting on Friday.
There is no need to cram the Iraqi and the Palestinian files, nor is there a need to insist on calling on the US administration to hold one of these files at a higher priority.
The Iraqi government is perfectly entitled to place Iraq at the forefront of the international, regional and American attention.
There should also be no question over acknowledging the Iraqi government's achievement in mobilizing nearly 60 States to attend the Sharm el-Sheikh ICI - with the backing of the host country - for a day dedicated to the vision of Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salah of an 'International Compact' to aid Iraq toward reaching calmness and recovery and in a meeting attended by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
It is equally important, however, for the Iraqi government to address and pay attention to the Arab countries' other sources of concern, and not to fall in the trap of overindulging in playing the role of the 'godfather' or the US-Iranian or the US-Syrian dialogue. For Arab countries, particularly those in Iraq's immediate vicinity, are not appendages, but are rather pivotal to the formulation of a better future that stems from a genuine reconciliation in Iraq.

An exhausted US looks for a multipolar exit strategy
By David Ignatius -Daily Star staff
Saturday, May 05, 2007
After the Iraq debacle, nearly everyone seems to agree that "unilateralism" in foreign policy is a bad thing. Leading the march of born-again multilateralists is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been meeting with representatives of Syria, Iran and several dozen other nations in the hope that they can apply a collective tourniquet to Iraq, where America's go-it-alone approach is failing.
The "neighbors" meeting is an example of the kind of cooperative problem solving that everyone favors, in theory. The difficulty is that nobody today has any real experience with how a genuinely multilateral system might work. And the more you think about it, the more potential obstacles you begin to see in the passage from unilateral hell to multilateral heaven.
The nuclear strategist Herman Kahn pondered this problem in a 1983 essay on "multipolarity and stability." Kahn had made his name by "thinking about the unthinkable" - namely, the consequences of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. But he recognized that the bipolar world of the Cold War had an inherent stability. The two superpowers understood the rules of the game, and because the dangers of conflict were so great, they learned to discipline themselves and their respective allies.
A multipolar world eventually would be stable, too, Kahn argued. He hypothesized that by 2000, there would be seven economic giants - the US, Japan, the Soviet Union, China, Germany, France and Brazil - and that they would gradually work out orderly rules. The problem was the transition. The moment of maximum danger, Kahn warned, would be in moving from a bipolar to a multipolar world.
We are now in that process of transition, and it's proving just as volatile as Kahn predicted. American power alone is demonstrably unable to achieve world order; we can't even maintain the peace in Baghdad. But no multilateral coalition has emerged as an alternative. The United Nations, the nominal instrument of collective security, allowed itself to be run out of Iraq by a terrorist bomb in the early months of the war.
The multilateral world is disorganized, on several levels. First, it's not clear what the "poles" of the emerging order are, or how they will align with each other. Is the Muslim world a pole? If so, who will lead it - Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan? Can the Muslim nations of the Middle East put aside their traditional rivalries and act responsibly in resolving a crisis? That's what the meeting of Iraq's neighbors this week is testing. An exhausted America finally seems ready for a multilateral exit strategy from Iraq, but are the neighbors able enough to deliver it?
Does Russia intend to organize a new pole of its own? President Vladimir Putin certainly sounds like he wants to regain a share of Moscow's old influence. But listening to an acrimonious debate last weekend at the Brussels Forum among diplomats from nations that once made up the Soviet bloc, it's obvious that this pole would be anything but stable. While a Putin ally was enthusing about the new Russia, someone in the back of the room - a Georgian? an Estonian? a Pole? - shouted out: "Liar," and you wondered for a moment if punches would be thrown.
The disorder goes deeper. Most of the major nations are on the cusp of political change. The US is the most obvious example: President George W. Bush will leave the White House in less than two years, but to whom? Public rage over Iraq is buffeting the two politicians who, just a few months ago, were their party's front-runners, Senator John McCain and Senator Hillary Clinton. The only certainty about the next president is that he or she will represent an America that is angry and unpredictable.
Big changes are coming in France and Britain, too. Gaullist foreign policy will outlive French President Jacques Chirac, just as the Atlantic alliance will survive the departure of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But both moorings will probably be looser - adding additional drift. And what should we expect from a post-Putin Russia - assuming he follows through on his promise to retire next year?
I listened to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tell a news conference in Tehran last year that the post-1945 world order was ending. All of its institutions, starting with the United Nations, were becoming irrelevant, he argued. A new world would be shaped by rising powers that would create new rules of the international game.
At the time, I thought it was more of Ahmadinejad's crazy rhetoric. But I suspect that this vision of a world in transition may be correct: We're all multilateralists now, but we inhabit a world that makes the Cold War seem like the good old days.
Syndicated columnist David Ignatius is published regularly by THE DAILY STAR.