December 06/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 15,29-37. Moving on from there Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there. Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel. Jesus summoned his disciples and said, "My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way."The disciples said to him, "Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?" Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" "Seven," they replied, "and a few fish." He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over--seven baskets full.

Releases. Reports & Opinions
The Syrians are back-By Sami Moubayed -December 05/07
Potholes Swallowing Martyrs-Town Hall-December 05/07
Hezbollah in the driver's seat in Lebanon-Counterterrorism Blog. December 05/07

Ahmadinejad is a major part of Iran's image problem-Daily Star. December 05/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for December 05/07
Lebanon leaders back army chief for presidency-Washington Post
Maronite Bishops Sound the Alarm: Pre-conditions Hamper Presidential Election Indefinitely-Naharnet
Hamadeh to Aoun: We Have Nothing to Give You- Naharnet
Berri: Suleiman Certainly Lebanon President-Naharnet
Aoun: I will Not Vote for a President who Could Become like Lahoud-Naharnet
Aoun's FPM Denies Differences on Power Sharing-Naharnet
Lebanon PM accuses opposition of obstructing army chief for president
-Jerusalem Post

IDF Chief blasts upper brass for faults of Lebanon War, not troops-Ha'aretz
Geagea accuses opposition of trying to block presidential vote-Ya Libnan
Obstacles in Lebanese Army Chief's Rise-The Associated Press
Ghanem Hints President Vote Unlikely on Friday-Naharnet
Suleiman: Elections Must Come First-Naharnet
Brammertz to Present Report to Security Council

Kouchner Back In Beirut to Help Settle Presidential Crisis-Naharnet
Azour Warns Against Grave Repercussions of Presidential Vacuum-Naharnet
Aoun's FPM Denies Differences on Power Sharing-Naharnet
Trial of Five Lebanese in Germany Bomb Plot Adjourned-Naharnet
Berri, Hariri Discuss Constitutional Amendment-Naharnet
Kouchner back in Beirut to clinch agreement on Suleiman presidency-Daiy Star
Aoun calls for 'attention to Christian marginalization-Daiy Star
Court postpones trial in plot to bomb trains in Germany-Daiy Star
De-miners 'need one more year' to clear cluster bombs-Daiy Star
Rights group says Lebanon 'coerces' Iraqis-Daiy Star
UNHCR: Lebanon violating international principles-Daiy Star
Azour urges presidential deal to help revive economy-Daiy Star

Kouchner back in Beirut to clinch agreement on Suleiman presidency
Ruling coalition accuses aoun of setting 'unworkable conditions'

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
BEIRUT: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner arrived in Lebanon late Tuesday to help seal a deal between rival political factions and pave the way for Parliament's election of the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, to the presidency.
Upon arriving in Lebanon, Kouchner held a one-hour meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri, leaving without making a comment to the press. Kouchner then met with parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri in Koreitem and later went to Rabieh, where he met MP Michel Aoun, head of the opposition Reform and Change bloc. Kouchner is due to meet Premier Fouad Siniora Wednesday. A French Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Kouchner would stay in Lebanon "as long as is useful" to facilitate talks over a new president and achieve "broad support" for the next head of state.
The parliamentary majority insists on postponing any discussions on the shape of the next government until after a president is elected. Members of the ruling coalition said Tuesday that Aoun's "unworkable conditions" outlined in his "Memorandum of Christian Principles and Basics" on Monday constitute new obstacles to consensus.
Former President Amin Gemayel, speaking to reporters Tuesday, criticized the "new complications" that have emerged which are hampering the election of a new president. "We regret that despite the considerable steps [the ruling coalition] has taken forward ... there are those who drag us back to the starting line by setting unworkable conditions which do not facilitate a solution," Gemayel said, referring to Aoun. He stressed that the ruling coalition had taken those steps for the sake of reaching a solution, not to concede to the opposition.
Telecommunications Minister and majority MP Marwan Hamadeh said Aoun's pronouncements from Rabieh Monday veered off the course of consensus. Hamadeh told The Daily Star that Aoun is trying to lead the country "down another path contrary to the Taif Accord and the Constitution."
Aoun's "immediate demands" include the passing of an election law that ensures fair representation and the redressing of a Christian "imbalance" in government jobs.
"I do not think [Aoun] will be able to prevent an agreement from being reached for long," Hamadeh said. "[Aoun] should be dealt with by his own allies. We have nothing to give him." Hamadeh added that a newly elected president should be allowed to "play his role." "One of a president's powers is forming the government. It is the one real time that the president has a major role to play. To impede that role is to bring a handcuffed president to power. We do not want this and we feel the Lebanese do not want this either," Hamadeh said. He added that the ruling coalition does not want to "renegotiate" Taif or the Constitution "with anybody, especially those who have been against it." Aoun's demands were discussed during a ministerial meeting at the Grand Serail late Tuesday. The participants in the meeting stressed that the ruling coalition will not debate any issue with the opposition before the presidential election. In an interview with NBN television on Tuesday, Aoun said the points he had raised in his memorandum did not violate the Constitution or the Taif Accord. He added that the demands are aimed at redressing the imbalances that have resulted from the poor application of the Taif Accord.
Aoun's office issued a statement on Tuesday denying recent media reports that disputes over Cabinet appointments and other government posts are blocking an agreement between the ruling coalition and the opposition. "This issue may pose a problem for some political parties, but this is not the solution as far as the Reform and Change bloc is concerned. The main issue for us is achieving the national demands asked for in [Aoun's] initiative, which will restore some of the Christians' rights," the statement said. The statement said that a presidential election cannot be held until a political agreement between the ruling coalition and the opposition is reached. It added that this position is not aimed against the next president, whomever he may be.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces boss Samir Geagea met with MP Robert Ghanem in Maarab on Tuesday to discuss ways to amend the Constitution. Ghanem said Parliament's Administration and Justice Committee, which he heads, had studied the proposed amendment and concluded that constitutional mechanisms allow for its passage, but what is required is political agreement. "This ... requires agreement among all national partners. There are some who consider the Cabinet illegitimate and unconstitutional ... We also require a quorum of two-thirds in Parliament to ratify the draft. Therefore consensus is compulsory," Ghanem said.
The MP said the proposed amendment was ready and would be presented to Berri on Wednesday. "Maybe [Berri] has certain observations or opinions to express or other solutions to offer and we will discuss it with him until we arrive at a result we can adopt," Ghanem told reporters. Asked if Friday's session of Parliament to elect a president will go ahead as scheduled, Ghanem said: "We will see in the next 24 hours."Suleiman met Geagea in Maarab late Monday night to discuss the situation in the country. Geagea commended the army commander for the measures taken by the army to preserve security at this sensitive juncture.
Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir chaired the monthly meeting of the Council of Maronite Bishops at Bkirki. Sfeir also discussed the latest developments and the presidential election with Papal Nuncio Luigi Gatti, and Spanish Ambassador Miguel Benzo. Also on Tuesday, Berri received Russian Ambassador Sergey Bukin at the speaker's residence in Ain al-Tineh. Bukin had no comment to make after their talks. For his part, Hariri hosted talks with the UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, as well as former MP Tammam Salam.

Maronite Bishops Sound the Alarm: Pre-conditions Hamper Presidential Election Indefinitely
Maronite Bishops warned Wednesday that pre-conditions could hamper presidential elections indefinitely, noting that such conditions are not related to the president's powers and should be dealt with after a new head of state is sworn in. The bishops, in a statement issued after their monthly meeting under patriarch Nasrallah Sfair, noted that "objections set by this side or that linking the presidential election to preconditions … could hamper the election indefinitely."The statement noted that such pre-conditions are not linked to the president's powers as set by the constitution. "National obsessions," the bishops stressed, "should be tackled after the election of a new president for the republic and the return of normal function to constitutional institutions."  The statement noted that failure to elect a president reflects a "major error (in the function of the system), an exit from which should be found to re-assure the Lebanese (people)."It urged the Lebanese to "set their differences aside" and dismantle whatever links they have with external powers that "harm their homeland and contradict with norm of relations between states." Beirut, 05 Dec 07, 12:43

Hamadeh to Aoun: We Have Nothing to Give You
Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh lashed out at Gen. Michel Aoun, saying his latest statement from Rabiyeh veered off the course of consensus.
Hamadeh said Aoun is trying to lead the country "down another path contrary to the Taif Accord and the Constitution." Hamadeh told The Daily Star that Aoun's "immediate demands" include the passing of an election law that ensures fair representation and the redressing of a Christian "imbalance" in government jobs. "I do not think (Aoun) will be able to prevent an agreement from being reached for long," Hamadeh said, adding that Aoun "should be dealt with by his own allies. We have nothing to give him." Hamadeh stressed that the president-to-be should be allowed to "play his role." "One of a president's powers is forming the government. It is the one real time that the president has a major role to play. To impede that role is to bring a handcuffed president to power," Hamadeh said.
"We do not want this and we feel the Lebanese do not want this either," he added.
Hamadeh said that the ruling coalition does not want to "renegotiate" Taif or the constitution "with anybody, especially those who have been against it."
Aoun's demands were discussed at a ministerial meeting at the Grand Serail Tuesday evening. The participants stressed that the March 14 ruling coalition will not debate any issue with the opposition before the presidential election. Beirut, 05 Dec 07, 12:18

Berri: Suleiman Certainly Lebanon President
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman will be the next president for Lebanon.
"Khalas," Arabic for enough, "the story is over. Army Commander Michel Suleiman has become the president for the republic," Berri told the daily An Nahar in comments published Wednesday. Berri said Suleiman will become the "real President, enjoying both internal external backing."The Speaker said that he had already received overwhelming support for Suleiman's presidency from the United States, France, Saudi as well as Egypt, Syria and "the whole world."Berri refuted reports that the opposition was not enthusiastic about Suleiman's nomination. He confirmed that a Friday session to elect a new president will take place as scheduled.
"The amendment process, the election of a president and consultations don't need more than two hours," Berri stressed. Beirut, 05 Dec 07, 10:59

Suleiman: Elections Must Come First
Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman announced that "elections must come first and then the institutions would deal with the rest (of the controversial issues).
Suleiman's comments were made during May Chedia's Tuesday night talk show on LBC television. Suleiman on Tuesday met with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea at his residence in Mearab.Geagea praised the procedures taken by the army to preserve security especially in this critical period, the National News Agency reported. Suleiman is respected as a neutral figure which has made him the ideal compromise candidate to become president after Emile Lahoud's term ended last week with Lebanon's divided factions unable to agree on a successor. Beirut, 05 Dec 07, 09:46

Brammertz to Present Report to Security Council
Serge Brammertz, Chief U.N. investigator probing the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, on Wednesday will present his ninth report to the Security Council. Marcello Spatafora ,permanent representative of Italy to the United Nations – Security Council said Brammertz will hold a news conference after the session.
Spatafora said U.N. Secretary-General Representative in Lebanon Gier Pederson will arrive in New York to present his latest report regarding the implementation of Resolution 1701. He said Pederson was scheduled to leave for New York last month, but "political developments forced him to stay there." Beirut, 05 Dec 07, 09:25

Aoun: I will Not Vote for a President who Could Become like Lahoud
Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun said he will not vote for a new head of state who could become like former President Emile Lahoud "during his past two years."In an interview with NBN TV channel, Aoun said the points he had raised in his "Memorandum of Christian Principles and Basics" did not violate the constitution or the Taif Accord. He said that the demands were aimed at redressing the imbalances that have resulted from the poor application of Taif.
"I did not demand (formation of) a government or representation in the government," Aoun explained. "I demanded (to negotiate) an understanding with the majority similar to that with Hizbullah."The FPM issued a statement on Tuesday denying that failure to reach agreement on the constitutional amendment is related to differences over sharing power in the forthcoming cabinet. Beirut, 05 Dec 07, 08:42

Ahmadinejad is a major part of Iran's image problem

By The Daily Star
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
The new US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, prepared by all 16 of America's spy agencies and released this week, has concluded that the Islamic Republic in all likelihood had a nuclear weapons program but halted it in 2003, and is currently at least a decade away from developing an atomic bomb even it decides to resume work. The report reinforced the recent assessments of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has repeatedly stated that there is no hard evidence that Iran is currently pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
The NIE raises some very disturbing questions about the administration of US President George W. Bush. At the very least, it indicates that senior officials - starting with Bush himself - have not learned some key lessons of their misadventure in Iraq: Repeating an untruth ad nauseam does not increase its validity, and dogmatic assumptions of nefarious activities are no substitute for the investigations of intelligence professionals. It also indicates that a serious squabble is still under way between many of those professionals and warmongers like Vice President Dick Cheney, but at least the latter was not able to coerce or silence the former on this occasion.
Ironically, however, the US estimate speaks just as disturbingly about the diplomatic performance of the current Iranian government, particularly that of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. If one is to accept the American analysis (and there is little reason not to), one cannot help but to conclude that Tehran has stated its case with monumental ineptitude. Instead of enthusiastically opening its doors to full and unfettered inspections by the IAEA to establish its own innocence, the Iranian regime has acted like it had something to hide. The fact that Iran was denied anything like a presumption of innocence - and that its legitimate rights were questioned by a cynical campaign of innuendo and outright lies - is no excuse for having failed to competently communicate its positions.
In essence, Ahmadinejad's bombast and paranoia have made his country look culpable when it was not. This has jeopardized the very important role that Iran needs to play in the region and within the Islamic world, consequently destabilizing itself, its neighbors and its partners. The Iranian president seems to understand the necessity of politicking within his own borders, but he has yet to demonstrate any acceptance of the need to do similar work - albeit under different rules - on the international stage. The stakes are too high to keep making similar mistakes.

Israeli officials reject U.S. findings on Iran

By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy - Newspapers
Tue Dec 4, 1:29 PM ET
JERUSALEM — Israeli officials, who've been warning that Iran would soon pose a nuclear threat to the world, reacted angrily Tuesday to a new U.S. intelligence finding that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 and to date hasn't resumed trying to produce nuclear weapons.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak directly challenged the new assessment in an interview with Israel's Army Radio, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the new finding wouldn't deter Israel or the United States from pressing its campaign to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.
"It seems Iran in 2003 halted for a certain period of time its military nuclear program, but as far as we know, it has probably since revived it," Barak said.
"Even after this report, the American stance will still focus on preventing Iran from attaining nuclear capability," Olmert said. "We will expend every effort along with our friends in the U.S. to prevent the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons."
Probably no country felt more blindsided than Israel by the announcement Monday that 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, in a stunning reassessment, had concluded with "high confidence" that Iran had halted its nuclear program in 2003 and with "moderate confidence" that it hadn't restarted that program as of mid-2007.
For years, Israel has been at the forefront of international efforts to isolate Iran , with Israeli intelligence estimates warning that Iran was on the brink of a nuclear "point of no return," an ominous assessment that often fueled calls for a military strike.
Israeli officials also have sought to isolate Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad , citing his calls for Israel's destruction and his skepticism that the Holocaust took place. The U.S. intelligence finding said that evidence "suggests" that Iran isn't as determined as U.S. officials thought to develop a nuclear weapon and that a diplomatic approach that included economic pressure and some nod to Iranian goals for regional influence might persuade Iran to continue to suspend weapons development.
On Tuesday morning, Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper called the U.S.
findings "a blow below the belt." An analysis in the competing Haaretz newspaper suggested that Israel might come to be viewed as a "panic-stricken rabbit" and said that the U.S. intelligence estimate established "a new, dramatic reality: The military option, American or Israeli, is off the table, indefinitely."
"This is definitely a blow to attempts to stop Iran from becoming nuclear because now everybody will be relaxed and those that were reluctant to go ahead with harsher sanctions will now have a good excuse," said Efraim Inbar , the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Israel's Bar-Ilan University .
The estimate created an awkward situation for Israeli leaders, who mostly tried to sidestep direct criticism of the Bush administration.
Olmert sought to focus on the report's finding that Iran had been deterred in 2003 from pursuing its nuclear weapons program by international pressure. That, said Olmert, made continued sanctions essential.
Barak was tougher and promised that the report wouldn't influence Israeli policy.
"We cannot allow ourselves to rest just because of an intelligence report from the other side of the earth, even if it is from our greatest friend," he said.
Israeli officials also highlighted where the U.S. and Israeli assessments agree.
They noted that while the latest U.S. assessment said that the earliest Iran was likely to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb was 2010, Israeli assessments weren't dramatically different, finding that Iran could develop the workings for a nuclear bomb by 2009.
Gerald Steinberg , the chairman of the political science department at Bar-Ilan University , suggested that the findings might increase the chances that Israel will attack Iran because they reduce the chances that the United States will act.
"I think it may introduce a lot of stress in the Israeli-American relationship," he said.
But Emily Landau , the director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies , said it would be very difficult for Israel to launch an attack without explicit support from the United States .

"If Israel were to carry out a military action, it would have to be in coordination with the United States , so if the United States is moving away from that option, it would have implications for Israel as well," she said.
( McClatchy special correspondent Cliff Churgin contributed to this report from Jerusalem .)
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The Syrians are back
Asia Times Online
By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - A variety of signals have been coming out of the international community proving that the nearly three-year embargo on Syria has finally started to crumble and come to an end.
In 2005, many thought that the days of the Syrian regime were numbered. The Americans were accusing Syria of conducting a weapons of mass destruction program and harboring Saddam Hussein's henchmen. They were saying that the Syrians were lax
about border security and were helping jihadis cross into Iraq to fight the Americans. They were accusing the Syrians of assassinations in Lebanon. They lobbied the United Nations to pass UN resolution 1559, calling on the Syrians to withdraw from Lebanon.
The US State Department created a "Syria De-stabilization Unit" (according to US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R Nicolas Burns), charged with weakening the Syrian currency, "whispering" to international banks that they should not do business with Syria, blocking Syrian attempts to promote trade and economic relations with foreign parties, bolstering opposition groups, dissuading tourists from going to Syria, orchestrating propaganda warfare, and preventing Syria from acquiring spare parts for its Boeing fleet.
But all the talk about regime collapse has proved to be way off the mark.
Instead, the US is now supporting army commander Michel Suleiman's bid for the Lebanese presidency - something that pleases the Syrians. Equally important is Syria's invitation to the Annapolis Middle East peace conference. When Syria insisted that the occupied Golan Heights be included on the conference agenda, the Americans agreed. So much for George W Bush's December 2003 statement that Syria was "a very weak country".
When Faysal Miqdad, Syria's deputy foreign minister, went to Annapolis to attend the conference he was the first Syrian official to go to the United States since 2003. And a Syrian official will also be arriving in Saudi Arabia "soon", says the London-based Saudi daily al-Hayat, signaling that relations are improving between Damascus and Riyadh as a result of improved Syrian-American relations. Bilateral relations between the Syrians and Saudis have been strained since the assassination of Lebanon’s prime minister Rafiq al-Harriri in February 2005.
Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called his Syrian counterpart twice over the past 10 days to discuss the situation in Lebanon. The French have been "satisfied" with Syria's cooperation in Lebanon, by proxy through the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri. That is also a novelty - relations had hit rock bottom during the last two years of Jacques Chirac's presidency.
The French Foreign Ministry has invited Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem to an international donors' conference for the Palestinians, to be held in Paris on December 17. The report of UN prosecutor Serge Brammertz on the Harriri assassination came out last week. Not only did it fail to name any Syrian suspects (contrary to original reports in 2005) but also praised Syria’s cooperation in the UN probe. Simultaneously, the US Department of State did not veto a United Nations technological grant to Syria, to be used for sophisticated surveillance by the Customs Department, knowing that the equipment will be coming from Cisco Systems. Cisco received a special export license from the US Department of Commerce to ship routers, switches, and high-tech equipment to Syria.
The US has been accusing Syria of supporting the insurgency in Iraq, destabilizing Lebanon, and honeymooning with Iran. Why the sudden change?
In fact, the thaw has been under way for some time. It started with a Syrian-US meeting at a regional conference on Iraq back in March 2006. The Americans reasoned that in order to achieve stability in Iraq, they had to deal with either Syria or Iran.
Dealing with both was too difficult for the Bush White House, and continuing to sideline both was equally destructive. It was easier to talk to Syria than Iran, the Americans reasoned, since Syria was reasonable and did not have a history of anti-Americanism. This new perception led to a groundbreaking encounter between Foreign Minister Moualem and his US counterpart Condoleezza Rice.
The stances of Rice and Moualem over Iraq seemed strikingly similar at another conference, at Sharm al-Sheikh. Both wanted to disarm the militias. Both were not in favor of partitioning the country. Both wanted to modify the de-Ba'athification laws of 2003, and both wanted the Maliki government to reconcile with the Sunnis.
Then came three important visits to Syria. One was by Javier Solana, the EU chief negotiator, who visited Syria in March 2007 and called on the Syrians to cooperate on Lebanon in exchange for jumpstarting talks on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and signing a long-pending partnership agreement between Syria and the EU. He was followed in April by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and Ellen Sauerbrey, the Assistant US Secretary of State for population, refugees and migration.
In May, Moualem met his British counterpart, Margaret Beckett, in Brussels. She specifically requested that Syria use its strong influence in Palestine to help secure BBC reporter Alan Johnston's release. Syria, after all, is well-connected to Hamas, which in turn is connected to the Islamic Army that kidnapped Johnston. Shortly afterwards, Johnston was released, thanks to Syrian mediation.
The German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who had canceled a trip to Damascus minutes after a speech by President Assad in August 2006, now showered Syria with praise, saying that its cooperation was necessary to resolve the numerous problems of the Middle East. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi also telephoned Assad earlier this year, similarly underlining the centrality of Syria’s role in the region. American Colonel William Crowe, in charge of the border area between Syria and Iraq, spoke to reporters: "There is no large influx of foreign fighters that come across the border."
The Syrians made several "gestures" towards the Americans through Iraq. They believed that Washington was more interested in Syrian cooperation on Baghdad than on Beirut. If they were able to help the Americans in Iraq, then Lebanon would be on the table for Syria.
The Syrians never imagined - at least not since 2005 - that they would be asked to play a military role in Lebanon. They were firmly committed, however, to elevating their allies (Hezbollah, Amal, and independent Sunni and Christian politicians), at the expense of the March 14 Coalition that is headed by Saad al-Harriri and Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora, who are backed by Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States. The Syrians were afraid that an anti-Syrian regime in Lebanon would use its influence in the West to promote anti-Syrian activity. The alliance between March 14 and former Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam was very troubling for Damascus. The establishment of the Harriri Tribunal under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter - at the request of March 14 - was equally distressing.
Thus Syria came to play ball with the US in Iraq. The Syrians established an embassy in Baghdad, helping to legitimize the US-backed regime of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in the eyes of hostile Iraqi Sunnis. By maintaining ties to former Ba'athists and Iraqi tribal leaders, and hosting up to 1.5 million Iraqi refugees (mostly Sunnis), the Syrians continued to be an influential player in Iraqi politics, particularly in the Sunni community.
It was one thing to have pro-American countries like Jordan and Egypt engaging diplomatically with Maliki, but totally different when this was done by Ba'athist Syria - a country still committed to Arab nationalism. Syria, the only country that has refused to bend to US pressure and sign a flawed peace deal with Israel, has credibility in the Arab street.
Syria then went one step further by sending Moualem to Baghdad and receiving Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani in Damascus to discuss Syrian-Iraqi cooperation along the 605 kilometer border. As a result, talk about insurgents crossing the border through Syria to fight in Iraq has dropped dramatically in recent months.
The reasons why the dark clouds over Damascus have lifted can be found in Lebanon and Iran. The Syrians believe that the Americans are interested in Iraq, the Europeans in Lebanon. By marketing itself as a stabilizing force in both countries, Syria got invited to Annapolis, and positive things have been happening to Damascus since then.
There are negative ramifications in Lebanon, though. The March 14 Coalition feels betrayed by the US, with its newfound policy toward Damascus. One March 14 figure has been quoted as saying: "No one is going to remove the feeling from March 14 that we have been dumped by the Americans." Everyone feels that a grand under-the-table deal has been reached between Syria and the US, which encompasses Iraq and Lebanon.
Jeffrey Feltman, the US Ambassador to Beirut, has refuted these claims, saying: "There will be no US deal with the Syrians regarding Lebanon's presidency. This is an issue for the Lebanese alone to work out."
The Lebanese, however, have heard that line before. They remember only too well how the Americans went for engagement with Syria after Operation Desert Storm in 1991 - partly as a reward, but mainly because they realized, after many years of tension between Washington and Damascus, that regional issues cannot be solved without Syria.
Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.
(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)