December 23/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 1,46-56. And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Releases. Reports & Opinions
The Future of the Syrian-Iranian Alliance-By: Bilal Y. Saab and Bruce O. Riedel. Al-Hayat- December 22/07
Elect a president from among the candidates - it's called democracy By Chibli Mallat-December 22/07 
What if Lebanon's politicians had a vested interest in peace?The Daily Star-December 22/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for December 22/07
Geagea for the Election of a President Even if Suleiman was Dropped-Naharnet
Is Berri Threatening to Drop Suleiman's Nomination?-Naharnet
The Hariri International Tribunal Gets Base, Judges-Naharnet
Israel Upgrades Troop Alertness along the Lebanon Border-Naharnet
Limbo Lebanon Completes One Month Without President
Washington Urges U.N. Pressure on Syria, Allies over Lebanon
Sarkozy to Discuss Lebanon, Mediterranean Union in Egypt
Aoun: Bush, Sarkozy Incapable of Escalation

Lebanon still in limbo after presidential vote postponed-AFP

Lebanon presidential vote delayed to December 29-Reuters
Rice: US open to talk to Iran, Syria if they change policies-Ha'aretz
Tenth Presidential Elections' Session Postponed-Naharnet
Aoun: Bush, Sarkozy Incapable of Escalation-Naharnet
Dutch Spy Agency to Become Location of Hariri Tribunal-Naharnet
Sarkozy to Discuss Lebanon, Mediterranean Union in Egypt-Naharnet

Lebanese election postponed for 10th time-Daily Star
Israel releases interview with captured Hizbullah man-Daily Star

Sfeir: 'Isn't it time to wake up and be aware of the fatal vacuum?-Daily Star
Political vacuum began '18 years ago-Daily Star
'Gemayel seat to be filled if election fails-Daily Star
Cluster bomb kills father of three-AFP
Comments by Bush, Moallem 'don't mean much-Daily Star
Trying to make Lebanon something it's not-Daily Star
Evangelical leader hosts Union for Lebanon group-Daily Star

AUB creates new Chair in Mathematical Sciences-Daily Star
Palestinian laborers in South have little choice but to brave Israeli cluster bombs-Daily Star
Beirut cashes in on wealth of archaeological sites-Daily Star
Lebanon lagging in trade policies - report-Daily Star
Gates: US troop levels to fall pending Iraqi gains-Daily Star
Sarkozy to discuss Mediterranean Union proposal with Mubarak-AFP
Rafsanjani mocks economic policies under Ahmadinejad-AFP
Afghanistan needs foreign troops 'for 10 years-

Top Hezbollah official blasts US President Bush, says Lebanon ...International Herald Tribune
Syrian FM: US Thwarted Syrian-French Attempt To Resolve Lebanon Crisis-MEMRI
Lebanon mired in instability, desperate for solution-Monsters and
Lebanese parliamentary session postponed, opposition leader says-Monsters and

Washington Urges U.N. Pressure on Syria, Allies over Lebanon
Naharnet/U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad has urged the Security Council to pressure Syria and other parties that are blocking presidential elections in Lebanon. "We believe the Council should be prepared to consider additional measures to motivate those who are blocking the election of the president to change their stand," Khalilzad told closed-door consultations of the 15-member body.
He made the statement as the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, postponed again his country's presidential election until December 29.
Lawmakers had been due for the 10th time in three months to meet on electing a president, but hopes that a breakthrough between Lebanon's two feuding political camps could be reached in time had been bleak. Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahoud's term expired on November 23 without the two sides agreeing on a successor. "We urge the minority within the opposition in Lebanon who are blocking the elections, and those outside Lebanon, particularly Syria, who support it, to cease their demands to bring about an election via unconstitutional measures," Khalilzad said, according to remarks made available to the press.
He urged the Lebanese "to elect quickly a new president, in accordance with Lebanon's constitution and without pressure for external actors for a deal comprising other elements of the government's formation."
Khalilzad also reiterated Washington's full confidence in, and support for, the majority government of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and Lebanon's armed forces.
On Thursday, U.S. President George W. Bush said he was particularly vexed by what he said were Syria's continued alleged efforts to foment instability in Lebanon, despite having withdrawn troops from there in April 2005.
"I worked with the French to get Syria out of Lebanon, and Syria needs to stay out of Lebanon. Syria needs to let the process in Lebanon work," Bush said.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem earlier accused Washington of blocking what he said were Syrian and French efforts to end the Lebanese deadlock.
Also Friday, U.N. under secretary General Lynn Pascoe told the council meeting on the Middle East that the current situation in Lebanon "is dangerous and unsustainable." "It is of fundamental importance for the Lebanese state that all Lebanese leaders seek a solution that enables presidential elections to take place immediately," Pascoe stressed. The Lebanese government and the opposition have agreed on army chief General Michel Suleiman as a compromise candidate to replace Lahoud but remain at odds over the election process and the structure of a new government. The Syrian-backed opposition is demanding a "basket" of guarantees on the new government line-up ahead of any vote.(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 22 Dec 07, 04:52

The Hariri International Tribunal Gets Base, Judges
Naharnet/The United Nations and the Dutch government have signed an agreement on hosting the international tribunal that would try suspects in the 2005 assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon approved recommendations to assign judges to the body. The agreement was signed at the U.N. headquarters in New York by an official of the international organization's legal department and the Dutch Ambassador.
In The Hague, officials said the court would be based at a former Dutch intelligence headquarters. The municipality of Leidschendamm-Vorberg, in the suburbs of The Hague, said the government had decided to house the court in the building once used by the AIVD intelligence service.
Alterations to the building and other preparations would begin next year, while the court would open in 2009 on a five-year lease.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende agreed in August to host the special court after some initial hesitation on security grounds. The Netherlands will be responsible for security. Witnesses who cannot return to their own country for security reasons will not be able to live in The Netherlands after they have given evidence. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) will try suspects in the assassination of Hariri, the popular ex-prime minister who was killed along with 22 others in a massive explosion on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005. The tribunal will also have jurisdiction over other attacks against anti-Syrian Lebanese figures carried out between October 2004 and December 2005 if they are linked to the Hariri slaying. U.N. investigators probing Hariri's murder have identified several people who they say may have been involved in the slaying, but no one has been charged. The Dutch government will take care of the six-year lease, according to the official statement. Lebanon will handle 49 percent of the expenses incurred for the tribunal, while voluntary donations from U.N. member states will pay the rest of the bill.
The Hague is already fast becoming the legal capital of the world, as the seat for several international tribunals such as the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court. The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which has its headquarters in Freetown, has also moved the trial of Liberian former president Charles Taylor to The Hague. Beirut, 22 Dec 07, 10:19

Geagea for the Election of a President Even if Suleiman was Dropped
Naharnet/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Syria wants to control "all of Lebanon" and stressed that MPs should elect a new head of state even if Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman was dropped as a consensus candidate. Geagea, in remarks to LBC's Naharkum Saeed talk show, said: "We will not accept continued void (in the presidential office) and if Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman withdrew we will push towards an election of a new president by MPs because we are bound by article 74 of the constitution."He said stands by March 14 forces and U.S. President George Bush are "not identical. We want to elect Suleiman as a consensus president while Bush's address referred to other options." Bush had called for the election of a new head of state for Lebanon by simple majority, an option that the March 14 alliance is not resorting to in an effort to avert a violent confrontation with the Hizbullah-led opposition. Geagea urged Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun to "set aside all differences and let's sit and talk ... with the aim of putting an end to the ongoing crisis." He said Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is "cleaver in marketing verbal stands, without delivering on them, in order not to elect Gen. Suleiman."Geagea accused the opposition of being a "follower of Syria for proposing a basket of conditions that are identical to what has been set by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem." Beirut, 22 Dec 07, 12:29

Is Berri Threatening to Drop Suleiman's Nomination?
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has made what appears to be a veiled threat to drop Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman's nomination for president.
Berri said if a new president was not elected by next Saturday he would call for weekly parliamentary sessions throughout January to elect a head of state during a legislative recess by the house, which does not permit a constitutional amendment allowing Suleiman's election.
Berri, talking to the daily As Safir, said "I hope we will be able to accomplish the presidential election (by next Saturday) In any case, and if we did not strike luck, God forbid, parliament would be in constant and extraordinary (open) session and I would call for consecutive sessions, and maybe weekly sessions during January, until we manage to elect a president."He stressed that due to the ongoing void in the presidential office, Parliament is bound by article 74 of the constitution, which states that the house should "convene immediately in line with the law to elect a successor."
"Therefore, in light of the persisting void, it is the speaker's right to call the house to convene to elect a president at any time chosen by him," Berri added.
Berri's statement fueled speculation that he is launching a veiled threat on behalf of the Hizbullah-led opposition to drop Suleiman's nomination for president after Dec. 31 when Parliament enters a legislative recess for nearly three months, which strips the house of its right to amend the constitution, a move needed to allow the election of a public employee to the nation's top post. Berri's vague stand followed remarks by Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun that a French initiative to facilitate Lebanon's presidential election has "finished and they are looking for other solutions."Aoun also made a rather vague remark regarding his support for Suleiman's nomination, which also fuels speculation that the opposition is considering withdrawing its support for the army commander as a sole consensus presidential candidate.
"I stepped aside in favor of Gen. Suleiman. I regain my freedom whenever he is no more a candidate," Aoun said in answering a question after a meeting by members of his Change and Reform Parliamentary bloc on Friday. Beirut, 22 Dec 07, 10:34

Israel Upgrades Troop Alertness along the Lebanon Border
Naharnet/Israel has decided to upgrade alertness among its forces along the borders of Lebanon, fearing that Presidential void could lead to renewed violence in the region. Israeli media reports said the security establishment in the Jewish state fears that repeated postponement of the Lebanese Presidential election could lead to outbreak of violence that would spill over to the border region. The issue was considered by the military and security establishments, according to reports that did not disclose further details.The southern Lebanese border region is jointly policed by the Lebanese Army and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in line with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 of August, 2006 that ended a 34-day war between Hizbullah and the Jewish State. Beirut, 22 Dec 07, 18:36

Limbo Lebanon Completes One Month Without President

Lebanon remained in limbo on Saturday after the 10th postponement of a vote to fill the vacant presidency as the rift widens between the ruling majority and the Syrian-backed opposition. Lawmakers had been set to meet on Saturday to vote for a new head of state, but the session was put off the previous night until December 29.
As UN Under Secretary General Lynn Pascoe warned the Security Council on Friday that the situation in Lebanon "is dangerous and unsustainable," many politicians and the media were not expecting any vote to take place before Year End. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a main leader of the opposition, told As-Safir newspaper that if no president is elected next Saturday, he would continue to "set weekly sessions in January until we elect a president."
The move comes amid what the media has termed public muscle-flexing between the United States, which has declared its support for the Beirut government, and Syria which along with its ally Iran backs the opposition. "More than ever before, Lebanon taken hostage in Syrian-Western arm-wrestling," said the front-page headline of the French-Language L'Orient Le Jour.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations urged the council to bring pressure to bear on those blocking the presidential election in Lebanon.
"We believe the council should be prepared to consider additional measures to motivate those who are blocking the election of the president to change their stand," Zalmay Khalilzad told closed-door consultations of the 15-member body. A day before, U.S. President George Bush accused Damascus of seeking to destabilize its smaller neighbor and demanded Damascus "to stay out of Lebanon."
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in turn accused Washington of blocking what he called Syrian and French efforts to end the Lebanese deadlock.
The country has been without a president since Emile Lahoud's term expired on November 23 without the two sides agreeing on a successor.
The government and the opposition have agreed on General Michel Suleiman as the man for the job, but remain at odds over the election process and the shape of a new government. The opposition is demanding a "basket" of guarantees on the new government line-up ahead of any vote. The majority has insisted that the make-up of the government was within the prerogatives of the president, traditionally drawn from the Maronite Christian community, which has expressed fears for its role in the Muslim-dominant country. Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, an influential Christian leader within the ruling coalition, accused the opposition of blocking the presidential election and warned that the majority was considering action. "We did not want vacuum, so we accepted considering the army chief as a compromise president, but the other party's positions led to this deadlock," he told LBCI television on Saturday. "But we will not accept the vacuum continuing. We are studying alternatives," he warned, without elaborating. Geagea blamed the repeated postponement of the presidential vote since September on former powerbroker Syria, which pulled out its troops from Lebanon after 29 years of military domination under international pressure in 2005. "Syria does not want anything from Lebanon, it actually wants all of Lebanon ... It is now trying, in unfortunate ways, to return to Lebanon," he said.(AFP) Beirut, 22 Dec 07, 12:47

Sarkozy to Discuss Lebanon, Mediterranean Union in Egypt
Naharnet/French President Nicolas Sarkozy will discuss the ongoing political crisis in Lebanon while making a pitch for his proposed Mediterranean Union during an official visit to Egypt on December 30 and 31, his spokesman said Friday. Sarkozy will hold talks with President Husni Mubarak, "whose experience has made him one of the most enlightened observers in the region and on its developments", said presidential spokesman David Martinon. In talks with Mubarak, the president will discuss his proposal for the union grouping countries of the Mediterranean rim that is to be set in motion at a Paris summit in July.
Presented as a bridge between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the Mediterranean Union has also been seen as an alternative to Turkish membership into the European Union. Talks between Sarkozy and Mubarak will also touch on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Sudan and the fight against terrorism, Martinon said.
The spokesman declined to comment on reports that Sarkozy may travel to Egypt ahead of the official visit for a holiday, possibly with his new companion Carla Bruni, a former supermodel turned pop singer. Sources told AFP that Sarkozy would travel to Luxor on Christmas Day for a two-day visit before heading to the Red City resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to spend the holidays with family and friends.He is due to return to Paris on New Year's Eve.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 21 Dec 07, 19:36

Aoun: Bush, Sarkozy Incapable of Escalation
Naharnet/Opposition leader MP Michel Aoun on Friday dismissed George Bush's threats, saying the U.S. President and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy were "incapable of escalating" the situation in Lebanon. Aoun, after a meeting of his parliamentary bloc in Rabiyeh, predicted the postponement of Saturday's presidential elections session. "There is no agreement and all dialogue lines are broken" he justified. Aoun added that electing a president by simple majority is no longer a viable option.The Christian leader didn't rule out a possibility to meet Lebanese Forces Leader Samir Geagea if the latter "takes his own decisions" independently from his allies.

Hizbullah Lashes out at Bush for Urging Majority MPs to Elect a President
Naharnet/Hizbullah blasted on Friday U.S. President George Bush for urging Lebanon's anti-Syrian lawmakers to push through their own choice for president if need be to resolve the country's long political deadlock. Bush's comments a day earlier were the first time the U.S. leader urged such a step. The anti-Syrian bloc in Lebanon has avoided trying to use its slim majority in parliament to elect a president. Hizbullah's deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Kassem, said in a statement Friday that the American leader's "orders" will not be implemented in Lebanon. "Bush still thinks he can bet again on achieving some gains for America and Israel in Lebanon, despite consecutive and accumulated failures in the region," Kassem said, apparently referring to U.S. policies in Iraq and Hizbullah's war last year with Israel.
In his speech Thursday, Bush called on Syria to stop interfering in Lebanon's politics and said that if the Lebanese parliament fails to meet a two-third quorum needed to elect a compromise president, then the Western-backed majority lawmakers should elect their own candidate.
"The March 14th Coalition can run their candidate and their parliament; majority plus one ought to determine who the president is. And when that happens, the world ought to embrace the president," Bush said Thursday.
The parliament has made several attempts to elect a president but failed to do so as opposition legislators boycott the sessions.
The Hizbullah-led opposition maintains the vote for president would not be legal and would violate the constitution without the two-thirds quorum.
"American President Bush announced the bad news and gave his direct orders to his group in Lebanon to violate the constitution," Kassem said in the Hizbullah-distributed statement. "At a time when the Lebanese are trying to reach an accord, he is trying to create problems between them", he added.
"Bush, your orders will not be implemented and your tutelage is rejected," Kassem said. "Lebanon is not a farm that you can do whatever you want with it."
Earlier this week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch in a visit to Lebanon, accused the Hizbullah-led opposition of obstructing the vote for the country's top post by boycotting parliament sessions and setting conditions for the future government, including distribution of Cabinet posts.(AP-Naharnet) Beirut, 21 Dec 07, 17:28

The Future of the Syrian-Iranian Alliance
Bilal Y. Saab and Bruce O. Riedel
Al-Hayat - 21/12/07//
It is no secret that the Bush administration's basic idea behind the Annapolis peace process is not so much to push for a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis but to gather the pro-US Arab states under the aegis of a peace process for the purpose of containing or at least balancing the rising power of Iran. While President Bush would very much like to be remembered as the American president who sponsored a solution to the seemingly eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his last year in office, his priority and more urgent goal is however to prevent the mullahs of Iran from producing an atomic bomb and becoming the region's bully.
By inviting the Syrians and including the issue of the Golan Heights on the conference agenda, some in Washington also hoped they could start a process that would aim at decoupling Damascus from Tehran, an outcome that could help Israel neutralize the military threats it is facing from Hizb'allah and Hamas.
But unless Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are prepared for a new approach toward Damascus, partial measures and half steps will most probably draw Syria closer to Iran and convince it to stick to its role of peace spoiler whether between Israelis and Palestinians or between Israelis and Lebanese. History and pragmatic Syrian and Iranian statecraft suggest that the Syrian-Iranian alliance will outlive Annapolis and its aftermath.
Taking Syria away from the Iranian orbit is sound policy for obvious reasons that have been laid out by various officials in Washington and Arab capitals, but it is worth remembering why past attempts have failed and why this current one will most likely yield no different results. Throughout the 1980s, Americans and Arabs tried hard to convince Hafez Assad to break with Khomeini's Iran. At the time, Assad had valid reasons to abandon his alliance with the Iranians: secure his country's eastern flank with Iraq because of the prospect of a conflict with Israel; put an end to Syria's marginalization in Arab politics with the consolidation of the Egyptian-Jordanian-Iraqi axis; Iranian activity and interference in Lebanon via Hizb'allah which threatened vital Syrian interests in that country; and finally Khomeini's decision to stop delivering oil to Syria which severely impacted on the Syrian economy.
Despite all these reasons and the strenuous efforts by King Hussein's Jordan, King Fahd's Saudi Arabia, and Mubarak's Egypt in summer 1987 to put considerable pressure on Syria to sever its links with Iran and mend fences with Iraq, Assad did not leave his Iranian friends in the cold. Assad was a strategic thinker. He understood that realignment with Iraq would do little to mitigate his country's security concerns or further its regional interests. Iran and Syria obviously did not see eye to eye on all issues that concerned them, but they agreed on the most critical: US deployment in the Gulf threatened the two nations' strategic interests. That was enough reason for them to firm up their alliance.
Today, there is no doubt that the Middle East's strategic map is different. Also, Hafez Assad is gone and Bashar Assad, his young, ill-experienced and risk-taking son is in power. Nevertheless, the United States remains present in the Middle East, having become more involved than ever with its occupation of Iraq and its active promotion of a poorly designed democratization strategy, both of which unnerved pro-US Arab leaders. Today, US and Israeli policies and actions in the region are once again perceived by Iran and Syria as threatening to their national security. Both have seen their nuclear designs targeted, and reportedly set back by American pressure and Israeli airpower respectively. This is enough reason for them to shore up their alliance.
A peace deal between Syria and Israel is achievable, but it will require meaningful concessions and a win-win mentality from both nations. Israel will have to withdraw to the 1967 borders, including the northeast shore of Lake Tiberius. Syria will have to provide Israel with credible security guarantees starting with an agreement, which Hafez Assad agreed to in Shepherdstown and Geneva in 2000, on large demilitarized zones on both sides of the border. Fearing that giving up the Golan would undermine their own security, Israelis will be asking Washington (as they did in 2000) for a security package deal worth approximately $20 billion, if not more. Washington's role will therefore be not limited to brokering a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement but also financing it.
In 2000, the Syrians believed (and still do) at Shepherdstown that the Israelis were in no position to impose conditions on them - breaking with Iran - to make peace and that withdrawal from the Golan was a legitimate right accorded to them by the United Nations' Security Council Resolution 242. Territorial sovereignty, for the Syrians, is a non-negotiable right. There was always room for cooperation and compromise when it came to Lebanon and the Palestinians, but as far as Syria's right to have good relations with Iran was concerned, the Israelis, as Syrian foreign minister Faruq al Shara' (now deputy president) kept insisting, were going too far. Today, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says that Syria "knows what to do" in order for the two nations to make peace, it is code word for Syria abandoning Iran and cutting its ties to Hizb'allah and Hamas. Syria might consider the latter but would find no reason to compromise on the former.
The Syrian-Iranian alliance, solid since the Iranian revolution in 1979, is not and has never been perfect. Its fault lines are considerable - especially in post-Saddam Iraq and post-Syria Lebanon - but the two nations' ability to withstand serious setbacks, make periodic reviews of their relationship, and most importantly not compromise on issues involving national security proved that the Syrian-Iranian nexus is more than a marriage of convenience; it has indeed become a mature and institutionalized alliance which is not likely to be broken by virtual carrots and empty promises by Washington and now Moscow. Peace between Syria and Israel, if and when it happens, will most likely redefine the parameters of the Syrian-Iranian alliance but will not lead to its demise. Not bad as an end result.
Bilal Y. Saab is Senior Research Assistant at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Bruce O. Riedel is Senior Fellow at the Saban Center at Brookings