December 29/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 2,13-18.
When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him."Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, "Out of Egypt I called my son."When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.

Free Opinions and Releases
The International Court is Coming Quicker than Everyone Thinks-Dar Al-Hayat-December 28/07
Between Democracy and Civil War-By: Mshari Al-Zaydi -Asharq Alawsat-December 28/07
The tragedy of another assassination, and of an entire generation- The Daily Star-December 28/07
Petraeus' plans for 2008, Iraq's transition year-
By David Ignatius-December 28/07 

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for December 28/07-Naharnet
Lebanon's presidential vote set to be delayed for 11th time-AFP
Geagea: Hizbullah Seeking to Restore Syrian Influence over Lebanon-Naharnet
New Clues Surface in El-Hajj Murder Case-Naharnet
Berri Sees Majority Petition 'Useless'-Naharnet
Would Iran Facilitate Lebanon's Presidential Election?
Mekdad Calls on US to Broker Peace with Israel, warns Syria has More Weapons than Hizbullah-Naharnet
Hamadeh Urges Berri to Convene Saturday's Session
Fairuz, other Intellectuals Taking part in Events as Damascus Becomes 2008 Arab Cultural Capital
Army Denies Officers Against Promotions

Foreign Ministry plans to drop Syria from 'radical axis' list-
Sfeir Rejects Enchaining the New President with Preconditions-Naharnet
Concerns over ongoing crisis spoils Christmas for

Pakistan's Bhutto assassinated by suicide bomber-Daily Star
German chancellor names Iran as top security concern-Daily Star
Khatami returns from shadows to challenge Iran conservatives-AFP
Saniora Telephones Aoun
Lebanese MPs seek law to name army chief as president-AFP
March 14 MPs deliver petition calling for Parliament session-Daily Star
Syria says Israel's aura of invincibility is long gone-AFP
Army denies officers refused promotions-Daily Star
Sfeir calls on all Lebanese to do their part to sow peace, tranquility-Daily Star
NGO appeals for road safety ahead of New Year's- Daily Star
Belgian defense minister pays visit to country's UNIFIL troops-Daily Star
Hizbullah and 'entire opposition' behind Suleiman-Daily Star
Lebanon: a precious but fragile treasure-Daily Star
Lebanon's new president needs a reform agenda-Daily Star
Qtel to bid for Lebanese mobile firm-Daily Star
Non-ID Palestinian refugees want to live normal lives, but are told: you do not exist- Daily Star
Oil-spill spat loses no momentum in 2007-Daily Star
Beirut's contemporary art scene struggled through 2007
-Daily Star

Sfeir Rejects Enchaining the New President with Preconditions
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir rejected enchaining the new president with conditions prior to electing him. Sfeir, following a meeting with FPM MP Walid Khoury in Bkerki, said "the obstacles are numerous but must be resolved"."Is it reasonable to enchain the president and force him to name an army commander and a prime minister before electing him?" he asked. Sfeir also criticized shutting the parliament and hampering the government's efficiency. The opposition is demanding a "basket" of guarantees on the new government line-up ahead of any vote. However, Parliamentary majority has insisted that the make-up of the government is within the prerogatives of the president, traditionally drawn from the Maronite Christian community, which has expressed fears for its role in the Muslim-majority country. Beirut, 27 Dec 07, 19:55

Saniora Telephones Aoun
Premier Fouad Saniora telephoned Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun to pass on good wishes for the holiday season.
Local media reports said the two politicians didn't discuss the ongoing political crisis and didn't disclose details.
Aoun, the opposition leader, says the government of Saniora has no legal authority since all five Shiite cabinet members resigned last year, and has repeatedly asked the prime minister to submit his cabinet's resignation.Saniora's government is practicing presidential powers in line with constitutional norms since the parliament's repeated failure to elect a new head of state. The country plunged in presidential void since Syrian-backed Emile Lahoud's term expired on November 23 without feuding political rivals agreeing on a successor. Beirut, 27 Dec 07, 20:30

Berri Sees Majority Petition 'Useless'

Speaker Nabih Berri has described as "unnecessary and useless" a petition submitted by majority MPs to Parliament in a bid to name Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as president. Arafat Hijazi, Berri's media adviser, said that the speaker regarded the petition as "unnecessary and useless" because an amendment is no longer required to elect Suleiman president. "For this reason the speaker has not convened a session of Parliament to amend the Constitution but only one to elect a president," Hijazi told The Daily Star. He said an interpretation of Article 49 by former Justice Minister Bahij Tabbara, which both Berri and the ruling majority accepted, stated that all constitutional limits are lifted because of a vacancy in the presidency. In addition, the restriction is also lifted from Article 49 barring grade one civil servants from the presidency for two years after resigning from their posts, Hijazi said, clarifying that that MPs can elect Suleiman directly without an amendment. "The majority presented the petition to embarrass the speaker and to show that they are in a hurry to elect a president and end the presidential vacuum and show that the opposition is not," Hijazi said. As for a parliamentary session set for Saturday to elect a new President, he said it seems unlikely to convene as long as "lines of communication between the parties are severed." Beirut, 28 Dec 07, 08:40

Geagea: Hizbullah Seeking to Restore Syrian Influence over Lebanon

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea accused Hizbullah of seeking to restore Syrian influence over Lebanon. Geagea said the anti-government March 8 camp was "hampering (the election process) …. because it is trying to restore Syria's influence over Lebanon."In an interview with New TV late Thursday, Geagea pointed out that Hizbullah "in line with a strategic thinking wants to reinstate the Syrian umbrella over Lebanon because it has big plans that require an umbrella to protect it."
He said Hizbullah's "scope of operation is farther than Lebanon. It starts from al Maghreb and ends in Pakistazn."Geagea said Hizbullah's concerns were unlike those of the Lebanese government "whose only concern is the Lebanese people."Geagea stressed the need to elect Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as President "since he is a compromise" candidate "and (since) there is nothing to prevent this step from being achieved, and the rest of the issues would be discussed afterward." He also urged Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun to meet him as head of the Lebanese Forces on "the presidential election issue without preconditions." Beirut, 28 Dec 07, 08:40

New Clues Surface in El-Hajj Murder Case

New clues have surfaced in the murder of the Lebanese army's operations chief Brig. Gen. Francois el-Hajj after authorities identified the owners of the BMW car that was used in the Dec. 12 assassination, according to local media reports. Beirut dailies An Nahar and As Safir on Friday said progress has been made in the investigation into el-Hajj's murder after the Lebanese intelligence service obtained pictures of the two men who bought the car that was used in the bombing.
The BMW vehicle that was rigged with over 35 kilograms of explosives was bought in the village of Abra east of the southern port city of Sidon.
An Nahar said the intelligence apparatus in south Lebanon was able to determine how the car was purchased prior to the explosion in Baabda that killed el-Hajj and his bodyguard, Kheirallah Hadwan. It said the two suspects are believed to be Lebanese. Meanwhile, As Safir raised questions as to why the suspects' photos were not published in the media. It quoted sources, however, as saying that a U.N. international probe investigating the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and seven other anti-Syrian figures has demanded that the suspects pictures not be published. Saeed Mirza, Lebanon's prosecutor-general, described as "inaccurate" the reports by An Nahar and As Safir and asked for an investigation into the matter. Beirut, 28 Dec 07, 07:35

Hamadeh Urges Berri to Convene Saturday's Session

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh urged House Speaker Nabih Berri to convene a parliamentary session set for Saturday to elect a new President for Lebanon. Hamadeh also called upon Berri to convene the assembly prior to Saturday's session to approve a constitutional amendment bill proposed by the majority MPs. "A constitutional amendment will be sent to the government, and then we can elect General Suleiman as president," Hamadeh told the Voice of Lebanon radio station on Friday, stressing that the March 14 alliance was "trying to bring the (political) crisis to an end." He said a cabinet session scheduled for later Friday will discuss a number of items that have been put on hold by former President Emile Lahoud, adding that there was no specific agenda. Hamadeh said that the issue of officer promotions was restricted to martyrs. Beirut, 28 Dec 07, 10:10

Mekdad Calls on US to Broker Peace with Israel, warns Syria has More Weapons than Hizbullah

A senior Syrian minister has called on the United States to help re-start peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.
"It would be very difficult to re-activate the peace process without the United States," Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the Financial Times Deutschland on Thursday. Mekdad said he hoped U.S. President George Bush would re-consider his refusal to intervene in stalled efforts to find peace between Syria and Israel, who have technically been at war since 1948. Mekdad said Syria's basic position was unchanged -- that the return of the strategic Golan Heights plateau, which Israel captured in 1967 and annexed in 1981, was "non-negotiable". Disagreements over the Golan Heights caused the last round of talks between the neighbors to break down in 2000. "We want to get our land back in a peaceful way. But if required, we have already shown that we are also prepared to make sacrifices," Mekdad said. The minister warned Israel that its army had lost its aura of invincibility since its better-armed troops failed to overpower Hizbullah militants in Lebanon in 2006. "The (Israeli) superiority did not lead to surrender. And Syria has a lot more weapons than Hizbullah," Mekdad said.
Beirut, 28 Dec 07, 10:57

Fairuz, other Intellectuals Taking part in Events as Damascus Becomes 2008 Arab Cultural Capital

Damascus heads into a new year as the cultural capital of the Arab world for 2008, hosting a year-long series of theatrical and musical events, along with talks by renowned intellectuals.
American linguist and leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky, Czech writer Milan Kundera and Lebanon's famed songstress Fairuz are among the personalities coming to Syria as Damascus assumes the cultural mantle from Algiers.
But not everyone welcomes the planned events, with Syrian writer Ibrahim Haj Abdi calling them "ephemeral cultural festivities."
"Syrian intellectuals might have believed these promises (by the organizers) if only they had been accompanied by efforts to free one of the country's most important intellectuals, Michel Kilo," he wrote in Sunday's pan-Arab daily newspaper Al-Hayat, published in London.
Kilo was jailed in 2006 for being a co-signatory of the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, along with nearly 300 Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals. In May this year he was sentenced to three years in prison. The declaration called for an overhaul of ties between the two states and for Syrian recognition of the independence of Lebanon, where Damascus was the major powerbroker for three decades until 2005. Twenty years after she last performed in Syria, Fairuz -- the greatest female Arab singer since Egypt's Umm Kalsum -- will take to the stage on January 28. In May, a conference will bring together Chomsky, Kundera and novelist Isabel Allende, the daughter of former Chilean president Salvador Allende. Another Syrian novelist writing in Al-Hayat also slammed the organizers of the year's festivities.
"My experience with the organizers quickly dismissed any hope... of seeing it revive the role of culture that has been destroyed over decades" in Syrian society, wrote Samar Yazbek. The cultural year will get under way on January 10 with a fireworks display on Mount Qassiun overlooking Damascus, followed by an official ceremony nine days later.(AFP) Beirut, 28 Dec 07, 10:10

Concerns over ongoing crisis spoils Christmas for Lebanese

In their homilies Catholic and Orthodox bishops speak about the population’s fears over the continuing political vacuum, growing poverty and rising emigration. People pray that the country may find peace and tranquility.
12/27/2007 16:01
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Lebanon’s bishops echoed during Christmas ceremonies the concerns most Lebanese have for the future as the instability caused by the country’s ongoing political crisis and the failure to elect a new head of state continues. As urged by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir Lebanon’s Catholics and Orthodox worshippers prayed that the country may find “stability, development, tranquility and peace.”Mgr Youssef Kallas, Greek-Orthodox bishop of Beirut, spoke about the “immense frustration” that Christians and the country feel this Christmas. In light of the growing poverty and the rising costs of living and emigration that are splitting families, the bishop condemned the “the all-pervasive paralysis and corruption affecting all levels of society, be they social, political or administrative,” this at a time when politicians are entangled in “endless conflicts” and “petty calculations in which everyone is pursuing his own interests.”
He lamented that political scheming runs the risk of causing political chaos and general collapse so much so that “we have reached the point where some are raising doubts about the constitution.”Mgr Boulos Matar, the Maronite bishop of Beirut, warned that the Lebanese must realise that “their salvation is in their hands and that they have no choice but to close ranks.”Speaking about the country’s religious pluralism, Bishop Matar said that this “feature depends on a shared desire to live together taken years ago. Today however it appears that we have become strangers to one another.”For his part Rev Elias Kfoury, metropolitan of Sidon and Tyre, said that “the nation expects us to make sacrifices for its sake” and “not pursue interests at its expense.”

German chancellor names Iran as top security concern

Compiled by Daily Star staff
Friday, December 28, 2007
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that heading off the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, with tougher sanctions if needed, remains a "vital interest" for the world community, according to a report Thursday. Iran's nuclear program is "one of our biggest security policy concerns," Merkel wrote in an article for the daily Handelsblatt, which the newspaper posted on its Web site ahead of print publication on Friday. Germany, along with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, has played a leading role in addressing worries over Iran's nuclear work. Earlier this month, an American push for new sanctions was dampened with the release of a new US intelligence report concluding Iran had halted a nuclear weapons development program in 2003 and had not resumed it since. Merkel did not refer specifically to that assessment, but wrote that "it is dangerous and still grounds for great concern that Iran, in the face of the UN Security Council's resolutions, continues to refuse to suspend uranium enrichment," Handelsblatt reported.
Iran, as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is afforded the right to peaceful uranium enrichment. "The Iranian president's intolerable agitation against Israel also speaks volumes," Merkel was quoted as saying. "It remains a vital interest of the whole world community to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran - if necessary, with the further toughening of sanctions." Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Amid the enduring fears in the West over Iran's nuclear program, the White House expressed concern Wednesday over Iran's announcement that Russia would supply it with S-300 air missile defense systems.
"We have ongoing concerns about the prospective sale of such weapons to Iran and other countries of concern," Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, said from Crawford, Texas. Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar announced Wednesday that Russia would deliver the system, but said the date for the delivery would be unveiled later. Moscow has not confirmed the sale. Earlier this year Moscow frustrated the US by delivering to Tehran 29 TOR-M1 air defense missile systems, in a deal estimated to be worth $700 million. Separately, in a rare act of cooperation, Libya and Iran signed a series of cooperation accords on Thursday during a visit by Iranian Vice President Parvis Davoudi, the first such high level trip by an official from Iran in a quarter of a century.
Davoudi met Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and other senior officials for discussions that focused on economic cooperation and Iran's nuclear program, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalgham said. The accords covered the creation of a joint investment committee as well as cooperation in the fields of tourism, higher education, maritime transport and fishing, and an agreement between the two countries' central banks, a Libyan official said. - Agencies

Lebanon Between Democracy and Civil War
Mshari Al-Zaydi -Asharq Alawsat
As 2007 draws to a close it seems as if Lebanon is likely to replace Iraq in Middle East headlines. Still without a president and limping along under a caretaker government, Lebanon is manifesting the early signs of a failed state.
At first glance, the crisis appears to have been prompted by the failure of the parliament to elect a new president. In reality, however, the problem goes beyond the mere election of a president. After all, the Lebanese political system is centred on the parliament with the prime minister exercising executive power. The president could slow things down but is in no position to force a change of course or set a new agenda for the nation.
The fight in Lebanon is not over who should become president, although ex-General Michel Aoun’s personal ambitions and Syria’s attempts at imposing one of its clients on Lebanon have highlighted the issue. The real fight in Lebanon is over the nation’s structural political development, it is a choice between democracy and civil war.
Under democracy, Lebanon should have elected a new president weeks ago. Both the text of the constitution and decades of practice provide the guidelines required. The parliament should start by attempting to elect a president with a two-third majority of its members. If no such majority emerges after three round of voting, the parliament has the right and the duty to choose a president with a simple majority.
(The elections of Suleiman Frangieh and Bashir Gemayel to the presidency set the precedent.)
What the constitution does not provide for is cynical political horse-trading outside the constitutional framework. And this is precisely what the 8 March opposition faction, backed by Tehran and Damascus, has been trying to impose right from the start. The pro-Tehran faction wants things to be “arranged” behind the scenes as is the practice in the Islamic Republic itself where all candidates are vetted by a group of mullahs and no one is declared a winner of any election unless he receives the stamp of approval from parallel organs of power.
The majority, known as the 18 March bloc, made its first mistake by accepting to be drawn into horse-trading and parallel manoeuvres designed to by-pass the legitimate organs of power such as the parliament and the council of ministers.
Instead of going ahead and electing a president in accordance with transparent constitutional rules and practice, the majority became a party to Byzantine manoeuvres some of which were designed in foreign capitals.
One reason why the 18 March bloc entered this sinister game was France’s quixotic intervention.
Anxious to pull off a diplomatic coup early in his term, President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner managed to persuade the Lebanese majority to take part in a set of extra-constitutional efforts to resolve the problem. They organised a game in which Damascus and Tehran were recognised as legitimate players with veto power. They then brought the prelate of the Maronite Church, Cardinal Sfeir, into play, also giving him a veto, as if Lebanon had an ersatz version of the Iranian system of “walayt faqih” (rule by the mullahs).
These manoeuvres produced three results.
First, it was established that the majority, although it is supposed to reflect the interests and view of most Lebanese people, does not have the right to choose the president. This, if it is allowed to stick, will set a terrible and dangerous precedent. Why should a majority not choose the person it considers as the most qualified for the job? Should it lie to the people by pretending that a candidate that it wouldn’t have even considered for the job is the best?
The second result of the Byzantine game was to significantly underline Lebanese sovereignty by giving Tehran, Damascus, Paris, and in a roundabout way Washington an almost official say in who should become Lebanon’s next president. This too, if allowed to stick, would set a dangerous precedent. To be sure, weak states such as Lebanon can never ignore the views of powerful neighbours and big powers with regional geo-strategic concerns. However, this does not mean giving outsiders a direct, almost institutional, role in domestic politics.
The third result of the game was that it whetted the appetite of all those who do not, indeed cannot, accept Lebanon as an independent and sovereign nation. Once the majority had accepted to consider a compromise formula for the presidential election, the opposition, no doubt egged on by Tehran and Damascus, started to ask for more. By the start of this week, ex-General Aoun, Tehran’s point man in this phase of the Lebanese crisis, was trying to dictate the composition and the policies of the future government. He was telling everyone whom Iran would or would not accept as the next prime minister and whom Tehran and Damascus wish to see excluded from future ministerial posts.
The pro-Iran faction wants one-third plus one of the future Cabinet positions, effectively securing a veto power on all key issues. It also wants to decapitate the majority by insisting that its key leaders, that is to say Saad Hariri, Fouad Siniora and Walid Jumblatt should be excluded from the future government.
Last but not least, the pro-Iran faction wants the future government to stop cooperating with the United Nations’ Security Council probe into the murder of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 and close the files of a series of other political murders for which, rightly or wrongly, Syria has received the blame. In other words, the minority wants to rule without a popular mandate.
All this means that the minority wants to impose its agenda on the majority without elections. It tells the Lebanese that they cannot live in a democracy and that their fate should be decided by rival foreign powers. All this is done under the threat of civil war. Hezballah pulls Aoun’s strings while its own strings are pulled by Tehran and Damascus.
Lebanon can avoid civil war only if the majority has the courage of its convictions. The March 18 bloc has no mandate from its electorate to enter into shady deals that would undermine the nation’s independence and sovereignty. Its mandate is to act under the constitution and elect a new president, with a simple majority it necessary. All those powers that wish to see a stable Lebanon should support that choice by making it clear that they will defend the choice of the Lebanese people. If the faction backed by Tehran and Damascus then wishes to provoke a civil war, it would have to assume its responsibility openly.
The best way out of the current crisis is the shortest and the most transparent one, that is to say the constitutional way.

The International Court is Coming Quicker than Everyone Thinks
Raghida Dergham
Al-Hayat - 28/12/07//
NEW YORK: Photo-op diplomacy and the studied noise campaign to save the heads of states and regimes from accountability has failed, no matter how much they try to drug public opinion, which has also failed at true self-determination in many countries. This is thanks to the arts of putting the public to sleep and being lazy about precision in the strategies of nations and the tactics of governments. The US is a good example of the supremacy of these arts and the practice of toying with people's minds during election campaigns, especially when Congress or the White House carry out their duties This takes place with huge assistance from the media, and is not just a result of slick media and advertising campaigns. This is how public opinion is led in one direction or another, until a surprise appears, along with a date for holding US President George Bush accountable; Bush is perhaps now paying the price of the excessive use of the technology of words and pictures.
Damascus is resorting to a campaign of polishing its image through the western media in particular. It is adopting the technique of photo-op diplomacy to break its isolation. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is provoking jealousy by having the model Carla Bruni on his arm, followed by hundreds of cameras. However, he cannot flee from the repercussions of his policies for the future of a country that represents the principal front of the west's relationship with Iran, the battle between extremism and moderation, and the trading a reward for blackmail for insisting on accountability in Lebanon. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has found in the arts of "opportunity" offered by the picture and the "sentence" that catches the attention of the finest media to impose himself upon the local and international political arena, and in the battles of survival against the men of the ruling establishment, who want to get rid of him in Tehran.
One of the most important arenas of bickering and understanding, which represents the common denominator among these four men, is Lebanon. The country must be a part of any US-Iranian understanding or confrontation because of the organic relationship between the regime in Tehran and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Any French rehabilitation of Syria passes through Lebanon, where the regime in Damascus wants to eliminate the international court to try those involved in political assassinations as a reward for "cooperating" with the facilitation of a president of the Republic.
The items that politicians, diplomats, analysts, academics, Americans, Europeans and Arabs should understand is the meaning of the international court to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and the necessity of removing it from the realm of political bargaining. It's a message of not allowing the avoidance of punishment, which will be decisive for the future of both the Arab and Islamic worlds.
A second item is the need to stop the rush toward rewarding blackmail, whether in Iraq or in Lebanon, under the heading of dialogue, or requesting assistance to avoid battles and wars. Rewarding those who send al-Qaida fighters across borders to Iraq or recruit Iraqi militiamen represents the enabling of the logic of escalation, fear-mongering, intimidation and issuing dictates. This is an investment in a frightening future, will see the experience repeated, and succeed.
The third thing is the Lebanese experiment, which represents the main front in the battle for democracy and freedom in the Arab world. In Lebanon, the battle is between the state, supported by the parliamentary and popular majority, and the militias, supported by Iran and Syria. The steadfastness of the state and the majority in the face of all Syrian and Iranian attempts to bring it down is a testament to the new qualitative element in the entire Arab region, steadfastness to confront the continuing political assassinations and methodical destruction of national institutions, beginning with Parliament and the presidency, and the ongoing efforts to destroy the army and the Lebanese government. This state of affairs is unprecedented.
For these reasons, we should pay attention to what is happening in Lebanon, where Syria and Iran have succeeded in obstructing the election of a president and creating a vacuum in state institutions, despite all of the dialogue that has been carried out with them by France and the US, and a number of Arab countries. In short, Syria's strategy has sprung from obstructing the work of the Lebanese Parliament, headed by its ally Nabih Berri, who has actually rejected taking the keys to Parliament out of his pocket to allow the holding of elections.
The error committed by Nabih Berri in obstructing the endorsement of the international court in the Lebanese Parliament is that the court is no longer influenced by the Lebanese, and will bring even more nightmares to those guilty of the crimes. Today everyone who is wagering on the destruction of Lebanon's state institutions as a means to abolish the court will fall into a similar trap. They should be aware of the following: the international court is no longer in the hands of the Lebanese government, presidency, Parliament and state. It's now the property of the international community.
It's time to draw the attention of those concerned to the fact that there is no room for political bargaining and deals to avoid the court, which will try those involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and his comrades, and the other assassinations of MPs, journalists and intellectuals, and the leading members of the Lebanese Army. These are all terrorist assassinations, according to the official definition of the UN Security Council. No friendly country, or country ready to bargain, can stop the court.
Perhaps Damascus did not err but rather bought time, by using Nicolas Sarkozy's acceptance of Syria and George Bush's belief that he can pay attention to Lebanon and forget about it the next, with not cost. Perhaps Damascus saw political and media seduction as a case of the time being right for a campaign to cozy up to some Arab states, to make Syria's hosting of the Arab Summit in March a success.
Damascus is being eaten up by its obsession with Lebanon and the international court and is trying to use its alliance with Iran to bargain over the survival and rehabilitation of its regime. Therefore, it uses photo-ops as a tactical opportunity in its strategy of breaking its isolation and being rehabilitated.
France has stumbled and Jordan as well, for special reasons. Each has given Damascus the opportunity of using the media to make gains. The French say that their president has spoken repeatedly on the phone, and the Jordanians say that King Abdullah II will not bargain over Lebanon or enter negotiations over the Lebanese presidency, as the French have done. Both believe in giving Syria a golden opportunity and if this opportunity isn't taken, no one will help Damascus exit its predicament. Some peddle the idea that it is impossible to split Damascus from the regime in Iran, which leaves the fundamental question: what do we do with Syria when it moves outside the Arab fold?
Of course, this isn't the first time that Syria has strategically allied with Iran. Syria has played the Iranian card repeatedly with the countries of the Gulf, and especially during the Iran-Iraq War which began in the 1970s and lasted until the 1980s. However, this is a completely different time. It is a time of accountability and being put on trial.
The Arab countries that are testing their attractiveness with the Syrian leadership to influence Damascus regarding its ties with Iran should be careful. They are not in a position that enables them to ask Damascus for things, unless they present gifts ahead of time and supply the photo-op to break its isolation.
The Jordanian monarch might be committed to Lebanon and consider it a red line, but merely participating in the breaking of the isolation of Syria, at a time when Syria is laying siege to the presidency of Lebanon in order to impose a vacuum, might offer a service to Syria at the expense of Lebanon, even if this is unintentional.
Some decision-makers in Arab capitals believe that the interest of their countries requires jumping to normalizing relations with Damascus, in the assumption that the US will not fight the Syrian regime for the sake of Lebanon, because it has decided to not hold it accountable for what it has done in Iraq, even though this has led to the killing of Americans there. They believe that the international court will take years before verdicts are issues and they say that their countries cannot tolerate waiting for five years before setting down foreign policies toward an Arab state. They believe the promises, despite all of the warnings by others who have already tried Damascus' promises, which have remained ink on paper on more than one occasion. Their position is that the Arab Summit is an opportunity, that the Syrian-Palestinian relationship is the basis, since the goal is facilitating the establishment of a Palestinian state, and that bilateral arrangements are of course important, as long as Lebanon remains under testing.
This is exactly what French and US diplomacy feel. Lebanon is a test of Syria. The problem with this idea is that all of those who support it have not been tested.
It's certain that the US-French alliance has begun to lose its patience with Syria; the openly-made comments to this effect by Bush and Sarkozy are not statements made in passing, but they are not enough. Damascus has ignored the carrot and the stick from Washington and Paris. It has insisted on intervention and obstructing the election of a Lebanese president, because it sees a continued vacuum as being in its interest. This is a valuable lesson that should be built on, in view of a number of considerations.
George W Bush has been unable to secure confidence in his efforts toward Palestine, as long has he doesn't take effective measures in Lebanon before traveling to Palestine and Israel; this will restore confidence in him and the US. The goal here is not a competition between Palestine and Lebanon, but the contrary. Both are subject to the tampering of Syria and Iran, and Israel.
Bush must take concrete steps toward Syria to inform it that the US is serious about Lebanon. I don't mean silly measures, but other options that are available to Washington, Paris and New York. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is not responsible for translating the meeting and statement that were issued by a group of states in Paris, at his initiative.
He was delegated by these countries - the US, the UK, the European troika (France, Spain and Italy), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Jordan, and the presidency of the European Union and the European Commission. It's now time for the next step
The message that will be issued by the Security Council when it discusses and measure is clear: Damascus has been obstructing things and trying to impose a methodical vacuum on the institutions of the Lebanese state. It's now time to be held accountable.
The international court is coming, sooner than many people think