March 12/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 13,1-9. At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them --do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!" And he told them this parable: "There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. (So) cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?' He said to him in reply, 'Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.'

Free Opinions
Syria, Iran and the Risks. By: Abdullah Iskandar March 12/07
Deal or no deal, Lebanese politicians seem not to have learned their lesson-Daily Star March 12/07

Latest News Reports From The Daily Star For March 12/07
Self-hating Lebanese - a peculiar national malady
Berri, Hariri agree on need for speedy solution
Tourism minister says Nasrallah can do better
Medical team visits border town of Aita al-Shaab
Israeli aircraft continue airspace violations
No talks with Israel on 1701 'any time soon'
Nazek Hariri says slain PM planned to exit politics
Cabinet session postponed for Berri-Hariri talks
Sabaa toots Lebanon's horn at labor meet
Sayyed blames 'political pressures' for detention
Sfeir warns infighting could still block solution  
Young war victim returns after treatment in France
March 11 rally uses food to attract hundreds
Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For March 12/07
Lebanon's Berri wants crisis end this month-paper-Reuters
Hariri Says Lebanon Crisis Could End Soon-AINA
US doesn't hold talks with Iran, Syria at conference-San Francisco Chronicle
Bush sends new Iraq budget request to US Congress-Reuters
No Accord on New Government Despite 'Swift Paced' Berri-Hariri Talks-Naharnet
Filipinos Who Fled Lebanon War Allowed to Return-Naharnet
Hezbollah keeps low profile while making `preparations'-Toronto Star

Optimism in Lebanon-Spero News
Olmert's Confessions-Asharq Alawsat
Israel decries EU chief Solana's planned visit to Syria-Jerusalem Post
Missing Iranian "Founded" Hezbollah: Israeli Spy-ABC News
Bush administration refrains from shuttle diplomacy in the Mideast-International News Service
NZer set to be freed from Lebanon jail -
Former US secretary of state calls for broad talks with Syria-International Herald Tribune
Damascus and Tehran 'Engage' Washington-Naharnet
Elite Iranian General Defects With Hezbollah’s Arms Secrets-Mediafax
Olmert's Truth-Media Monitors Network

No Accord on New Government Despite 'Swift Paced' Berri-Hariri Talks
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and majority representative Saad Hariri have agreed on "swift paced" consultations to find an exit out of Lebanon's crisis despite failing to agree on the formation of a new government. A joint statement issued after the second round of consultations between Berri, who represents the Hizbullah-led opposition, and Hariri in his capacity as representative of the March 14 majority alliance, said the two agreed on maintaining their "serious talks with a swift pace."It said a "positive atmosphere" prevailed over the second session of the talks which was carried out late Friday.
The talks would recess during the weekend due to Hariri's visit to Abu Dhabi for talks with officials of the United Arab Emirates on regional developments and bilateral relations. No date has been set for the third round of the Berri-Hariri consultations, but an official announcement said the majority representative's visit to the UAE would last for two days. The daily newspaper an-Nahar quoted Hizbullah sources as saying the Berri-Hariri talks "reflect the fact that efforts are being exerted with the objective of achieving a solution" to the crisis which started on Dec. 1 when the opposition staged an open-ended protest aimed at toppling Premier Fouad Saniora's government. However, the Hizbullah sources, expressed "concern that these efforts might face obstacles despite the positive atmosphere that the Saudi-Iranian efforts aim at achieving." Hizbullah's Television mouthpiece, al-Manar, meanwhile said no agreement has been reached on the formation of a new government in which the opposition wants to hold veto powers.
The broadcast also said Iranian National Security chief Ali Larijani and his Saudi Arabian counterpart Prince Bandar Bin Sultan are no more responsible for the "Lebanon file" which is part of the Saudi-Iranian dialogue. The Lebanese issue is now the responsibility of Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers, Prince Saud al-Faisal and Manouchehr Mottaki, respectively, according to the broadcast.
Mottaki, the broadcast said, is expected to visit Beirut "soon." Al-Manar said the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria were "expected" to hold a summit conference at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh soon, presumably prior to the Arab Summit to be held at the Saudi capital of Riyadh later this month. Beirut, 11 Mar 07, 09:59

Hopes of progress as Lebanon crisis talks gather pace
Web posted at: 3/11/2007 9:10:22
Source ::: Agencies
beirut • Lebanon’s parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri met opposition speaker Nabih Berri overnight for their second round of talks in as many days, sparking hopes yesterday of a breakthough in a four-month-old political crisis.
The two men discussed ways out of the crisis that has paralysed the government’s legislative programme since November, was all that a brief dispatch from the official NNA news agency said. The two had met on Thursday night for their first talks since the crisis erupted with the resignation of six pro-Syrian ministers from the cabinet last November. After that encounter, both men issued identical statements, saying that their meeting had been “positive and identified points of convergence that require further consultation and discussions between the two parties.”
Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, which has been spearheading opposition efforts to replace the rump anti-Syrian cabinet of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora with a government of national unity, said it supported the crisis talks. “The opposition is looking for a compromise that will strengthen national unity,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday evening, shortly before the second meeting. “We accept compromise, we accept and support the dialogue launched last night.” Beirut newspapers on Saturday dared to raise hopes of a settlement to the crisis which has seen opposition supporters camped outside the government’s Beirut offices since December 1.
The crisis brought opposing camps out into the streets in January, resulting in running battles. The independent Al-Anwar newspaper said the new meeting raised hope that “a settlement is close.” The pro-opposition Al-Akbar newspaper said: “The door to a solution is open.”
The pro-government Al-Liwa daily agreed. “Berri and Hariri are stepping up their meetings to clear the way for a settlement before the (Arab) summit” in Riyadh on March 28, it said. Only the top-selling An-Nahar daily, also close to the government, took a more cautious line. “The talks could drag on for a long time, even if the intentions are good,” the paper said. The flurry of contacts between Lebanon’s feuding factions follows a March 4 summit in the Saudi capital between King Abdullah and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The two governments — respectively the Siniora cabinet’s main bankroller and Hezbollah’s main foreign backer — reportedly agreed on a comprehensive solution to the two main problems dividing the two sides. These are the opposition demand for a veto in the government and the ratification of an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 murder of Saad Hariri’s father, five-time premier Rafiq Hariri. The younger Hariri said a few days before the Riyadh summit that “there have been efforts by Saudi Arabia and Iran to get the crisis in Lebanon resolved. “So hopefully there is a kind of discussion that is ongoing now in finding an end to this crisis.” The pro-opposition As-Safir daily said yesterday that a settlement would take “courageous decisions” on the two key issues.

Filipinos Who Fled Lebanon War Allowed to Return
The Philippines has allowed Filipino workers who evacuated Lebanon during this summer's war with Israel to return to work with the same employers.
Newly-hired Filipino household helpers will also be allowed to work in Lebanon provided their employers are endorsed by Philippines officials in Lebanon. Such endorsement would come only for Filipino household helpers contracted for Lebanese government officials, the diplomatic corps and international organizations operating in Lebanon. New workers who do not have existing contracts will still not be allowed to go to Lebanon or Nigeria, Labor Secretary Arturo Brion said. The Philippines also said it was partially lifting a ban on the deployment of workers to Nigeria, following a spate of kidnappings among oil workers in the country.
President Gloria Arroyo banned Filipinos from going to work in Nigeria in January after the series of kidnappings. Most of the Filipino hostages have since been released safely. The relaxed rules will allow Filipino workers who need to return to Nigeria to fulfil their existing contracts to proceed to Nigeria, Brion said, adding the changes will also apply to those with contracts in Lebanon. The Philippines called on its nationals to flee Lebanon after fighting broke out between Israel and Hizbullah in July. A ban was also imposed on the deployment of more workers in Lebanon. About 4,000 Filipino workers evacuated Lebanon during the fighting.
The move to relax the rules is aimed at allowing Filipinos who returned home for vacation to go back to work with the same employers.
The decision to partially lift the ban was made in light of the improved security conditions in both countries, Brion said.
But he is still awaiting a full assessment report from the Department of Foreign Affairs before deciding whether to completely lift the bans. This report is expected by the end of March. About eight million Filipinos or almost 10 percent of the population works abroad and their remittances are a major pillar of the country's economy.(AFP) Beirut, 11 Mar 07, 09:40

Syria, Iran and the Risks
Abdullah Iskandar Al-Hayat - 11/03/07//
Both Syria and Iran now feel that they have passed the dangerous stage, as they are showing signs of increasing confidence that their alliance is now no longer under the major threat that they faced with the onset of the American invasion of Iraq.
No longer do any of them have to listen to a list of US demands that have to be met, as in the case with Colin Powell on a previous occasion, or as it seemed when Syria began withdrawing its army from Lebanon, or when the US troops deployed along the borders with Iran.
The outcome of the standoff between the Syrian-Iranian alliance on one side, and the US and Israel on the other, has not been completely settled yet. The Arab axis of moderations is still attempting to settle on a way to transform the position of this alliance, which is opposed to the methods of solving the conflict in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, despite the tactical considerations, calling for the lightening of rhetoric and the declaration of good will prior to the Arab Summit to be held in Riyadh.
The Syrian and Iranian regimes see themselves winning as long as developments do not directly lead to their collapse, from which comes the theory of defiance and betting on the time factor. This is why both regimes excel in the management of crises, because both countries lack any means of the peaceful delegation of power, or the faculty of accountability of performance on the national level.
In these two countries, elections are never a reflection of the popular approval of the politics of the ruling power, its economic performance, or the progress of development and welfare for the benefit of citizens. They are rather a reproduction of the same regime and the same policies, which leads to the creation of an intimate bond between the regime and its policies. Anything else is a matter of life and death.
In parallel to this, the antagonist abides by the rules of the game of democracy, which sets time limits to its ability to remain in power, and shapes the policies of the alternative power through elections. The interests of this side and means of protecting such interests take on different forms when dealing with conflicts.
Syria, for example, may consider Bush's hostile attitude, his support of Israel, and French President Jacque Chirac's personalized relationship with Israel as related to the threat it is facing. But Bush is busy looking for a way out before he leaves office next year, and Chirac will likely announce today his abstention from running for presidency, making his days in the Elysée Palace numbered. This is why the Syrian-Iranian duo has opted for a policy of defiance during critical times, and assault when the politics of their adversaries begin to fall apart.
At the moment, the two sides are capitalizing on the internal turmoil in Israel, the disintegration of the associated political layer, and the search for a leadership that would reclaim the confidence of the masses - which are all repercussions of the war on Lebanon.
Both Syria and Iran, who considered themselves the godfathers of the resistance during the time of war, can now claim many political gains; not only in the domain of inflicting damage upon Israel during an open confrontation, but also in the sphere of affirming their crucial presence during negotiations.
With the political crisis that resulted from the war on Lebanon, Damascus managed to reclaim its role, and Tehran managed to claim its stake. Moreover, both sides regained regional and international recognition of their influential factors in the formula, and of being an unavoidable route that should be taken on the path to a resolution.
Even Chirac is no longer able to stop the European moves in the direction of Damascus, and Bush sent a high level official. It was also impossible to resume the inter-Lebanese dialogue without first acknowledging the Syrian-Iranian position and the interests of the axis they represent.
International negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue, which Damascus perceives as an asset, at least, politically, are falling apart. This gives Iran the margin it needs to move and maneuver. The result was the conflict in interest between the Europeans on one side, the Russians and the Chinese on the other side, and the Americans on yet another side, thus transforming previously adopted and potential future sanctions into tools for exerting political pressure, rather than a deterrent to a program that could develop into military use.
Despite US statements that try to affirm that nothing has changed, the fact that Syria and Iran are key players in the international conference on Iraq, which is being held in Baghdad, is proof of the admission of the fact that the two countries that played a key role in the US' drowning in the Iraqi quagmire are also keys to pacification and stability.
At any rate, Syria and Iran's role in facilitating solutions will not be for free, but will be rewarded through the restoration of their status and interests across the region.
This admission is threatened by nothing except a fatal blow, of which there are currently no indications of it happening.