November 29/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 21,12-19. Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.

Releases. Reports & Opinions
The Future of Franco-Syrian Relations-By: Randa Takieddine. November 29/07 
Lebanon: More Dangerous Than a Presidential Vacuum. By: Tariq Alhomayed. November 28/07
ArDO: The Rabieh of Aoun can never be Bkerke of the Maronites-November 28/07
The Taef, the New Precedent, and the Christians-
Dar Al-Hayat  -Daily Star-November 28/07
Lebanese business can help best by putting its money where its mouth is- By The Daily Star-Nocember 28/07
A new cold war that Iran may not be able to profit from-By Ali-Asghar Kazemi-November 28/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for November 28/07
Gen. Suleiman A Front Runner to Presidential Office, Vague Response by Hizbullah-Aoun-Naharnet
Geagea: Amending the Constitution is an Option Under Consideration-Naharnet
Lebanon Army Commander Sleiman May Be Country's Next President-Bloomberg
Army chief could become Lebanon president: officials-Africasia
Lebanon presidency deadlock eases-MWC News
Annapolis Summit- What Happens Next?Christian Broadcasting Network
Aoun Pledges Sit-ins 'Everywhere"-Naharnet
Brammertz Report Does Not Name Suspects-Naharnet
Syrian Court Adjourns Trial of pro-Lebanese Dissident-Naharnet
Palestinians Fear Losing the Right to Return-Naharnet

Iran Hints at Seeking Hizbullah Help if Attacked by U.S.-Naharnet
Gen. Suleiman Heads to Presidential Palace-Naharnet
Feltman: Prolonged Vacancy in Presidency Unacceptable-Naharnet
Aridi: Presidential Election Unlikely to Happen Friday-Naharnet
Bush calls on Mideast leaders to formally begin talks-AP
Saudis call for Israeli talks with Syria, Lebanon-Reuters
tanks patrol lebanon's streets-The Times
Lebanon resorts to traditional authority-Middle East Times
Syria says Israel ties only after full withdrawal-Reuters
Aoun Threatens to Use 'Different Means' if No Deal is Reached Soon-

Bush tells Syria to steer clear of Lebanese election-Daily Star
Aoun meets Christian figures, warns of harsher 'tone-Daily Star
Mouawad assails Aoun for talks with other Christian figures-Daily Star
The speech Remarks delivered by Culture Minister Tarek Mitri at the Annapolis conference-Daily Star
Brammertz to publish names of four suspects in Hariri killing - newspaper-Daily Star
Saudi envoy says deadlock benefits no one-Daily Star
Winograd can refrain from naming name -court-Daily Star
Filipinos in Lebanon warned to stay indoors-Daily Star
Local newspaper launches monthly news supplement aimed at children-Daily Star
Lebanese ministers say they want to 'go home-Daily Star
Lebanon: More Dangerous Than a Presidential Vacuum
-Asharq Alawsat
IMF gives Beirut good marks but stresses need to implement reforms-Daily Star 
Lecture to compare Northern Ireland, Lebanon-Daily Star
S&P places Lebanon on 'CreditWatch-Daily Star 
Most Lebanese schools stay the course despite political crisis-Daily Star  
Palestinian refugees take dim view of Annapolis-Daily Star  
Presidential vacuum sucks air out of business in Hamra-Daily Star 
'It's all politics:' critic questions inflation figures
-Daily Star  
Bush Shepherds Middle East Peace with Arab-Israeli Participation, Iranian Rejection-Naharnet
Bush to Syria: Leave Lebanon alone-United Press International
Bush at Annapolis Supports Lebanon Presidential Election-Naharnet
Two killed, six wounded in Lebanon clash: police-Africasia
Syria Defends Decision to Attend Summit-The Associated Press
MP Bazzi for electing a Consensus President From Patriarch Sfeir's List-Naharnet

Aridi: Presidential Election Unlikely to Happen Friday
Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said a parliamentary session set for Friday to elect a new president was unlikely to take place.
"It is unlikely the election will take place on Friday," Aridi said, adding that "behind-the-scenes meetings" were underway between the various political leaderships in an effort to find a way out of the presidential stalemate. "But until now, we haven't reached any result," Aridi said. Beirut, 28 Nov 07, 10:40

Iran Hints at Seeking Hizbullah Help if Attacked by U.S.
Tehran has said it will never initiate any attack but has also warned it will strike back with crushing force if the United States launches an assault.
Iranian military officials have publicly threatened to hit U.S. bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and on the Arabian Peninsula with their missiles if Washington attacks.
"Iran will never launch an attack but if Iran is attacked we will respond with all our force against aggressors," Iran's Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was quoted as saying. The commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jarari echoed that, adding that Tehran had "other capabilities that we believe it is our right to use throughout the region and also around the world." In remarks on state-owned Press TV, he said "we think there is a possibility of air campaign against a number of special sites ... but if our enemies are wise, they will never even do that." Without elaborating, he said that with the "same strategies" used by Hizbullah in the group's summer war with Israel last year "we can nullify their (U.S.) military superiority." "Keep in mind that they are stationed near Iran's borders and well within the range of our different weapons." The United States accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapon, a charge that Tehran vehemently denies. It has also vowed never to recognize Israel -- the region's sole if undeclared nuclear power -- and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the Jewish state to be "wiped from the map." Iran is one of the few regional powers absent from a U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. Iranian officials have expressed frustration that states such as Saudi Arabia and its ally Syria are attending the meeting.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 28 Nov 07, 10:50

Feltman: Prolonged Vacancy in Presidency Unacceptable
U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Feltman said a "prolonged vacancy in the presidency is unacceptable -- unacceptable politically and unacceptable confessionally."
Feltman, who has accused other countries of meddling in Lebanon, said after meeting former President Amin Gemayel: "The vacancy caused by the refusal of some Members of Parliament to exercise their responsibility to vote needs to be filled as quickly as possible. Feltman said he was confident that Lebanese MPs "if permitted to vote freely, will elect a President committed to Lebanon's unity, sovereignty, and democracy, and to upholding Lebanon's Constitution and independence." "In closing, let me be clear, especially for those who would for demagogic reasons declare Syria and Iran innocent and the United States guilty of this sad Presidential vacuum: We believe strongly that Lebanon needs a president immediately. "The way to achieve that is simple," Feltman went on, saying MPs should "exercise their obligation and respect democratic principles and vote." "For the sake of Lebanon, and for the sake of the role of the Christian community in Lebanon, the United States would like to see that happen today," he added. Beirut, 28 Nov 07, 11:27

Gen. Suleiman Heads to Presidential Palace
Al-Moustaqbal Parliamentary Bloc announced Wednesday that it accepts a constitutional amendment allowing the election of Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman president. The announcement was made by al-Moustaqbal MP Ammar Houri. It coincided with a statement issued by MP Elias, Atallah, a prominent member of the March 14 alliance saying efforts are underway to amend the constitution to allow the election of Gen. Suleiman for the nation's top post.
Immediate comment from other factions of the March 14 alliance or the Hizbullah-led opposition was not available. It couldn't be determined, however, if the al-Moustaqbal stand would facilitate the election of a new head of state during a parliamentary session scheduled for Friday. Atallah, however, said "The election could take place either Friday or in the following few days.""Serious efforts are underway to achieve consensus on Gen. Suleiman," Atallah told Agence France Presse.
"If the (election) session was not held Friday, it could be held either Saturday or Sunday," he added. Beirut, 28 Nov 07, 14:17

Bush tells Syria to steer clear of Lebanese election
Miitri lists country's concerns at annapolis summit

Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
US President George W. Bush on Tuesday used a Middle East peace conference to warn Syria's government against interfering in Lebanon's effort to elect a new president. Some 40 nations are attending the conference at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Toward the end of his remarks, Bush turned his attention to Lebanon, which has been divided by pro- and anti-Syrian factions. Bush urged the Arab world to let democracy prevail. "The Lebanese people are in the process of electing a president. That decision is for the Lebanese people to make, and they must be able to do so free from outside interference and intimidation," he said.
Lebanese presidents are elected by Parliament, not in direct elections.
"As they embark on this process," Bush added, "the people of Lebanon can know that the American people stand with them and we look forward to the day when the people of Lebanon can enjoy the blessings of liberty without fear of violence or coercion."
Delivering Lebanon's address, acting Foreign Minister Tarek Mitri said Lebanon "rejected permanent resettlement of Palestinian refugees on its territory."
"This is a question of national consensus which is stipulated in [the] Constitution, as it pertains to the very fabric and the specific identity of Lebanon," he said.
Mitri also enlisted a series of issues of "vital concern," such as the end of the Israeli occupation of the Shebaa Farms and the Kfar Shuba Hills and the northern part of Ghajar, the release of prisoners and detainees, the turning over of maps of Israeli minefields and cluster bombs in the South, the halting of Israeli territorial violations, and obstacles to Lebanon's right to make use of its water resources. "These questions must not be a subject of negotiations for their solutions are governed by the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, more particularly Resolution 1701," Mitri said. Lebanon's participation in a US-led Mideast conference has sparked debate among feuding opposition and loyalists. Youth and Sports Minister Ahmad Fatfat expressed surprise at the stance adopted by the opposition. "Why would they criticize Lebanon's participation at the conference, but not Syria's?" Fatfat asked during an interview with Voice of Lebanon. The opposition has said that the current government has no right to attend the talks because it lacks legitimacy. Hizbullah MP Hassan Fadlallah accused the government of "acting upon Bush' orders and overlooking Lebanon's rights." - With agencies

Brammertz to publish names of four suspects in Hariri killing - newspaper

Daily Star staff
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
BEIRUT: Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, who heads the UN investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, will reveal for the first time the names of four suspects in the killing, according to a report published in As-Safir newspaper Tuesday. Quoting a well-informed UN source, As-Safir said the names would be made public in Brammertz's final report, which is to be published this week. "But the source did not reveal the exact role performed by those four people in the assassination process," the daily said. Brammertz's sixth report will be his last before quitting his post at the end of the year.
The UN Security Council is expected to appoint Canada's Daniel Bellemare as successor to Brammertz after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recommended his appointment earlier this month. Bellemare, an expert in international criminal cases, will also be appointed as the prosecutor before the international tribunal which will try those involved in the assassinations, according to the report in As-Safir.
This will be the first time that a commissioner assigned to investigate a criminal case will also be appointed as a prosecutor, the daily added.
According to As-Safir, Ban was due to receive Brammertz's report "today [Tuesday]" but "the report's publishing might be delayed for one or two days so it does not impose any negative effects on the Annapolis conference."The UN Security Council invoked Chapter 7 of the UN Charter earlier this year in approving the creation of a special international court to try suspects in Hariri's 2005 assassination. The special court for Lebanon is expected to consist of a trial chamber that will include two international judges and one Lebanese judge, as well as an appeals chamber which will include three international and two Lebanese jurists.
Lebanon will choose an assistant prosecutor in coordination with Ban. The assistant prosecutor is expected to be Lebanese but no names have been proposed so far.
The As-Safir report said that the selection panel tasked with appointing judges for the tribunal has not yet accomplished its mission.
"The UN secretary general hopes that the panel will complete its task by the end of the year," the newspaper quoted another UN source as saying.
"The selection process is still ongoing and Ban has not made any final decisions yet," the source told the paper, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The selection panel for the court is composed of two judges, currently sitting on or retired from an international tribunal, and the representative of the secretary general, Nicholas Michel, and is tasked with recommending to Ban the names of the four Lebanese judges and seven international judges who should serve on the court, as well as its chief prosecutor.As for the location of the tribunal, media reports said on Tuesday that Holland had proposed a building located in the south of the country near the headquarters of the International Penal Court, between the two cities of The Hague and Leidsendam. - The Daily Star

Tensions rise between Iran, Syria
Houston Chronicle
The U.S.-brokered Mideast peace conference Tuesday raised tensions between allies Syria and Iran. Iran feels it is an implicit target of the Annapolis conference, believing it aims to stem its influence in the region. Damascus made clear it has its own interests: better relations with Arab nations and the West and the possibility of a peace deal with Israel that would win the return of the Golan Heights, seized by the Jewish state in 1967. Tehran avoided direct criticism of Damascus, instead condemning the gathering. Hossein Shariatmadari, an adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the conference was "a plot against the Palestinians."Hamas supporters hold protests
Thousands of Hamas supporters rallied in the streets of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday against the peace conference. The demonstration came a day after thousands of Israelis, also opposed to negotiations to create a Palestinian state, marched from the Western Wall in Jerusalem, to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's residence. Israeli and Palestinian rejectionists have worked to undermine efforts to implement the few agreements reached. Hamas leaders repeated warnings to Abbas not to concede anything, calling him a "collaborator" for attending the conference. Olmert's talk draws applause from Saudi Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal applauded after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finished his speech in Annapolis, according to a member of the U.S. delegation. That was seen as no small thing, coming from the leader of a nation considered the linchpin of Arab support for the coming talks. Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and Saud told reporters he would do nothing to normalize relations until after Palestinian statehood and other territorial issues were resolved.

Syria says Israel ties only after full withdrawal
Tue Nov 27, 2007
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Syria told a U.S. peace conference on Tuesday that Israel should pull out of occupied land before Arab countries would normalize ties with the Jewish state. "The establishment of normal ties with Israel ... must be the fruit of comprehensive peace and not precede it," Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal al-Mekdad told a closed session of the conference in Annapolis, Maryland, attended by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"To phrase it clearly and decisively that this (normalization) comes after the total Israeli withdrawal from the 1967 Arab land," he said in a speech obtained by Reuters.
"We are sincere in seeking a comprehensive and just peace and posses the political will to achieve it."Talks between Israel and Syria collapsed in 2000 after Damascus declined an Israeli offer to withdraw from most of the Golan Heights but not what Syria described as the full occupied territory.
Syria had made it clear that it would only attend the talks in Annapolis if the Golan was on the agenda. The demand was met by Washington which accuses Damascus of supporting militant Palestinian and Lebanese groups.Mekdad reiterated the Syrian position that Israeli occupation of Arab land was the root of instability in the Middle East.(Reporting by Khaled Oweis)

The Taef, the New Precedent, and the Christian
Abdalla Iskandar
Al-Hayat - 27/11/07//
The first few days of Lebanon's presidential void are passing, just like the last days of the previous presidential term. And since the pessimistic evil has not realized yet as everyone keeps trying to avoid it, it becomes legitimate to raise questions about the seemingly organized nature of this presidential void. It is even more important to raise questions about the prevalence of the concept of co-existence while the senior constitutional position remains vacant. More seriously, and even with assuming the possibility of electing a new president soon, this experience will be become a precedent which brings an end to the election of the president by having it replaced with a new concept, the assignment of a president irrespective of the procedures involved.
Just as the case is these days where the various parties failed to agree on one candidate and brought the elections to a halt as a result of their vetoes, others will in the future object to candidates and impose their vetoes on them, once again throwing the country into the same whirl and into another presidential void. Hence a new precedent is now added to other precedents that complicate political life instead of facilitating it, and once again turning the presidential election date into a major concern and a threat to the state and the nation rather than making it an opportunity to enter a new phase or to bring an end to crises.
On the other hand, another question is as to why this "void" in Lebanon is only inflicted on the presidential post, and not to the top posts in other institutions. This is despite the fact that the top parliamentary and cabinet posts, like the presidency, derive their legitimacy from the same source, namely the representatives of the people. Those representatives agree on electing their speaker without trouble, and they choose their prime minister through mandatory consultations, also without incident. But when it is time to elect the president, they tend to prefer the presidential void to doing their electoral duty. The problem, from an objective point of view, then becomes associated with the higher representative of Christians, especially that the Taef Accord has already affirmed the distribution of the other higher posts among the confessions.
It is true that the constitution delegated to the council of ministers, collectively, the authorities of the president to avoid the problem of constitutional void; it is true that the Sunni leaders who assume the prime ministry have struggled to provide all kinds of assurances to the Maronite Patriarch regarding the presidential post. Yet, it may not be easy for the Christians to see that the same standards apply to the concept of national partnership, and this may raise existential questions about the meaning of this partnership, which in turn may go beyond the current political crisis that is already reinforcing the precedent that undermines the partnership.
The process leading to the presidential void is well-known. The Patriarch's list of candidates was pictures as the guarantee for the election, and yet, the list was fruitless in the end. This may be understandable, politically at least, but quite an effort was made leading to a shift; instead of the Patriarch's list being the guarantee, the list's failure became the Patriarch's responsibility. At the same time, there are those who are trying to nurture the conflict between the Christians by encouraging big objections assumed and expressed by one of their top leaders, General Michel Aoun, thus turning this into a Christian-Christian crisis. And thus, the factors that have led to the new reality simply vanish as if they had no role to play in the first place.
The borders are now blurred between the necessities of the co-existence declaration on the one hand, and the Christian-Christian conflict on the other. This is the big conundrum that has led to the current situation. Coexistence was supposed to be governed by the Taef Accord. Yet, in the government of the presidential void, talk is now about the failure of the Accord to find solutions to the crisis. General Aoun who is receiving more encouragement to continue his claim of being the Christian reference never really accepted the Accord. Whatever he does and says at present distances him from the Accord, against all other Christian politicians and clergymen who accepted the Taef Accord as the appropriate formula for coexistence. On the other hand, while political Shiism has not declared its rejection of the Accord, its previous and current political behaviors seem to oppose it, and many of the forces positioned at its periphery are no longer reluctant to voice the need to find a new formula that goes beyond the Taef Accord. Perhaps this explains the new admiration for General Aoun as he has assumed the job of criticizing the Accord

A new cold war that Iran may not be able to profit from

By Ali-Asghar Kazemi
Commentary by
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
A new cold war is appearing on the horizon of international relations. Its symptoms and impact are different from the old cold war. Although as we shall see the new cold war is essentially ideological in nature, it is not entirely a consequence of Russia's drive to regain its superpower status and its deteriorating relations with the United States Unlike the cold war between East and West, communism and capitalism (essentially identified by two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union), the new cold war involves a rather strange hostility between competing forces with unequal powers and rather ambiguous objectives. The parties to this conflict are the West on the one hand and "entities" that do not necessarily associate themselves with any particular nation-state on the other. The situation reached critical mass after 9/11, has already claimed the lives of many innocent people and seems gradually to be getting out of control.
The resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, preaching total devotion, submission to the will of God and negation of earthly materialism, is indeed a crucial development of our time. It is capable of destabilizing the international system and world order. The demand for social, economic and political change and the expectation of a world different from the existing one have caused people to look for alternatives. Religion is re-emerging as a source of hope, inspiration and salvation. At the same time, a trend toward harsh fundamentalism is clearly observable. People are losing faith in their political system and politicians; they are seeking refuge in religion in pursuit of their cause.
The new cold war is a bizarre conflict in which the hostile parties do not necessarily engage in a classic face-to-face confrontation, and feel no obligation to abide by the rules of war, humanitarian laws and norms. Their main goal is to change the prevailing norms and status quo in the current world order. The Middle East is the main arena of this confrontation; there the rival parties seem to have no intention of ceasing hostilities.
While China seems too busy to enter into this conflict because of its economic miracle, Russia's resurgence as a superpower and its recent tensions with the United States could be a source of concern for the US. However, Washington does not seem prepared to consider Russia a party to the new cold war. Notwithstanding a number of mutual discontents, including NATO's extension to the east and the proposed US missile defense system in Eastern Europe that is supposedly aimed at the perceived threat from Iran's nuclear ambitions, the United States still considers Russia a strategic partner not to be alienated from world affairs. This is mainly due to a geopolitical perception that an antagonistic Russia could be detrimental to US interests around the world, especially in the Middle East.
In fact, Russia as heir to the main elements of Soviet power is now capable of checking US power and impeding it from achieving its global strategic aims. It took the Russians almost two decades to recover from the paralyzing shock of the ill-fated disintegration of the Soviet empire. Now Russia's economic recovery and its attempt to re-emerge as a superpower permit it to tackle US unilateralism in the world. Yet Moscow is not yet prepared to engage in global competition with the US.
Viewed from a different angle, Russia could potentially be used as a shield by some states known as defiant actors in current world politics that earnestly insist on a redefinition of world order from their own perspective. They would like to see an escalation in US-Russian tensions with the hope of containing unilateral American expansionist policies. In their view, only Russia can match US power and impede its evil strategy in the Middle East. Iran might be one of those that truly welcome deteriorating relations between the US and Russia with the hope of benefiting from a new East-West competition - for example by escaping new UN Security Council sanctions or avoiding a possible American pre-emptive strike.
While the neocon hawks in Washington are pressing hard to isolate Iran in the hope that it will abandon its nuclear venture, the Russians are playing a bipartisan role and exploiting the escalating gloomy situation to reestablish their superpower position with respect to regional and global affairs. American entanglement in the Middle East, and especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, makes it quite difficult for Washington to deal with Moscow from a position of strength.
Russia's nuclear ties with Iran have instilled the confidence needed by the Islamic hard-liners to use it as a shield for their nuclear ambitions. Yet the Kremlin seems attentive not to lose sight of its fragile relations with the US and the West. That is to say, despite President Vladimir Putin's recent trip to Tehran and the signing of a joint declaration with Iran regarding the Caspian Sea and other security matters, he may still go along with the 5+1 group and agree on a long-awaited third Security Council resolution imposing further sanctions against the Islamic regime. China, as a permanent member of the Security Council, is in the same position.
As a clever leader and legitimate child of the KGB, Putin is well aware of the rules of the game regarding the global distribution of power. He seems to be taking advantage of the new situation to regain Russia's old superpower position as an equal partner with the United States.
Whether we can label the new emerging situation as a cold war is a simple question of definition. What is certain is that the world is experiencing an unprecedented challenge that, if not properly managed, could end up in disaster. Still, it is not certain that countries like Iran can achieve their ambitious nuclear objectives behind the smokescreen of these new conditions. Kazemi is a professor of law and international relations in Tehran. This commentary first appeared at, an online newsletter publishing contending views of Middle Eastern and Islamic issues.

Lebanon: More Dangerous Than a Presidential Vacuum
Tariq Alhomayed
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat,
“Reap knowledge from the younger generations,” so goes the popular Arab saying which means that one can learn the secrets of the elders from the younger ones. This is what came to mind when I heard Wiam Wahab’s statement about the presidential crisis in Lebanon.
The Syrian- and Hezbollah-inclined Lebanese ex-minister said, “If Michel Aoun is not appointed as president of the republic, the only possible outcome will be an enduring vacuum that will last for a very long time. If that vacuum were prolonged, then the matter will no longer pertain to the presidency alone; it will also affect the Taif Agreement. If the agreement were to fall through, and following the vacuum that will ensue, then we must examine every single aspect, including the Taif Agreement.
This statement indicates that General Michel Aoun is the demolition axe that will be employed by the Syrian allies and Hezbollah to destroy the temple, which is the Taif Agreement. Why? The Syrians view that strengthening the presidential post secures assurances for them since the [position of] prime minister of Lebanon has become an obstacle to their ambitions. This can be achieved through a loyal president, which is the very same thing that Hezbollah seeks.
If that does not happen then the alternative would be to annul the Taif Agreement, and in this scenario, there must be a place for Hezbollah in the alternative equation that will replace the agreement. This is especially so since Hezbollah regards itself as the legitimate opposition, and it also possesses the arms that could enable it to enter into a new battle with Israel, thus increasing its legitimacy in the name of resistance.
In this case, the discussion will shift from the authority of the Lebanese state and its sovereignty, and the notion that the weapons are the state’s arms while the army is entitled to counter any aggression, into a debate about the necessity of granting Hezbollah an authority that is ‘worthy’ of its magnitude on the ground.
This could either be an alternative to one of the existing authorities today, or we will hear of a fourth authority in Lebanon  and of course it will not be the press. During such a time the discussion will not be about democracy, but rather about a multiple-headed Lebanon.
This is what is much more dangerous than a presidential vacuum in Lebanon. It is clear that there is a calculated procedure; either to bring to power a president who will execute Hezbollah’s agenda (and as such, the Syrian-Iranian agenda) or to annul the Taif Agreement.
What is required here is not so much the preservation of the Lebanese constitution and national unity inasmuch as it is an attempt to prevent the completion of the international tribunal investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the protection of Hezbollah’s arms and subjecting Lebanon to the Iranian-Syrian guardianship. The goal is not, as is maintained today, to protect Lebanon from US dominance. As such, it is important to warn General Aoun that all that glitters is not gold with regards to the Syrian and Iranian positions  and Hezbollah, of course. The end of the Taif Agreement means destruction and a civil war in Lebanon of which the consequences will be catastrophic.

Bush calls Abbas, Olmert to White House
By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Just 24 hours after securing an agreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to resume long-stalled peace talks, President Bush invited the pair to the White House to ceremonially inaugurate the first formal, direct negotiations in seven years.
Capping an intense flurry of diplomacy that salvaged a joint Israeli-Palestinian agreement at nearby Annapolis, Md., to launch a fresh round of talks, Bush planned to meet separately Wednesday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and finally to get them together for an afternoon session declaring the talks formally under way. After meeting their own low expectations for the Annapolis conference amid intense skepticism, Bush administration officials crowed with delight. "What has been remarkable about this process is that they are now ready to go," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told ABC during a round of TV interviews Wednesday morning in which she praised unprecedented support for the peace process from Arab states.
"It's going to be hard, but you had support in that room that you had not had from Arab states in the past," Rice said on NBC.
After inaugurating the negotiations at the White House, the two sides have agreed to continue with a meeting in the region on Dec. 12, Rice said Tuesday.
Bush, along with Rice, had earlier salvaged a "joint understanding" between the Israelis and Palestinians, who had remained far apart on the details of the statement until the last minute. But with prodding from the American side, Olmert and Abbas — troubled leaders with fragile mandates for peace — told international backers and skeptical Arab neighbors they are ready for hard bargaining toward an independent Palestinian state in the 14 months Bush has left in office.
"This is the beginning of the process, not the end of it," Bush said after reading from the just-completed text the statement that took weeks to negotiate and yet sets only the vaguest terms for the talks to come.
"I pledge to devote my effort during my time as president to do all I can to help you achieve this ambitious goal," Bush told Abbas and Olmert as the three stood together in the U.S. Naval Academy's majestic Memorial Hall. "I give you my personal commitment to support your work with the resources and resolve of the American government."The two Mideast leaders were circumspect but optimistic.
"I had many good reasons not to come here," Olmert told diplomats, including those from Arab states that do not recognize Israel like Saudi Arabia and Syria. "Memory of failures in the near and distant past weighs heavy upon us."
Abbas, meanwhile, recited a familiar list of Palestinian demands, including calls for Israel to end the expansion of Jewish settlements on land that could be part of an eventual state called Palestine and to release some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
"Neither we nor you must beg for peace from the other," Abbas said. "It is a joint interest for us and you. Peace and freedom is a right for us, just as peace and security is a right for you and us."Bush has held Mideast peacemaking at arms' length for most of his nearly seven years in office, arguing that conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories were not right for a more energetic role. Arab allies, among others, have warned that the Palestinian plight underlies other conflicts and feeds grievances across the Middle East, and have urged the White House to do more.
Bush seemed to answer the criticism Tuesday, giving detailed reasons why the time is now. He said Israeli and Palestinian leaders are ready to make peace, that there is a wider and unifying fight against extremism fed by the Palestinian conflict and that he world understands the urgency of acting now.
Later, in an interview with The Associated Press, Bush spoke of the importance of giving beleaguered Palestinians something positive to look forward to — and he sketched a grim alternative.
Without a hopeful vision, he said, "it is conceivable that we could lose an entire generation — or a lot of a generation — to radicals and extremists. There has to be something more positive. And that is on the horizon today."
Negotiating teams will hold their first session in the region in just two weeks, on Dec. 12, and Olmert and Abbas plan to continue one-on-one discussions they began earlier this year. In addition, many of the same nations and organizations attending Tuesday's conference will gather again on Dec. 17 in Paris to raise money for the perpetually cash-strapped Palestinians.
To attract Arab backing, the Bush administration included a session in the conference devoted to "comprehensive" peace questions — a coded reference to other Arab disputes with Israel. Syria came to the conference intending to raise its claim to the strategic Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967, and Lebanon wanted to talk about its border dispute with Israel. Rice told reporters that Syria and Lebanon spoke up, but she gave no details.
But in a sign of the difficult road ahead, Abbas' speech was immediately rejected by Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that stormed to power in the Gaza Strip in June, a month before Bush announced plans for the peace conference.
Associated Press writers Amy Teibel, Mohammed Daraghmeh, Anne Gearan and Ben Feller contributed to this report.

Does Syria want peace?
By: Ely Karmon, International Institute for Counter Terroris
November 25
Against the background of Syria's invitation to the Annapolis conference and the eagerness with which politicians and the defense establishment have supported its participation, we should try to analyze the Syrian leadership's strategic considerations vis-à-vis a peace process with Israel.
I have always considered Syria the key to a stable and pacific Lebanon and a disarmed "political" Hizbullah. Syria - not Iran - has provided the most important support for Hizbullah's terrorist and guerrilla activity against Israel from the north. Without Syria's overall strategic umbrella, specific military and political coordination and
pressure on Beirut to give the organization free rein in southern Lebanon, Hizbullah could not have achieved its current status. Syrian aid in heavy weaponry alongside Iranian support has transformed Hizbullah into a strategic partner and operational arm of the Syrian army.
Syria is also heavily involved in the support of all the radical Palestinian organizations and factions and actively participated in the derailing of the peace process between Israel, the Palestinians and other Arab states.
But Syria is also extremely important in the attempt to isolate Iran in the region by denying the Teheran regime its only ally in the Arab world and the direct operational link to the Palestinian radical organizations acting from Damascus. Without that alliance, Teheran's negative influence on the Palestinian arena and on the peace process
would be significantly curtailed.
It is possible that the combined efforts of the European Union leaders, the Bush administration and the Israeli leadership will convince the Syrian leaders of their sincere wish to strike a deal and offer Damascus the return of the Golan Heights and generous economic incentives. Still, in my view, Bashar Assad's regime actually has
other priorities that outweigh the Western and Israeli potential incentives.
Fear of the fall of the regime
One could posit that success in the peace process would be profoundly destabilizing for Damascus. It is therefore important to imagine how any changes in the peace process would affect the calculations of its decision makers.
Syria lacks internal coherence due to its diverse population and minority-dominated regime. To survive, the regime needs transcendent slogans like Arabism. The regime requires conflict and radicalism as tools for maintaining internal control.
Damascus correctly assumes that any strengthening of US influence in the region will run counter to Syrian interests, so it is no accident that the regime has become the most systematically anti-American state in the Arab world. Defiance and resistance to American pressure will win Assad the support of the Syrian public, and even popular Arab support at large, and ensure the survival of his regime for many years to come.
For Syria, Lebanon is much more important than the Golan Heights. While the senior George Bush's administration saw the Syrian occupation as a temporary necessity to be gradually rolled back, the Clinton administration saw it as a longer-term palliative to draw Syria into peace with Israel and a means of preventing Lebanon's
350,000-plus Palestinian refugees from obstructing a comprehensive peace settlement that failed to recognize their "right of return."
Although US policymakers publicly hinted that the United States would help bring about a "Lebanon free of foreign forces" once a peace treaty was concluded, they sent Damascus unmistakable signals to the contrary. American officials failed to recognize that Assad would be prepared to sign a peace treaty only if the expected benefits outweighed the guaranteed political, strategic, and economic returns of the occupation of Lebanon.
Lebanon is, of course, important to Syria for political and military reasons, but this tends to overshadow the economic aspect of Syrian-Lebanese relations. The direct and indirect income derived from Syria's presence in Lebanon has over time become an almost indispensable factor in the Syrian economy.
The Baker and Hamilton Iraq Study Group report proposed cooperation with Syria in stabilizing Iraq. But what Assad wants is a cancellation of the investigation into the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and the corollary international tribunal approved by the Security Council, a free hand in Lebanon and possession of the Golan without conditions. Are these acceptable conditions?
A Syrian peace agreement with Israel foretells a peace agreement of  Israel with Lebanon - which means the Cedar country will be lost forever as a Syrian protectorate. Palestine part of Greater Syria?
The legitimacy of the establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine by "imperialism" was not accepted at any cost and Syria developed a pivotal role in defense of all-Arab causes, above all the struggle against Israel. Syria's relations with the former components of the Levant (bilad al-sham) - Jordan, the Palestinians and
especially, Lebanon - were influenced by what it considered its special rights and responsibilities over these territories. As Patrick Seale, a leading British writer on the Middle East, points out, Syria perceived itself in a struggle with Israel over the Levant, in what amounted to a contest between "Greater Syria" and "Greater Israel."
This Syrian regime probably still dreams of seeing the national Palestinian movement, like in the 1920s and 30s, part of a Greater Syria. Waiting for the Iranian nuclear umbrella Should Iran succeed in completing its nuclear project and declare a nuclear weapons capability, Syria would face a conflicting situation.
On the one hand, its devotion to the Arab cause would compel it to share a sense of anxiety. On the other hand, more than other Arab states, it would be untroubled by an Iranian nuclear capability due to the strategic partnership between the two states. Syria would see an Iranian bomb as a useful deterrent against Israel and a newly
assertive Iraq and as an important constraint on US freedom of action in the region.
As the Iranian newspaper Kayhan, close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, editorialized: "Nuclear Iran has eradicating the nuclear prestige of  Israel." That's the sort of rising star to which Syria would like to be hitched.
Syria's presence at the Annapolis conference could be disruptive, as Damascus has always acted in all the pan-Arab and international forums to advance agreements contrasting Israeli or Western interests. Specifically, Syria was responsible for the negative changes in the original Saudi plan during the March 2002 Arab League summit which led to the present Arab plan, including the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.
In this author's view, a real change in the Syrian regional strategy could happen only if Assad evaluates that the US, or Israel with US support, would attack the nuclear facilities in Iran and thus bring even more direct pressure on the rogue elements in the Middle East.
Possibly, the September 6 Israeli air attack against the presumed "nuclear facility" has shaken the Damascus leaders' confidence in the Iranian invincibility on the nuclear front and they want to use the conference as a feeler for the future US plans and a kind of insurance in case…The US, Europe and the other powers present at Annapolis should insure that Syria's participation at the conference will not be used to bestow on its regime "incentives" like the "liberation" of the Golan,
recognizing its "rights, interests and positive role" in Lebanon, or the closing of the investigation into Rafik Hariri's assassination. The Damascus regime should see at the conference a united front which presses it firmly, first and foremost, to stop the support to Hizbullah and the Palestinian radicals and to exit the strategic alliance with Iran.

The Future of Franco-Syrian Relations
Randa Takieddine
Al-Hayat - 28/11/07//
On several occasions, both public and private, French President Nicolas Sarkozy mentioned that normalizing relations between France and Syria lies on the latter's abstaining from impeding the Lebanese presidential elections. He has repeatedly asserted his commitment to the international tribunal and exposing the culprits behind the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri in addition to prosecuting them.
He has also continuously asserted that dialogue and normalization with Syria will not happen until Lebanon has a president to the point that that some within the Elysée circles have emphasized that "Syria must pay in advance, and then we will be ready for normalizing and reestablishing relations." Now, however, Franco-Syrian dialogue is normal and the American-Syrian dialogue has initiated in Annapolis while Lebanon remains without a president. All Europeans are now talking with the Syrian regime, and it is only a matter of the French and Syrian presidents exchanging visits. France has already sent several letters to the Syrian leadership, carried by Sarkozy's most prominent aide, the secretary general of the presidency, Claude Guean.
One must admit that the Syrian president has succeeded in placing the ball in the French court when he asked the French emissary to use France's historical ties with the Maronites to convince the Maronite Patriarch Nasralla Sfeir to prepare a list of presidential candidates. This was a smart and thoughtful move by the Syrian side who enjoys significant influence in Lebanon after 30 years of exercising political control in this country. The deeply rooted and significant influence and power, mostly exercised through its allies Hezbollah and Amal Movement, both in close alliance with a fundamental Christian part, General Michel Aoun, enabled Syria to show the French side that failure is caused by the Lebanese themselves, and not by Syrian interference.
And so it happened. When Guean went again to Damascus to ask the Syrian president to make good on the promise that he had made during a telephone conversation with Sarkozy, he was informed that Syria had lived up to its commitments by exercising pressure on Hezbollah, and that France now had to exert pressure on its Christian friends, especially Aoun who is impeding the presidential elections. It was a smart Syrian move to send the ball into the French court by throwing the blame onto Michel Aoun.
It is true that Aoun is the impediment since he continued to make his claim in which he insisted to be the best presidential candidate. While Kouchner worked on reaching an agreement with the General, he was at the French embassy when he found out about Aoun's initiative that was declared in a press conference. This made the French minister realize that the French efforts had reached a dead end. What happened then, and why did Aoun's initiative mimic the pattern of Hassan Nasrallah's violent speech that he delivered immediately after the meeting between Assad and Guean in Damascus?
This all can be explained by Aoun's strategic alliance with Hezbollah on political and financial as well as other levels, not to mention the continuous coordination between the two sides. While Sarkozy's contact with Aoun and Hariri were well-intentioned since he truly wanted to reach a settlement in Lebanon, the French efforts eventually hit the solid wall of Syrian experience in Lebanon. The Syrian president has basically succeeded in improving relations with France without making any payment in advance. In the past, whenever a western guest demanded the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, the late Syrian president, Hafez al-Asad used to respond by claiming that Syrian presence in Lebanon was demanded by the Lebanese, which was in effect true since it was the late President Suleiman Franjieh who had called for Syrian help. Today, the younger Assad is applying the same method.
It is true that the Lebanese are divided against each other, but Syria plays a very important role in feeding their divisions. The question now is: what is the future of the Franco-Syrian relations given the fact that Lebanon is without a president