Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Iraq Gets Border Cooperation but no Recognition from Syria

All went reasonably well in the recent meeting between Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh and President Bashar al-Assad. The Iraqi minister said the talks were guided by a keenness for cooperation in all fields. All the same, the question of whether Syria will recognize the Allawi government in Iraq is not solved. In an interview published Tuesday in the Kuwaiti 'Assiyasa' daily newspaper, Saleh said his talks with President al-Assad and other senior officials in Syria were frank. He said there is much promise for relations between the two states and good prospects for boosting trade and economic cooperation between Syria and Iraq and hope Syria would participate in the rebuilding of Iraq.

Allawi had called on the neighboring states "not to solve their problems with Washington at the expense of Iraq" and warned that Iraq was running out of patience with Syria.

Evidently, Saleh and Asad discussed Syria's giving back Iraqi money being held in Syrian banks, but would not say how much the sum was or when it would be returned. More negotiations will be necessary before that sticky issue can be resolved.

On the border issue, the two countries claimed that they would construct a joint border guard to coordinate policing activities and apprehend Islamic militants crossing the border.

Saleh also chided the Syrians for describing the US forces in Iraq as "occupation forces" or the military operations carried out by Iraqis against the Americans as "resistance." But he quickly added "what is more important is the official position which seeks to support the ambitions of the Iraqi people and government." Saleh stressed that the "multi national forces" will remain in the country until the Iraqi government asks them to leave. He said "we have to be realistic and not ask the multi national forces to leave because security requirements for the stability of this country are not enough. The Multi national forces are in Iraq at Iraq's invitation." Bashar repeated that he wanted to hasten Iraq's independence and unity.

He denied that Israeli forces are operating in the Kurdish regions of Iraq, when Asad asked about them. he also said that prime minister Eyad Allawi will visit Damascus "when appropriate conditions are provided and when his visit will result in tangible results." It will be interesting to see how long that will be.

Several diplomats and Syrians argue that they believe Bashar is sincere in his desire to cooperate with the new Iraqi government on the border issues, but they doubt how successful he can be. In a Jordanian Times article, Syria hard put to halt border infiltration:

political analyst Imad Al Shuaibi said, "Syria was not able to seal the border in the face of [incoming] trucks laden with explosives in the 1980s," referring to the Muslim Brotherhood bombings which Damascus blamed on Saddam Hussein's government.

"A Western diplomat said Syria, with its own economic problems, clearly needed improved economic ties with Iraq. "It would be daft to think the Syrians want US troop"' presence in Iraq to be a picnic, but that does not mean that Syria wants to destabilize Iraq or to become a path or a heaven for insurgents,' one diplomat said.

"I think Syria genuinely wants... good cooperation in all areas with Iraq," an Arab diplomat said.

Despite an improvement in economic ties in the latter years of Saddam's era, political ties remained cold. Syria's trade with its larger neighbor amounted to around $1 billion in 2002 and it hopes to raise this in the post-Saddam era. It wants Iraqi oil to be ferried to Syrian ports through an envisaged 800,000 barrels per day pipeline that can only be built if stability is achieved." Nevertheless, Saleh denied that his talk with Asad touched on the issue of operating the Iraqi oil pipeline, which was blocked by the Americans during their invasion of Iraq. Obviously, so long as the US has its foot on Syria's toes with sanctions and can sit on Iraq, there will be no discussions of pipelines. Perhaps Iraq is waiting for full recognition of the Allawi government before it will discuss oil? Perhaps the US won't allow it until Syria satisfies American demands to get out of Lebanon and caught up Palestinian groups and chemical weapons?

Remi Leveau, a Middle East expert at the Paris-based French Institute for International Relations, argued that

some political forces within the Syrian government do not want President al-Assad to recognize the Iraqi interim administration unless Damascus receives security guarantees from the United States in return. "If the Syrian administration has no insurance in those terms coming directly from the United States, they will not consider working seriously with the Iraqi prime minister," he said. "[Syrian recognition of the Iraqi interim government] has a price. The United States is not ready to pay it right now."

Leveau also said that Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's planned visits to neighboring countries this week could put him in the position of being an intermediary who could help build up relations between the United States and the Arab world. But as far as security is concerned, Leveau says it is most important for Baghdad to establish diplomatic relations with Iran and Turkey: "Syria is important in terms of controlling the border, but I think Iran is much more important due to the influence it can have on the Shi'a areas of Iraq. It is easier, maybe, to start [by trying to establish relations] with Syria because Syria is afraid of the situation in the Middle East and the pressure which can be exercised on her by Israel and the United States in relation to a settlement on the control of [parts of] Lebanon, for instance."
Leveau is a bit confusing. Can Allawi get recognition from Asad or not? How easy can it be for Allawi to get full recognition of his government if the US won't recognize Asad in turn? I guess it is safe to argue both sides. All the same, it underscores the stakes at issue in negotiations.

Rime Allaf, an associate fellow at the London-based Royal Institute for International Affairs, looks at it from Syria's perspective. She argues that
Salih's visit to Damascus was a necessary initial step for the interim government in Baghdad as it attempts to gain recognition from its neighbors: "This visit by the [Iraqi] deputy prime minister to Syria is what Syria was looking for -- a recognition by the Iraqis that cooperation is needed by the Syrians and by Iraq's other neighboring countries, and the recognition that the Iraq situation is an issue that concerns the whole Middle East, whether it is the Arab countries or Turkey or Iran."

But Allaf says Syria's cooperation with Baghdad on border security does not mean that Damascus is about to recognize the U.S.-appointed interim administration as a legitimate government: "Syria, like the rest of the Arab countries, is really looking forward to a pacification of the Iraqi situation. So like most governments, although they have not really recognized [the Iraqi interim] government as a legitimate government, they are more than willing to cooperate with them to make sure that the chaos is not exported over the borders -- whether it is to Syria or Saudi Arabia or Jordan."



On the less interesting but always-important economic reform front, this just in: Syria approves French plan to modernize its finances
7/14/2004

Syrian and French finance officials on Tuesday discussed a French report prepared by specialized French advisors to modernize and develop the Ministry of Finance in fields of taxes, customs and banking.

Minister Mohammed al-Hussein held talks with the French treasury delegation headed by Bernard Pichoure on the report which explains ways of unifying the state balance sheet and establishing a General Directorate for budget and expenses as well as the use of information technologies in organizing and preparing the balance sheet.

In taxes domain, the report aims at the implementation of a just and soft taxes for citizens who would be encouraged to pay their taxes with a stress on laws, transparency and procedures to bring back confidence between the tax earner and finance departments.

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