New US Sanctions Bill Introduced
Just when you think it is all over something new happens. The opposition demonstration in Beirut yesterday, which gathered an estimated million participants, has thrown momentum back on the side of the anti-Syrian forces.
The opposition had some doubts about the extent of its appeal after the Hezbollah demonstration in a nearby square in Beirut on Tuesday. There have been rallies in the city center every Monday since former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated Feb. 14, a Monday, but organizers were determined to make this one especially large in response to the pro-Syrian march.
"This will counterbalance last Tuesday, and now we can sit and talk," said Mazen al-Zain, a 30-year-old financial analyst, noting that he himself was a member of an illustrious Shiite clan from southern Lebanon. "What is really important after today's gathering is that we all sit down at the same table."
The presence of such a large number of Lebanese put added pressure on the government of Syria to announce a serious timetable for the withdrawal of both its thousands of troops and its secret police officers in the country. Although President Bashar al-Assad has promised a withdrawal into the Bekaa region by the end of March and a further discussion with a joint Lebanese-Syrian commission in early April, there is still no clear timetable for a complete withdrawal.
A number of dangers still lurk for Syria.
One is the introduction of "H.R.1141 Lebanon and Syria Liberation Act" (Introduced in House, which is designed "To strengthen sanctions against the Government of Syria, to establish a program to support a transition to a democratically elected government in Syria and the restoration of sovereignty and democratic rule in Lebanon, and for other purposes."
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVESOne of the new features of the bill is:
March 8, 2005
Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN (for herself, Mr. ENGEL, Mr. CHABOT, Mr. MACK, Mrs. JO ANN DAVIS of Virginia, Mr. BOOZMAN, and Ms. BERKLEY) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on International Relations, and in addition to the Committees on Financial Services, Ways and Means, and Government Reform, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned.
SEC. 202. ASSISTANCE TO SUPPORT A TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY IN SYRIA AND RESTORATION OF SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE IN LEBANON.There are other additional aspects to the bill, such as placing sanctions on foreign countries that sell Syria weapons, but the democracy section, if the bill is passed and accepted by the President, would signify an new strategy toward Syria - one that clearly moves toward regime change.
(a) Authorization- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the President is authorized to provide assistance and other support for individuals and independent nongovernmental organizations to support a transition to a freely-elected, internationally recognized democratic government in Syria and the restoration of sovereign, democratic rule in Lebanon.
(b) Activities Supported- Assistance provided under subsection (a) shall, to the maximum extent practicable, be used to carry out the following activities:
(1) Democracy-building and civil society efforts in Syria and Lebanon, including the provision of assistance to organizations certified by the President to be independent democratic organizations, victims of political repression and their families, and prisoners of conscience and their families.
(2) Radio and television broadcasting to Syria and Lebanon to support democracy-building and civil society efforts in Syria and Lebanon.
(c) Authorization of Appropriations- There are authorized to be appropriated to the President to carry out this section such sums as may be necessary for fiscal year 2006 and each subsequent fiscal year.
Another danger lurks in the Hariri murder investigation.
Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk reported that President George W. Bush "is expected to announce on Wednesday that Syrian - and perhaps Lebanese - military intelligence officers were involved" in the killing.Syria seems to be decided to move troops out before the May elections in Lebanon, which should eliminate the threat of sanctions. Russia and Germany have suggested they are happy with Syrian progress so far.
In his article, Fisk said the report of the United Nations inquiry team "will be so devastating that it will force a full international investigation of the murder of 'Mr. Lebanon' and his entourage, perhaps reaching to the higher echelons of the Syrian and Lebanese governments."
Speaking from New York, a UN spokesperson told The Daily Star that whatever President Bush would announce would not be based on the UN team's findings as the investigation is still ongoing.
He said: "We can neither confirm nor deny anything until the team returns to New York and presents its findings to the secretary general."
According to The Independent, The UN team, made up of Irish, Egyptian and Moroccan investigators and recently joined by Swiss bomb experts, has discovered that many of the vehicles from Hariri's convoy "were moved from the scene of the massacre only hours afterward - and before there was time for an independent investigation."
The European Parliament on Thursday did not put Hizbullah on a European list of terror organizations, after a proposal to do so that was pushed by the US was dropped.
Syria's strong leverage in Lebanon still remains. The two armed groups in Lebanon - Hizbullah and the Lebanese army, the Commander-in-Chief of which I presume is President Lahoud, are both in Syria's camp. No opposition groups are armed or have malitias.
Secondly, the opposition must cooperate with Prime Minister Karami and President Lahoud to construct an interim government if it wants to get the election laws passed in time for May elections to be carried out.
It is still too early to calculate who controls Lebanon or who has "won" due to the recent crisis. The dust has not settled.