Sunday, March 13, 2005

News Round-up

Russia says Hizbullah should play role in Lebanese politics
By Nayla Assaf, Daily Star, March 12, 2005 (Thanks to Paul at War in Context for articles.)

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Hizbullah should be allowed a role in the country's politics. His statements came at a time when sources close to the party told The Daily Star that they were holding ongoing meetings with representatives of Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir to defuse the mounting political tension in the country.

Lavrov's comments came one day after unprecedented statements by Washington that it would reluctantly acknowledge Hizbullah's political role if the party disarms.

Also on Friday, Hizbullah's number two official told reporters that the party intends to "become more active in entering internal political life," without, however, surrendering its arms.After meeting with leading Lebanese opposition member, Walid Jumblatt, Lavrov said: "It is in the interests of Lebanon, and the whole Middle East, for Hizbullah's political role to be taken into account." [complete article]

U.S. would accept Hizbollah role if it disarms
Reuters, March 10, 2005

The Bush administration would accept a political role for the Lebanese group Hizbollah if it disarmed, U.S. officials said on Thursday, a stance they said was not new but reflected recognition of the political clout of the militant Shi'ite Muslim organization.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice carefully avoided the stock U.S. phrase that Hizbollah is a terrorist organization in remarks to reporters, two days after Hizbollah showed its political power by drawing hundreds of thousands of people to central Beirut for a pro-Syria rally. [...]

"Obviously we'd like to see them disarmed as U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 requires. Once disarmed they could undertake any political role in Lebanon that they can win democratically at the polls. This doesn't constitute any change in the U.S. position," a senior Bush administration official said.

A State Department official, who asked not to be identified, said there was a recognition among U.S. officials of Hizbollah's political power but denied any policy change.

"We do have to live in the real world and unfortunately in that world people we really don't like do sometimes get into elected office. Hizbollah -- just like Hamas in the Palestinian territories -- is a political force. But just because we recognize -- as we always have -- that reality does not mean we have changed our policy toward them," the official said. [complete article]

Top U.N. envoy to present Syria with ultimatum
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 11, 2005

A top U.N. envoy will tell President Bashar Assad that Syria will face political and economic isolation if he does not completely and quickly withdraw from Lebanon, U.N. and U.S. officials said yesterday.In a meeting set for tomorrow, Terje Roed-Larsen plans to inform Syria that the international community is united in insisting that Damascus comply with U.N. Resolution 1559 -- and is prepared to impose wide punitive sanctions if it does not act quickly, the officials said."If he doesn't deliver, there will be total political and economic isolation of his country. There is a steel-hard consensus in the international community," a senior U.N. official said. [complete article]

Which way will Lebanon go next?
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 2005
Since Hariri's assassination, the Central Bank has spent some $4 to $5 billion of its $13.8 billion in foreign currency reserves to help prop up the Lebanese pound at its current rate of 1,500 to the US dollar. But in another month, the Central Bank will have to stop spending and the Lebanese pound will go into freefall, says Nicholas Photiades, a financial consultant in Beirut.

"This is the most serious crisis since the end of the civil war," he says. "If the current crisis continues and there is no solution in sight, it could be a similar situation to the civil war in the 1980s when the currency collapsed. You could see the 3,000 pounds to the dollar pretty quickly.". [complete article]

David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post what he believes "Lebanon's Next Steps" should be:

Wednesday brought one of those absurd rent-a-crowd demonstrations in Damascus, like the ones Saddam Hussein used to stage in Baghdad. A crowd of Syrians "spontaneously" marched on the president's palace and called on the beloved leader to speak. To me, it only underlined Assad's weakness. Another sign of Assad's weak hand was his restoration of the Lebanese puppet government of Prime Minister Omar Karami. That government was deeply unpopular, and trying to push it back into power is just "the old, old, old Syrian game of trying to buy time," as a Lebanese democracy leader put it to me.

So here's a simple agenda for Lebanese democrats and their supporters around the world: First, Syrian troops must leave Lebanon, and Assad must set a clear and unambiguous timetable for their withdrawal. Second, negotiations should begin on finding ways to adapt the Lebanese political formula to the reality of Hezbollah's power. That agenda puts the issue squarely to Nasrallah: Is he a Lebanese patriot or a Syrian stooge? Is he a man of the future or the past? It's time to find out.
Yes, Syria has been weakened by having its regional stature reduced and by isolating itself so completely. All the same, Bashar is suprisingly strong internally. The oppositon is very weak, causing many to cling to the president in the absence of any better alternative. Stability remains at a high premium for many Syrians even if they understand that it comes at the price of economic stagnation and continued poverty. Syrians feel stuck, but they do not see a way out of their present dilemma. If the Lebanese economy takes a nose dive, as Nicholas Blanford suggests it might, the Syrians will cling even more to the stability Bashar promises.


At 3/13/2005 08:51:00 AM, Anonymous Kafka said...

In an ideal scenario the Lebanese parliament would extend its mandate for two months to allow elections to take place not in May but in July.
This gives time to President Bachar to withdraw completely the Syrian army and intelligence units and their logistics from Lebanon back into Syria.
The Lebanese opposition wins the elections. A new Lebanese government is elected, the pro-Syrian security heads in Lebanon are thanked for their jobs, President Emile Lahoud resigns and a new president is elected by the new Parliament.
Hezbollah accepts the new framework of the regional situation and plays the game accordingly, integrating the political arena in Lebanon as a full partner and giving up its heavy armament.
President Bachar thanks the key players of the Syrian regime for their jobs, appoints new people to government jobs and starts an era of internal reforms.

In the real world it is not going to happen like this. The two ruling networks in Damascus and Beirut are related by strong political and financial interests and are not going to give up their privileges so easily. President Bachar cannot fire the key players in his regime at this point in the midst of a tug beteen Syria and the international community, if he does it is the beginning of a period of instability in Syria and the beginning of the end for his own legitimacy.
So the Syrian administration is still playing for time. The word from the Aleppo meeting between Larsen and Assad came out saying that the Syrian army and intelligence units will be out only at the end of April, yet Kofi Annan has to present his report to the Security Council in mid April!
The form is also important to the present Syrian and Lebanese administrations; they want to disengage in conformity with the Taef agreement and respect the UN 1559 resolution as a “consequence” and not directly.
The Lebanese opposition cannot trust the present Lebanese administration or the one in Damascus. It will also play for time and the crisis shall continue. The Lebanese Lira and economy may suffer as a consequence. The poorer classes in Lebanon of whom the Hezbollah following constitutes a big chunk, will certainly feel the impact.

The Syrian administration is still playing for time. The questions of continuing interest for the USA, European and UN administrations are several:
- How to force Syria to respond quickly and definitely without the use of military force?
- Is it acceptable to give the Syrian administration until the end of April before withdrawing all its military and intelligence personnel?
- Is it possible to convince the Syrian administration to pull out of Lebanon before Anan’s report in mid April? If not should the Security Council impose sanctions just for two weeks that separate mid April and the promised departure of Syrian military at the end of April?
- If not what are the appropriate answers?
- In the end is it really possible to get the Syrian administration to respond to UN resolution 1559 without some limited but quick military penalties?

At 3/13/2005 09:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Kafka,
Bashar already made his deal with the EU prior to the parliment speach. 1559 is over as far as Syrian troops in Lebanon is concerned.

At 3/13/2005 11:35:00 AM, Anonymous Kafka said...

In response to Anonymous at 9:44AM

For the network around Bachar and for the other network of pro-Syrians in Lebanon it is not over yet.

At 3/14/2005 03:14:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Kafka and Anonymous. Very interesting analysis.

Here is what TONY sent me in a email:

"josh, what you wrote last about the syrians and change and clinging to assad is outright sad.

it doesn't reflect well at all on the syrians. it means they have resigned themselves to mediocrity, completely internalizing the regime's line.

What it means is that all a dictator needs to do (in fact, what they have been doing) is to destroy political life, centralize everything in his person/family, and prop up or deflate (according to circumstance) an islamist/chaos threat for him to basically set up everlasting rule, and get away with (literally) murder, economic stagnation, and less than mediocrity.

knowing that he has no interest in political participation, as that
would lead to his own exit from power, this means the situation is open ended, and that the people will go along with it, or else, you know, "the islamists" will take over!

this is no longer acceptable. The iraqis are finding their way around
it despite the fact that their political life was all but annihilated under saddam. The egyptians are tip toeing around it. Even the Palestinians did it to some extent with Hamas. The Lebanese have brushed aside all the "dangers" that everyone keeps talking about OUTSIDE Lebanon (civil war, etc.) and said, "enough" there has got to
be an alternative.

This is what I've said over and over about islamists and arab
nationalist regimes being two sides of the same coin. They live off each other. In fact, this is precisely what Syria did in Lebanon with Hizbullah (propping it up in 96 and not allowing anyone to challenge it, until now it's a fait accompli). This has to be broken. This is what ammar and I said about setting up a system that leads to political
participation while alleviating minoritarian and secular fears. But we also are aware that Bashar has NO INTENTION of doing anything like that.

STOP KIDDING YOURSELVES. So the Syrians are really pathetic if
they have indeed resigned to this fate. They will be pretty much the
only ones in the area (even when they see themselves as superior than their neighbors) who will have done nothing and will have rallied around the fourth rate kleptocracy that has been ruling them for decades.

At 3/14/2005 05:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Prof. Joshua,
This is anon again!
When Hafez died five years ago, I was (and still am) living outside the country; and despite my ignorance about Bashar, I went to the Syrian Embassy and voted for him. I voted for stability, order, and security & I voted for a transitional period from absolute dictatorship to mature and stable democracy. Thirty years of dictatorship can't be wiped out by an article or a political analysis, it needs concentrated efforts by supported, and capable people. Imagine that Bashar with all his father's gaurds is being defied and resisted in his regime, what would have been the case with someone else??? Let us not forget that Syria is controlled by the military.
Tony & everyone who shares him his opinions: There is nothing personal between Bashar supporters and his regime, I'm a Sunni from a village 30 KM from Aleppo and many others share me these ideas.
Further, its not only the minorities who fear a civil war, common people from all sects including the majority want to maintain stability, raise families and move on with life. War benefits no one, we will end up with a Kosovo scenario and the division of Syria into an Alawite state in Latakia, Arab Sunni state and for sure a Kurdish state. This division will be a conclusion of Syrians slaughtering Syrians and loss of innocent lives.

Syrians need Bashar to move to real democracy.

At 3/14/2005 07:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A regime based on factionalism in favor a little minority is not able to democratize the country.
The history of this regime is full of hatred,genocide,spoliation,communautarism and division.
All the bad dictators always managed to say ,ourselves or the chaos and the civil wars...
It's enough 40 years of tyranny and lies.

At 3/16/2005 02:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To: Anonymous at 5:41am:

I agree with you.

And I will say Amen.

A Christian from Idlib.


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