NSC Chief Hadley asked Italy for a Bashar Replacement
I have it on good authority that Steven Hadley, the director of the US National Security Council, called the President of the Italian senate to asked if he had a candidate to replace Bashar al-Asad as President of Syria. The Italians were horrified. Italy is one of Syria’s biggest trading partners so it seemed a reasonable place to ask! This is what Washington has been up to.
Bashar cannot possibly do what Washington is demanding of it -- give family members to an international court. My guess is that the regime will stick together on this.
On 25 Oct, the UN will announce that Syria must cooperate or serious action will ensue. Syria will pretend to cooperate, but ultimately stonewall. Then the UN will have to place sanctions on Syria. If Europe balks at this, the US will threaten unilateral action as it did in Iraq. It will not invade, but will start small cross-border raids and perhaps strategic bombings in Syria. The threat of doing this will probably be enough to pressure Europe into going along with fairly tough sanctions. I do not think military action or the treat of military action will force Syria into regime change on its own. Syria will reach out to the West as it has been doing all along, but only too little too late.
Can the Syrian opposition exploit this situation? I doubt it, but we will have to see how resourceful it is and how determined the Syrian regime is at repressing it. It is trying to organize as quickly as it can. Tomorrow at 11:00am there is a call to meet at the Arab Cultural Center on Abu Roumani, where UN day ceremonies are to be being held.
The Syrian regime will no come apart as Washington is hoping. That is what I believe. The Mehlis situation is a big transformation of US-Syrian relations and puts the two in a whole different territory. A court of law is no where to carry out diplomacy. Deals cannot be made and compromises cannot be reached once the court is assembled. And for all intents and purposes the court has been assembled. The world has been promised that the perpetrators of the Hariri murder will be punished. President Asad has not been directly implicated, but the rest of his family has been. Trying to separate him from them will require fratricide. He won't do it. He cannot do it.
U.S. Sees Opening For Change in Syria
Eroding Assad's Power Is Short-Term Goal
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 23, 2005; A22
The Bush administration is brokering a series of steps designed to unravel the regime in Syria but not oust the government of President Bashar Assad -- at least not yet, U.S. policymakers say.
Washington is intent on squeezing its most consistent nemesis in the Arab world to cooperate -- not only on Lebanon -- through the kind of pressure that eventually turned Moammar Gaddafi after Libyan agents were linked to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, according to U.S. officials.
The new United Nations report linking top Syrian officials, including Assad family members, to the killing of Lebanon's leading reformer eight months ago has sparked a "transformation" in how the world is willing to deal with Damascus, which Washington wants to cultivate, said a senior U.S. policymaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity because diplomacy is ongoing.
"Out of tragedy comes an extraordinary strategic opportunity," the official said. "This murder changed everything." Former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was killed Feb. 14.
The long-term U.S. goal is to break the 35-year hold of the Assad family and allow Syrians to freely pick a new government. But in the short term, the administration is somewhat reluctantly opting to let the U.N. investigation and the subsequent judicial process, combined with punitive U.N. sanctions, erode Assad's power -- and see if he then changes Syrian practices in the region, U.S. officials said.
Damascus must end attempts to destabilize neighbors and undercut their aspirations, "whether that be the Lebanese people for independent sovereignty, whether it be the Palestinian people for an independent state that lives in peace with Israel, whether it be for the Iraqis who are trying to develop a peaceful and stable democracy but are having to fight a determined but unprincipled insurgency, or whether it be for Turkey," said State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli.
In specific terms, that means such moves as closing the Damascus airport and border routes to extremists bound for Iraq, terminating ties with Palestinian rejectionist groups and the flow of arms to Lebanese militants, and developing good relations with the new Baghdad government, State Department officials said.
Washington is also talking with European allies about how to help Lebanon pursue the prosecution of those charged in the slaying, including holding trials with international help or at a venue outside Lebanon, U.S. officials said. Saad Hariri, Rafiq Hariri's son and the leader of the largest bloc in Lebanon's parliament, said yesterday that he wants his father's killers to be tried in an international court.
Although Syria has never been more isolated, U.S. officials caution that their ambitions are curbed by realities on the ground. After an intense hunt for alternatives, the Bush administration has concluded that there is no political party strong enough and sufficiently friendly to endorse as a replacement for Assad, U.S. officials said.
Unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, Syria has few democratic exile groups. The Muslim Brotherhood, an underground Islamist group, is the strongest internal opposition.
A more aggressive policy of "regime change" could backfire, U.S. officials said. An abrupt upheaval could invite a return to the kind of rampant instability and coups that typified Syria until Hafez Assad came to power in 1971.
"It's very difficult to identify someone viable within the power structure that the U.S. could work with other than Bashar. And if you look beyond the regime, the most likely alternative to the present political order would be heavily Islamist and anti-American," said Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council staffer in the Bush administration and author of "Inheriting Syria: Bashar's Trial by Fire."
"And if this regime implodes, you would probably get chaos and violence along ethnic and sectarian lines . . . with spillover into Iraq and other parts of the region."
Yet Washington also believes that Assad -- an ophthalmologist who inherited power from his father in 2000 because his older brother, the designated heir, was killed in a car crash -- probably will not fully comply with the new terms laid out by the Security Council this week.
The Syrian leader vowed to punish anyone tied to the Hariri case. But he is unlikely to sacrifice his own brother, Maher Assad, or Gen. Asef Shawkat, his brother-in-law and the head of Syrian military intelligence, U.S. officials said.
Both were cited in the U.N. report by investigator Detlev Mehlis for allegedly planning the Hariri bombing. For his political salvation, Gaddafi turned over two agents tried for the Pan Am bombing. But the younger Assad has yet to demonstrate the confident pragmatism of his father, who sent troops to join the U.S.-led coalition to liberate Kuwait in 1991 and participated in the U.S.-orchestrated 1993 Madrid peace talks.
"For the past few years, there's been a deliberate effort to change Syria's behavior" -- with limited results, said Edward P. Djerejian, former U.S. ambassador to Syria. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was among several officials during the first Bush term who went to Damascus to seek common ground on terrorism, Lebanon, Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Djerejian told Assad in January that Washington believed the time had arrived for Syria to finally act against Iraqis tied to Saddam Hussein in Syria. Assad took "half-measures" -- after the election -- reflecting his failure to understand how "to engage constructively and actively," Djerejian said.
And that may force the Bush administration to make a tougher decision, U.S. officials acknowledged. "The big question is: Is there anything to indicate that Assad would show any deviation from past behavior," said the senior U.S. official. "We're certainly not trying to save the regime."
And, unlike in Libya, Washington is unwilling to let the process of change take a decade, U.S. officials said. "Syria's situation is much more urgent," the senior official said.
There is also this story about Roed-Larsen's report in Haaretz which suggests his report will also damn the Syrians for not fulfilling 1559. it will be a double whammy at the UN on Tuesday.
New UN report brings Syria closer to sanctionsBy Ze'ev Schiff and Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondents
The aim of the report by UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, which is to be submitted this week to the UN Secretariat and the Security Council, is to determine whether Syria complied with UN Resolution 1559, calling for its withdrawal from Lebanon.Syria May Let Officials Be Questioned Abroad
The findings of the Roed-Larsen report, together with the Mehlis Commission interim report on the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, increase the chances that the Security Council will impose sanctions on Syria.
The Mehlis report points an accusing finger at Syria. Without making a direct accusation of murder, it emphasizes Syria's responsibility and attempts by Syrian figures to lie and squirm their way out of the investigation into the murder.
Roed-Larsen's report will place much more pressure on Syria than the Mehlis report because it states that Damascus did not genuinely implement Resolution 1559, preferring instead to maintain its indirect military control of Lebanon through its agents in the Lebanese presidential palace, the army and intelligence organizations.
Official sources say Syrian intelligence was involved in 14 assassinations and assassination attempts in Lebanon in the past year, including that of Hariri.
Part of Syria's indirect control in Lebanon is achieved through arms shipments to Hezbollah and armed Palestinian militias, most of which end up in the refugee camps. In addition, Lebanon is home to a few dozen members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards who have trained Hezbollah members in launching drones. On two occasions, the drones made short flights into the Galilee.
It appears unlikely that the Security Council will consider the two reports sufficiently damning to impose sanctions on Syria. Both reports prepare the ground for future sanctions, however, and contain an indirect recommendation to Syrian President Bashar Assad that he cooperate with the United Nations.
Government Bristles at 'Pure Allegations' in Hariri's Killing but Considers Cooperating
By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 23, 2005; Page A22
DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 22 -- Facing the prospect of international sanctions, the Syrian government said Saturday that it might allow senior intelligence officials suspected in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri to be questioned abroad, and it promised to cooperate, within limits, with the investigation.
But the government mixed conciliation with hesitation and a litany of reservations, condemning the report as a political ploy and contending officials had already fully cooperated with the U.N. inquiry. Analysts in Damascus said Saturday's moves signaled what may emerge as the shape of Syrian policy in the decisive weeks ahead: offering enough gestures to fend off international pressure but making no concessions that might imperil a government that already feels besieged.
At a news conference, Riyad Dawudi, a Foreign Ministry adviser, gave the first public response by the government, which was said to be caught off guard by the breadth of the U.N. inquiry. It came amid grumblings in the Syrian capital over the lack of forceful leadership during a crisis that has become the biggest test of Bashar Assad's five-year reign as president.
"We'll cooperate, but we'll wait to see the limits and elements of this cooperation," Dawudi said.
He signaled that the government might be willing to send senior officials abroad for questioning in the investigation.
"If there's a necessity, we will see according to the circumstances that are going to be put before us," he said. "If there is any demand coming from the commission, we will study, we will discuss with the commission and we might agree."
The report by the probe's German prosecutor, Detlev Mehlis, stopped short of directly blaming Assad for the assassination, but it contended that the Feb. 14 killing of Hariri and 22 others could not have happened without the approval of top Syrian security officials and their Lebanese intelligence counterparts.
The report names individuals from a cross section of the Syrian government -- civilian and military officials, politicians and intelligence figures, and officials from the Sunni Muslim majority and Assad's own minority Alawite community. The report said Syria's foreign minister lied in a letter to investigators -- a charge Dawudi denied -- and cited one witness as implicating Assad's powerful brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, a member of the government's inner circle.
Dawudi questioned the credibility of one of the report's named witnesses and said other testimony amounted to hearsay. He said the investigation relied on the accounts of Lebanese witnesses who were anti-Syrian, giving the report a political cast that will allow it to be manipulated by Syria's foes, namely the United States and France.
"What is in the report are pure allegations," Dawudi said. "Everything is based on a presumption that the very presence of the Syrian security apparatus and military forces in Lebanon and the impact Syria had in Lebanon at that time implies -- and this is an induction done in the report -- implies that this assassination plot could not have been carried out without the knowledge of the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services. And this is just an allegation."
The Syrian government had reportedly expected a more favorable portrayal in Mehlis's inquiry because it allowed its officials to be interviewed. "They were shocked, they were totally shocked by the content of the report," said Ibrahim Hamidi, a well-connected journalist in Damascus for the leading pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat. "They expected Mehlis to at least mention they were cooperating. Of course, they did not expect him to go this high, to leak all these names."
Analysts in Damascus said the leadership appears divided between two factions -- one urging more cooperation, sensing the depth of the crisis, and the other believing that the government can weather the turmoil and that any degree of cooperation will likely only bring more demands. Some in the Syrian capital have been struck by the government's response. Assad has yet to comment publicly on the report, perhaps out of fear of creating an atmosphere of crisis.
"There was no new information, no opinion, nothing about what will happen in the future, no real opinion of what the government of Syria has decided or thinks about this report," said Ayman Abdel Nour, a Baath Party reformer and editor of a popular Web site that tracks Syrian politics. "What is this? This is no longer a technical issue."
"We need politicians to address the people of Syria -- this is what happened, this is the pressure we are under, this is what might happen in the future, this is what we have in mind," Abdel Nour added. "We want to know who's leading us."
The United States and France are expected to put resolutions critical of Syria before the U.N. Security Council, which will meet Tuesday to discuss the report. In a statement broadcast Saturday, Hariri's son, Saad, who heads the largest anti-Syrian bloc in Lebanon's parliament, repeated his faction's call for an international tribunal to try suspects in his father's killing.
"Reaching justice presents the Arab and international community with additional responsibilities that prompt us to urge them to continue all aspects of the investigation in the crime and refer it to an international court," he said from his home in Saudi Arabia in his first public reaction to the Mehlis's report. "We do not seek revenge. We seek justice."
The Syrian response is a matter of much debate in Damascus. Abdel Nour predicted that the government would stick to a style of foreign policy engineered by Assad's father, Hafez, who ruled Syria from 1970 to his death in 2000.
Others suspect the Syrian government is inclined to strike a deal, meeting U.S. demands to cut support to militant Palestinian factions and to the Lebanese Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah. Syria could also answer calls to take more steps to close the border with Iraq to foreign fighters. Whether the United States would accept a deal remains in question, increasing the speculation here that more upheaval is ahead.
"The entire regime is in the neck of the bottle. They cannot do anything," said Haitham Maleh, a human rights lawyer and opposition activist. "Somebody has to take a step."