The Syrian Opposition and Washington
The following article by Strobel of Knight Ridder, quotes Labwani about his meeting with Crouch of the NSC. A heated debate has been taking place among opposition members in the US. Should they ask Washington to back the Damascus Declaration? Labwani wants the US to openly declare its backing. I believe this would be a disaster. Michel Kilo's line on al-Jazeera, when I appeared with him on Hiwar Maftouh, was that the opposition stood with the regime against America but with the people against the regime. This rather awkward position sums up the stand of many members of the Syrian left - particularly those who used to belong to communists and Nasserist trends. They know that their reputation will be shot if they openly back American against the Syrian government, particularly if sanctions are eventually placed on Syria by the UN security council. Publicly, they embrace the Syrian government's argument that America's ultimate goal is to reduce Syria to vassalage and obliterate its sovereignty as an independent nation. They also argue that the government's incompetence is leading to Syria's loss of sovereignty, thus they are on the side of independence and a strong Syria free from American imperialism. If America openly backed them, they would undoubtedly refuse the backing.
Anyway, America is not about to declare its support for the Damascus Declaration put out by the Syrian opposition. Such support would tear apart the UN coalition, most members of which do not want regime change in Syria. America cannot afford to openly back regime-change while it declares it is only seeking the change of regime behavior. It may decide to do this at some later date, but, for now, the UN coalition cannot be freighted with US demands for democracy in Syria. The phrase "democracy in the Middle East" has become anathema to European states. It smacks of utopianism and will only invoke frightening images of Iraq.
For now, the US will focus on Mehlis and only Mehlis. That is the mandate it got from the UN. It has no tools to influence Syria outside of multilateral diplomacy. The Syrian opposition is a very weak tool. Washington will distain it. It will dangle it in front of the Syrian government's nose as a reminder to what comes next, but it will not build a policy on it.
New Syrian leadership probably wouldn't benefit U.S., report says
BY WARREN P. STROBEL
Fri, Nov. 04, 2005
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - A new U.S. intelligence report concludes that if Syrian President Bashar Assad is overthrown, his successor is unlikely to be more supportive of American policies in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, according to current and former government officials.
The report surfaces amid growing speculation in Damascus and abroad over the fate of Assad's regime, which faces intense international isolation over its alleged role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last winter.
It highlights the delicate balancing act that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confronts as she orchestrates escalating international pressure on Syria.
The United States and France, who are coordinating diplomacy, say their aim is to change Syria's actions, not its regime.
Washington wants Syria to cooperate with a U.N. probe into Hariri's murder, stop insurgents from crossing into neighboring Iraq, cease interfering in Lebanon and crack down on the radical Palestinian groups it hosts.
"The Syrian government needs to make a strategic decision to fundamentally change its behavior," Rice said at the U.N. Security Council late last month.
Within the Bush administration, there's a vigorous debate over how far to go in pushing for regime change in Syria.
Diplomats acknowledge that a risk of the current course is that Assad could be overthrown, especially if he's forced to turn over members of his ruling family for questioning or prosecution.
"Will it lead to a change of behavior of the regime, or a coup? We don't know," said a senior European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.
Some leaders in Europe and the Middle East suspect the United States is attempting to do in Syria what it did in Iraq - overthrow its leader - but without firing a shot.
J.D. Crouch, Bush's deputy national security adviser, met Thursday with a Syrian opposition figure, Kamal al-Labwani, at the White House, a Bush administration official confirmed Friday.
Al-Labwani played a role in last month's release of the "Damascus Declaration," which calls for peaceful political change in Syria, by five opposition groups. The meeting was to discuss that development and American support for democratic reform, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But such is the concern over destabilizing Syria that even Israel - its bitter enemy - has urged the Bush administration to proceed cautiously.
The new intelligence assessment was compiled in late September by the office of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.
The classified document concludes that if Assad is overthrown, he's likely to be replaced by someone from the ruling leadership who'd pursue the same policies or even more confrontational ones, according to officials who've read it or been briefed on its contents.
Syria is an authoritarian nation long ruled by members of the minority Alawite sect. Domestic political opposition, while emboldened by the pressure on Assad, is weak.
One of the most potent groups in society is the Muslim Brotherhood, which espouses an Islamic state. But the report sees little chance of it gaining political power soon, one of the officials said.
The U.N. Security Council voted 15-0 Monday to demand that Syria cooperate fully with German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis' investigation into Hariri's murder.
Mehlis concluded in an interim report that the killing couldn't have happened without Syrian officials' complicity. One version of the report, containing text that wasn't supposed to have been made public, cites a witness claiming that the president's brother, Maher Assad, and brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, the powerful head of Syria's military intelligence, were involved.
With even Syria's traditional Arab allies not rushing to support it, the country is more isolated than at any time in recent memory.
Even among Syrians there are differing views on how much danger Assad is in. He took over when his father died five years ago.
"There is no chaos," Ayman Abdel Nour, a reformer within Syria's ruling Baath party, said in a telephone interview from Damascus. "There is no probability, zero, for a coup."
Because opposition and human rights groups are suppressed under an emergency law, "we cannot expect anything from them," said Abdel Nour, who runs a Web site featuring vigorous political discussion.
Yet Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian author and expert on Middle East minorities, said the regime could be close to collapsing and that opposition groups were gaining confidence.
"There's a general feeling that the country could implode," said Abdulhamid, who's currently at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, a research center.
He praised the Bush administration for maintaining a solid international front on Syria, in sharp contrast to the deep splits that developed over Iraq. "They've played their cards right" and maximized pressure on Assad, he said.
SYRIA: FOREIGN MINISTER TIPPED TO GO
Damascus, 3 Nov. (AKI) - With Damascus under unprecedented international pressure to cooperate over the murder of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and the Baathist regime in crisis, there are rumours and unconfirmed reports circulating in the capital about imminent changes. Among these, the replacement of veteran foreign minister, Farouq al-Sharaa, amid a wider cabinet shake-up, the lifting of the 42-year state of emergency, and the abolition of a law which sets the death penalty for membership of the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to informed sources in Damascus, the replacement of Farouq al-Sharra, especially after his much criticised defence speech before the UN Security Council this week, would be one measure in a package of changes, as the regime struggles to save face and support at home and abroad.
Many Syrian political leaders and opinion-makers believed that answering UN accusations about Syria's alleged role in the February carbomb that killed Rafik Hariri in Beirut, al-Sharaa wasted a precious opportunity for "Syria to better clarify its position".
Al-Sharaa claimed that accusing Syrian security forces of knowing in advance about Hariri's killing was like saying U.S. officials knew ahead of time about the Sept. 11 attacks, Spain knew about the 2004 train bombings or Britain knew about last summer's London transport bombings. The German prosecutor leading the UN international probe, Detlev Mehlis, has accused al-Sharaa of having 'misled the investigation'.
However, sources close to al-Sharaa told Adnkronos International (AKI) argued that the relationship between al-Sharaa and president Bashar al-Assad is "very solid", and "goes beyond the relationship between a president and his foreign minister. The sources underlined that "even if al-Assad did decide to fire al-Sharaa, he would remain one of his closest counsellors and perhaps even his deputy", in the place of Abd al-Halim Khaddam, who during the tenth Baath party congress in June, announced his resignation.
At that congress there was fierce criticism of al-Sharaa's policies in Lebanon and the congress delegates asked that he be deprived of the foreign portfolio and that it pass to his deputy, Walid al-Muallim.
Farouq al-Sharaa, 67, was appointed foreign minister during the reign of the late president Hafiz al-Assad and kept the role even after his son Bashar took power. He is an English graduate and studied international law in London.
From 1976 to 1980, he was Syria's ambssador in Rome, and minister of state for foreign affairs from 1980-84, before being assigned the full ministerial role.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad seek new sanctuary
Terrorist groups fearful Syria might expel them to placate the West
Posted: November 4, 2005
By Aaron Klein
© 2005 WorldNetDaily.com
JERUSALEM – Fearful they might soon be forced to vacate Syria, Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad asked Egypt and Jordan whether they would be willing to host their terror headquarters, Israeli security officials said.
It was one of the first signs Syrian President Bashar Assad might expel the terror groups in an effort to divert mounting international pressure after a United Nations investigation all but blamed his regime for assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February.
Both Egypt and Jordan declined to host the groups, officials said.
Hamas chief Khaled Meshal and Islamic Jihad head Ramadan Shallah operate openly from Damascus, where they give media interviews, hold meetings and make public appearances.
Israeli security officials say the terror chiefs in Syria also give orders for their West Bank- and Gaza-based operatives to attack Israel. For example, the Islamic Jihad suicide attack north of Tel Aviv that killed five last week was ordered from Damascus, they say.
Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades West Bank leader Abu Carmel, who said his group took part in last week's suicide bombing, verified to WND that orders to carry out the attack stemmed from Islamic Jihad's offices in Syria. Jihad claimed the bombing was retaliation for Israel's killing of one of its senior leaders two days before.
US launches offensive near Syria
November 05, 2005
US and Iraqi forces have launched an offensive along the border with Syria called Operation Steel Curtain involving some 3500 troops, the US military said today.
The goal of the military sweep "is to restore security along the Iraqi-Syrian border and destroy the Al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist network operating throughout Husaybah, located on the Iraqi-Syrian border," the military said.
The operation involves some 1000 Iraqi army soldiers as well as 2500 Marines, sailors and soldiers.
"Operation Steel Curtain marks the first large-scale employment of multiple battalion-sized units of Iraqi Army forces in combined operations" with US-led forces, the military said.