Syria Ready to Reopen Israel Peace Talks
Syria ready to reopen Israel peace talks
Assad hopes to head off UN sanctions
Simon Tisdall and Ewen MacAskill
Thursday December 8, 2005
Syria is engaged in clandestine talks about reopening peace negotiations with Israel in an attempt to head off United Nations sanctions next week over its alleged role in the February assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.
Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, is being urged by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to restart bilateral talks with Israel that collapsed in 2000. Discussions were under way in Mecca yesterday at a summit of the Islamic Conference Organisation, chaired by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and attended by most Arab heads of government.
The Arab proposal forms part of an unexpected initiative to revive King Abdullah's landmark 2002 plan for a comprehensive MIddle East peace settlement. An Arab official said the Abdullah plan, which proposes official recognition of Israel by all Arab countries in exchange for the return of occupied Arab land, was on yesterday's agenda in a closed-door session of the Mecca summit.
Arab diplomats said Syria's revived interest in talking to Israel resulted from its wish to deflect US and other western pressure over allegations that senior Syrian officials were involved in the Hariri killing. Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor in charge of the inquiry, is due to present his final report to the UN security council next Thursday, a move that could trigger punitive action threatening Mr Assad's rule.
"Syria would go along with almost anything at this point," a senior Arab diplomat said yesterday. "They are looking for any leeway. They do not want to be penalised like Libya or Iraq. They are definitely looking for a way out of this mess."
Israel has occupied the Golan Heights area between the two countries since the 1967 war. Last week, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, said he was in no hurry to resume peace talks with Syria. "In my opinion, Israel should not surrender the Golan Heights," Mr Sharon said.
The US state department is backing the Arab approach as part of its strategy to force Damascus to mend its ways. In the wake of the Hariri killing, Washington has demanded that Syria end its domination of Lebanon, block jihadist infiltration into Iraq and end its support for Palestinian militant groups. So far, Syria has withdrawn its troops from Lebanon and the Iraqi interior minister, Baqir Jabr Solagh, reported this week that cross-border infiltration by insurgents had halted.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the main US ally in the Arab world, received a letter from Mr Assad on Tuesday about the peace proposal and the Hariri affair. Mr Mubarak said Egypt and other Arab countries were "exerting great efforts" to prevent an escalation of the crisis. In a recent visit to Damascus, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security chief, told Mr Assad that Saudi Arabia "has always cared for the safety of the Syrian people and leadership". He said the region had reached a critical stage and "all need to behave wisely and carefully". Mr Assad did not attend the Mecca summit, though Syria was represented at a high level.
A senior Foreign Office source said Arab leaders were actively trying to avoid another regional conflagration that could occur if western pressure led to Mr Assad's regime being toppled. He said British policy was to force Syria to reform but "not to humiliate them".
But US neo-conservatives are urging the US Bush administration to isolate Mr Assad, even if that means blocking talks with Israel. Richard Perle, former Pentagon adviser, said: "Assad has never been weaker and we should take advantage of that."
James Bamford has an interesting story in The Rolling Stone of Nov 17, 2005 entitled: "The Man Who Sold the War: Meet John Rendon, Bush's general in the propaganda war." Here are a few paragraphs:
There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa.
The fabrication might have ended there, the tale of another political refugee trying to scheme his way to a better life. But just because the story wasn't true didn't mean it couldn't be put to good use. Al-Haideri, in fact, was the product of a clandestine operation -- part espionage, part PR campaign -- that had been set up and funded by the CIA and the Pentagon for the express purpose of selling the world a war. And the man who had long been in charge of the marketing was a secretive and mysterious creature of the Washington establishment named John Rendon.
Rendon is a man who fills a need that few people even know exists. Two months before al-Haideri took the lie-detector test, the Pentagon had secretly awarded him a $16 million contract to target Iraq and other adversaries with propaganda. One of the most powerful people in Washington, Rendon is a leader in the strategic field known as "perception management," manipulating information -- and, by extension, the news media -- to achieve the desired result. His firm, the Rendon Group, has made millions off government contracts since 1991, when it was hired by the CIA to help "create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power." Working under this extraordinary transfer of secret authority, Rendon assembled a group of anti-Saddam militants, personally gave them their name -- the Iraqi National Congress -- and served as their media guru and "senior adviser" as they set out to engineer an uprising against Saddam. It was as if President John F. Kennedy had outsourced the Bay of Pigs operation to the advertising and public-relations firm of J. Walter Thompson.