Hariri in US: What will he Get?
Here is a tough condemnation of Syria by Bill Frist, (copied below) the Senate majority leader. He wants more action from Europe to force Syrian influence from Lebanon.
Part of the reason for Frist’s tough words is that Saad Hariri has been in Washington to meet President Bush. Yesterday he spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington DC. I couldn't make his talk as I was speaking at the Middle East Institute in DC at the time and then at Georgetown University with many other Syrianists, in what turned out to be an interesting series of panels organized by Michael Hudson and the Arab Studies Center.
One reporter told me that Hariri had asked George Bush for weapons and equipment to build up the Lebanese military. (A Daily Star article says he may get it.) Hariri spoke about Democracy and how important it was for Washington to support him and the Future Movement if it hoped to make any progress with its Reform of the Greater Middle East project. Hariri wants to go back to Beirut. He will need Bush's help to do it, unless he is to accept the Jeddah formula and make peace with Bashar al-Asad and Hizbullah, which seems to be off the table for now. Junblat undercut that move quickly, but it looked as if Saad Hariri was ready to sign onto the Saudi deal and bow to Hizbullah.
So Hariri came to Washington after Junblat and Dick Cheney scuttled the Saudi attempt to broker a truce between Shiites and Sunnis in Lebanon. Saad wants to know what George can do for him. He gets Frist's article for his troubles. And a nice statement by Rice -- see this: Rice vows to keep pressure on Syria. Rice said: "We will continue to make sure there is no intimidation of the Lebanese people."
Frist blames the Europeans for going soft on terror. He is asking the Europeans to get tough on Syria and Hizbullah. I guess America feels it has done about as much as it can in the way of unilateral sanctions, although I am sure it will find a few more measures to add to the long list it has already come up with to squeeze Syria and Hizbullah. Maybe Washington will give Hariri more arms so he can fight Hizbullah? What else can US authorities do other to send Hariri back empty handed. I guess it can ask Europe to get with the sanctions train. Good luck. A sad day for Saad. Saudi and Egypt have been running interference for Syria with the UN and the Hariri investigation.
There seems to be a consensus in the Middle East that Syria should be forced to pay a price - such as cutting loose a few security chieftains such as Ghazale - but that it shouldn't be destabilized by having the Asad family targeted, which Asad has made clear would lead to a direct confrontation with the international community. Europe has not declared Hizbullah a terrorist organization, which Frist is quick to point out in his finger-wagging article.
The fact that regional sentiment is blowing in Asad's direction was made clear by the Saudi attempt to broker a sulha between Syria and Lebanon. It was confirmed by General Aoun's recent statement that "his Free Patriotic Movement's closest ally in Lebanon was Hizbullah, as the two held similar views with regards to reform and other internal issues."
This statement by the most powerful Christian in Lebanon drove supporters of the Future Movement crazy. See Michael Young's recent op-ed in the Daily Star, in which he lambastes Aoun for all sorts of sins. It is a good example of the ire Aoun has stirred up. Aoun's biggest sin is clearly that he believes that the international community is going to hang the anti-Syrian Lebanese out to dry. I guess Aoun has some experience with the fickleness of the international community when it comes to supporting Lebanon against Syria. Aoun wants to be president of Lebanon, not to join Saad in exile. I guess Aoun is saying to himself - "Been there. Done that. Hariri, you take the high road this time and I will take the low road. Your dad was PM for over a decade. It is my turn before I join him in the great Baabda in the sky.
Aoun confirmed his stand on Thursday when he said the government should resign if it was unable to end a political crisis that has paralysed decision-making. Here is Reuters quoting Aoun:
"The government crisis ... is building up and we do not feel it is being remedied in a way that can bring results," Aoun said in an interview at his home in the hills above Beirut.You can be sure that Bashar is enjoying the Lebanese mud fight. He is also enjoying the Hamas victory in Palestine even if it means one more secular nationalist movement loses to Islamists. Like Mubarak, Asad will be smirking at US discomfiture as Washington sees its desire for democracy fulfilled. But Asad better not smirk too long, for the Hamas win also underscores what will happen to him should real elections be allowed in Syria.
"What does a government do in this situation? If you ask me what I would do, I would resign."
Lebanon's government, dominated by anti-Syrian politicians who won a majority in parliament in elections last year, has been in crisis since five Shi'ite Muslim ministers began boycotting sessions last month. The boycott began after the cabinet voted for an international trial for suspects in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri last February.
Rice, speaking of a possible Hamas win, said last week, "there should be no place in the political process for groups or individuals who refuse to renounce terror and violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, and disarm." Now Washington will have to add the PA on its growing list of governments to sanction and call evil.
So what did Saad Hariri get from Washington that may permit him to return to Beirut? It doesn't seem like much besides words - and perhaps some arms. My guess is that Washington will have to start sending arms to show that it is willing to support Hariri with more than words. He has to be able to deliver something to his supporters to prove that Washington hasn't abandoned him. What will Washington do about Hizbullah if it won't let Hariri compromise with the militia backed party? Building up the Lebanese army is a risky strategy, but one that will have to be undertaken if Washington is going to fight "terror."
Meanwhile, Asad is making a number of smart economic moves. Syria has recently announced a few new large development contracts meant to boost tourism and investment.
Investors from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria received Wednesday an official approval to build a resort in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo with a total cost of $140 million. According to Kuna, the resort which includes three, four and five star hotels containing 900 beds. Recently, the largest tourism project in Syria was launched by Kuwaiti’s Mohammad Abdul-Mohsen Al-Kharafi Company and Syria’s InterContinental Hotel with a total cost of $236 million.Dardari opened the Audi Bank main Branch in Syria. He also announced that several new Islamic banks would be opening shortly.
Syrian authorities also announced that the economy grew by %4.5 in 2005, which was slightly faster than expected and pulls Syria out of its recession, but isn't near the %7 figure needed to begin reducing its widespread unemployment.
Syria's three main ports in Banyas, Tartus and Latakia have seen increases in tonnage on the order of 25% this year. Tartus and Latakia are the big winners. The overland trade to Iraq is driving it. In 2004, Syria transported half of all the grain imported into Iraq though the Tartus port. A special WFP program managed by my brother-in-law, Mohamed el-Kouhene, was responsible for that.
The big economic news this past week, however, is that gas and cement prices were dramatically increased.
Syria raised the price of gasoline 24 percent on Thursday, largely to counter smuggling to neighboring states, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported.This hike in basic commodity prices has caused an uproar by Syrians. See the blogs and comment section of Syria-news. Readers of Syria Comment have been reporting on this in the comment section. But raising prices of gas and cement are necessary, if painful, adjustments Syria must make if it wants to balance its books, slow smuggling, and rationalize its economy. It is a sign that Asad is finding some political courage on the economic issues. These price hikes will certainly increase the gap between rich and poor and will spark some inflation in the short run. But in the long run, they should help reduce government expenditures and promote growth. They are long overdue.
SANA said the price of a liter rose from 24.35 Syrian pounds (48 US cents) to 30 pounds (60 US cents). However, at 60 US cents a liter, Syrian gasoline is still relatively cheap. In Lebanon a liter costs 70 cents and in Turkey US$1.72. In Jordan a liter sells for 61 cents, almost the same as in Syria.
Syria's new five year economic plan was officially launched this week. World Bank people that I have spoken to, who were involved in its gestation process, say it is a good plan if it is implemented. We will see.
Here is the Frist article:
Moving Toward Democracy
Washington DC, January 26, 2006/The New York Sun -
By Bill Frist, Majority leader of the US Senate
A year ago this month, a car bomb killed the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafic Hariri. An ongoing U.N. investigation has implicated the Syrian government in the murder. The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, may have played a personal role. Several additional high-profile bombings have occurred in the last several months.
Enough is enough: Syria's actions in Lebanon have proven that it has no desire to play by the rules of civilized nations. Now, the United States and its partners need to ramp up the pressure on Damascus. We need to push Syria away from its homegrown brand of Arab fascism and toward democracy, peace, and an authentic end to its interference with Lebanon's affairs. We should start by increasing and expanding our funding for prodemocracy groups in Lebanon and Syria. In the coming Congress, I plan to support legislation that will do just that.
During my travels in Lebanon last year, I visit the late prime minister's grave and met with many of the political opposition leaders who rallied to end the overt Syrian occupation of Lebanon. These leaders have the support of the Lebanese people and at least some Syrians. Now, they need assistance from the international community.
Those who favor Syrian democracy have a difficult task. Since it invaded Lebanon in 1976, the government in Damascus has earned a place for itself on the roll call of the world's most dangerous regimes. The Assad regime funds terrorists, supports groups seeking to undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, seeks weapons of mass destruction, and maintains a domestic police state based on the same fascist Baath ideology that animated Saddam Hussein's regime. Along with its ally in Iran, Syria funds Hezbollah bases in Southern Lebanon that the terrorist group uses to launch rocket attacks against Israel. Syria has also allowed Al Qaeda fighters to enter Iraq through its territory.
Despite the withdrawal of its regular military forces last year, Syrian intelligence agencies remain deeply involved with Lebanon's government, banks, and commercial enterprises. Prime Minister Hariri worked hard to end this interference in his nation's affairs. Like many others, he paid for these efforts with his life.
To honor his memory and restore full Lebanese sovereignty, the U.S. has to broaden its efforts in Syria. Since 2003, we have maintained a tough set of sanctions and restrictions on Syria that have helped isolate the nation. Increased funding for pro-democracy groups isn't enough by itself, however, and sanctions work best when they involve more than one country. To begin with, we need to redouble our efforts to force Syrian cooperation with U.N. investigators and bring Hariri's murderers to justice. And if Syria fails to respond and won't comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions, we need to press our allies to also place tough sanctions on Damascus.
Our allies in Europe have a stake in this effort, and the Bush administration should look for ways to strengthen our partnership with them. The European Union remains Syria's largest trade partner, sends foreign aid to Syria, and has yet to label Hezbollah a terrorist group. The Assad regime interprets this sort of half-hearted diplomacy as a sign of weakness: It's unlikely to modify its behavior as a result.
In the long term, I am convinced that the Syrian and Lebanese population will move their own nations toward democracy if given the chance. Without strong international backing, it may take decades for real change to happen. With support from the international community, however, we can compel Syria to disentangle itself from Lebanon's affairs, move toward democracy, and eventually take its rightful place in the community of nations.
Dr. Frist is majority leader of the United States Senate.