Across the Bay

Monday, April 30, 2007

No Soup for You

An-Nahar's Hisham Melhem reported on Saturday, quoting US sources (probably from DoS) that Sec. Rice will not be holding bilateral talks with Syria's FM Walid Moallem on the sidelines of the upcoming conference on Iraq's security later this week.

Moallem seemed to confirm this when he acknowledged that "the Americans have not made such a request, but if Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice wishes, then we can meet."

In contrast, Rice has publicized its willingness to meet with her Iranian counterpart (who at first was not going to participate, but then Iran changed its mind). Rice (and Melhem's sources) has stressed however that the sole subject of discussion will be Iraq's security.

If indeed Rice does not meet with Moallem, then the conference will be yet another venue to isolate Syria (during the first conference, the US delegates also did not speak with the Syrians at all), even as the US talks to Iran about Iraq.

You can bet Assad will be watching this very carefully, and uneasily, as evident from Moallem's remarks. That's why he's once again floating his old wish, to have a tripartite Arab summit with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to create the illusion that he's part of the Arab mainstream, and not isolated, but also to regain Arab cover for his bid to re-dominate Lebanon, and to get Arab backing in his effort to scuttle the international tribunal into the assassinations in Lebanon. It's to no avail of course.

This is not due primarily to the fact that since the Arab summit Bashar and his buddies have been launching a campaign against the Saudi initiative (as I noted, the Syrian interest is to sabotage it). Rather, the Saudis (and the Europeans) have made it clear to Bashar that the litmus test for his behavior is Lebanon. There has been no sign of change there. In fact, there has been a series of Saudi public statements of displeasure (some by Saud al-Faysal were preemptive, anticipating Syrian destabilizing efforts in months to come when Lahoud's term expires).

Syrian destructive behavior in Lebanon will again be at the forefront at the UN this week, when a series of reports dealing with Syria's continuous breach of UNSCR 1559 and 1701, as well as their sabotage of the process to ratify the tribunal in Lebanon (thus leading to its probable adoption under Chap. 7) will be highlighted.

This has led to an attack on the UN by Moallem and Farouq al-Sharaa, not to mention Assad's snub of the UN Sec. Gen. who was in Damascus recently trying to get Assad to cooperate.

Revealing the known fact that Syria is desperately trying to alter the tribunal's protocol and statutes (in order to totally empty the tribunal of any substance), Moallem repeated the official line from Syria about the tribunal and UNR 1595, 1680 and 1701, showing that indeed Syria is not about to change its behavior.

He said that the current statutes of the tribunal would render the prosecutor general a sort of high commissioner over Lebanon and the region.

Moallem hinted that Syria might stop cooperating with the UN investigative commission into the series of assassinations in Lebanon should the tribunal be adopted under Chap. 7. He also added the usual Syrian threat that such a move would lead to chaos in Lebanon, openly admitting that Syria will continue to try and set Lebanon on fire (as it recently tried to do). Syria's pitbulls in Lebanon, such as Wiam Wahhab, have often threatened that Chap. 7 would unleash attacks against UNIFIL (a threat repeatedly made by Moallem himself and other Syrian officials, as I've noted in the past. In fact, a European official told me that the Syrians made this threat directly to the Europeans). So Syria is openly rejecting and is in violation of UNSCR 1595, 1636 and 1644 (passed under Chap. 7).

Moallem also refused to have Syria's borders with Lebanon monitored by the UN on the Lebanese side, which would assist the Lebanese Army, once again threatening to shut the borders with Lebanon (so as Lebanese trade could not pass through) if such a move were made. And so Syria is rejecting and is in violation of UNSCR 1701.

And Moallem finally rejected to demarcate the border with Lebanon in the Shebaa Farms area, repeating that this is a bilateral issue with Lebanon that would only happen after an Israeli withdrawal, not just from Shebaa itself, but, as recent Syrian statements have clarified, from the Golan Heights. And so, Syria is rejecting, and is in violation of UNSCR 1680. In fact, in an interview with Asharq al-Awsat months ago, Moallem called UNSCR 1680 "meaningless."

And so, Syria is signaling very clearly that it will remain a rogue state, and a chronic element and exporter of instability in the region, giving new meaning to the WaPo's recent editorial. And it is crystal clear about its desire to re-dominate Lebanon, and so to violate multiple UNSC resolutions 1559, 1595, 1680, 1701, among others, and to make a mockery of the Security Council. Furthermore, it means that its policy and interests are diametrically opposed to those of the US and its friends and allies, the EU, Saudi Arabia, and of course, Lebanon.

Rice will do well not to meet with this thug at Sharm al-Sheikh this week.