Across the Bay

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Piling it on

It's interesting to see how the European stance towards Syria is remarkably similar to the Bush administration's position, which is supposedly "ideologically intransigent," as we're told by regime flacks and self-styled, latter-day pseudo "realists." We're now seeing the Europeans pile condition after condition before initiating dialogue with Syria. The bottom line is Syria has to pay up front. Furthermore, as I've said repeatedly on this blog, Lebanon is very much the litmus test. But the list of demands is growing even beyond that.

The French position on renewing dialogue with Syria is now for Syria to "play a positive role" in the Lebanese presidential elections (i.e., to quote Javier Solana, "the best way for Syria to help Lebanon is to let Lebanon do its job, and I think that the leaders of Syria must understand that.") by not blocking them through violence and assassinations, as FM Kouchner speficially spelled it out hinting at Syria: he hoped "the election will take place without any foreign interference, brutality or assassinations which often come from outside Lebanon" and, "We also hope that there will be no meddling in the country's presidential elections by either foreign or surrounding countries." (Moreover, one French source specified it even more: the president is to be choice of the parliamentary majority with the approval of the opposition). But there's an additional condition: Syria must play a positive role for regional stability, which it obviously is not doing. As such, the French spokesman said, "the conditions for visiting Syria are not yet there."

Other statements from the French and German leaderships specifically stressed UNSCR 1559 and 1701 as the basis. This is what both Sarkozy and Merkel have said, stressing the need to recognize Lebanon's sovereignty (code for UNSCR 1559, 1680, and 1701). In fact, when a German minister visited Syria recently, and even when she stressed to the Syrians the need to respect Lebanon's sovereignty, the visit caused quite a stir among German officials, both in the coalition and the opposition, denouncing the visit as irresponsible. The head of the parliamentary opposition said Germans were now paying the very people "who are torpedoing our efforts at stabilization."

The Italians, often seen as a weak spot, are on the same wave length.

D'Alema said that he told Sharaa that "we ask from Syria a very clear position on Lebanon's independence and sovereignty and (emphasis mine) we ask of it to participate positively in peace and stability in the region and the respect of Lebanon's independence.

Prodi for his part made a statement ahead of Sharaa's visit where he placed conditions on inviting Syria to the peace conference, that it should give "clear signals of commitment, goodwill, and openness to dialogue" which are currently lacking.

Addendum: The Maronite Patriarch Sfeir, who is visiting Italy and the Vatican, was asked what the Italian officials told Sharaa, who tried to preempt the Patriarch's visit (to sell the usual snake oil that Syria is the true guarantor and protector of Lebanese Christians, and thus it should get to nominate the president). He replied: "They made Syria understand that it should not interfere in Lebanese affairs and that it must respect Lebanon's sovereignty and independence, and that there should be reasonable relations between the two countries, that is relations between two neighboring countries who share certain interests."

Meanwhile the Saudis are not only not talking to the Syrians and recently had a very ugly public row with them (which I will come back to in a separate post), they even very publicly snubbed them by canceling a visit by Walid Moallem to Jeddah, which the Syrians publicized in advance as evidence of how relations with Saudi are "quite normal." (Side joke: One pathetically hilarious Imad Moustapha poodle tried to "prove" how my reading of Bashar's invitation to the Riyadh summit in March was "clearly wrong" by posting pictures of Arab leaders alongside Bashar! Clearly, that was airtight proof that the Saudis had buried the hatchet with Bashar! Yes, that clearly shows deep understanding of ME politics!)

And so you see what we've been saying all along: the Bush administration's position is hardly the exception. It's not ideological, and it's the mainstream policy across the board with important US allies (close to an international consensus, enshrined in UNSC resolutions). Syria with its terrorist policies is the problem.

Update: On a related note, a piece in The Jewish Week, commenting on the alleged Israeli overflight in Syria, notes: "The incident highlighted Syria’s isolation — few Arab states came to its defense — as well as a base of international understanding of Israel’s position." It goes on to quote an Israeli analyst: "I don’t see Javier Solana coming out and slamming Israel like he did in the worst days of the intifada. I don’t see the UN Security Council getting together and issuing a condemnation. This is something."

Indeed, AKI writes that the French FM Kouchner went further to express "understanding" for the operation, assuming it actually took place. It quotes him as saying: "if it is true that it was targeting weapons shipments being carried to Hezbollah, then we can understand the motive behind the operation. Everyone in Lebanon knows that large shipments of weapons cross the border from Syria."