Across the Bay

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What Happened in Paris?

The media today highlighted French President Nicholas Sarkozy's statements about him "reaching the end of the road" with Assad.

Moreover, the statement issued after the meeting between the US, France, Saudi Arabia and a number of others at the Paris donors' conference also stressed three international resolutions on Lebanon (1559, 1680, and 1701), as well as the tribunal.

All of this can be commented on as meaning that Assad once again alienated the French, leading perhaps to the end of the French opening to Syria, as well as a failure of the Syrians to split the French from the US, and so on.

But there was one more crucial item that was reported today. US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad told al-Hayat that he expected the international tribunal to start functioning in February. Khalilzad said that he was informed by the UN office for legal affairs that "there was good progress in the last few days with regards to the tribunal, and the office received important sums to finance it, and so everything is on track to set up the tribunal in February."

The Future TV news broadcast today added one more important detail. It quoted sources as saying that all parties have paid up, and that the sums were secured at the Paris donors' conference (hence the "last few days" referenced by Khalilzad).

This then would strongly suggest that Saudi Arabia has quietly decided to finally put in its share of the tribunal's cost.

This is a very important move, and it explains, as Emile Khoury noted, Assad's desperate attempts at securing the veto power for Hezbollah in the new cabinet before the election of Suleiman. He hopes to torpedo the tribunal through that veto power.

March 14 continues to reject this. And while the vacuum continues, the tribunal is now around the corner.

So come the Arab summit in March, Syria might find itself without anything institutional in Lebanon, with a functioning tribunal (with all that implies), and if its relations with Saudi continue to remain in the pits, it might find itself with a failed summit that would highlight its Arab isolation on top of its alienation of the French... again.