Across the Bay

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's All About the Tribunal

As I finish up a long (and delayed) post summarizing and analyzing the developments of the last couple of weeks, including yesterday's riots, I wanted to make sure this item got the attention it deserves.

The Kuwaiti al-Qabas ran a report today quoting Arab ministerial sources on the "difficult" Arab FM meeting that was held in Cairo on the 27th.

The report carried quite the interesting nugget regarding the gigantic elephant in the room -- the tribunal. Amr Moussa reportedly said, according to the same Arab ministerial sources, that he "found that the Syrian president had a different agenda than that of his allies in Lebanon. For he, i.e. Assad, gave absolute priority to amending the international tribunal, and to its fate, and didn't care about the presidential void or the formation of a Lebanese cabinet."

This is hardly news to many of us, and we didn't need the regime dynasty scribe to know this, but that this was in Moussa's report is quite interesting. It's all in the open now. This also comes as progress is being made in the process of establishing the tribunal, including funding and the naming of its judges. It also comes as President Bush recently made sure to stress this in his statement after the Eid assassination.

As for the Arab FM meeting itself, the sources confirmed what other reports and leaks had already revealed (to no one's surprise) that the air was quite tense, and Syria was basically isolated and at odds with everyone (except for some sympathy from Libya). The thinly-veiled charade that it "supported the Arab proposal" -- a laughably obvious lie from the get go -- is now out in the open. In fact, Arab diplomatic sources who spoke to al-Hayat said just that: "[Arab ministers reached the conclusion that] there is a duality in the Syrian role, which seeks a text it can go along with on the level of governments, then sabotages through allies internally." Moussa in fact made sure to comment on the massive campaign launched against him by Syria and its allies. Moallem in fact confirmed this attack as he tried to blame it on Moussa, saying that he exhibited "hostility" towards Damascus.

Al-Qabas's sources talked about Moussa's report on his efforts in Lebanon and with Syria. They said that "Moussa was tough on Syria, describing it as the biggest reason why the situation in Lebanon remains as is." This rhymes with other leaks that relayed how Moussa "blamed Tehran and Damascus" for the obstruction of the proposed solution, which al-Qabas repeats further in its report.

Moussa continued and said that he told Assad that the repercussions of this crisis will reflect negatively on the summit in Damascus. Other Arab diplomatic sources said the same thing to the Saudi paper Okaz. In fact, several Arab delegations were unofficially informed that the summit might be transferred to Sharm al-Sheikh if the Syrian position continued as is. The sources added that Syria's position would lead to an "Arab isolation" and the disappearance of any enthusiasm to support the resumption of the Syrian-Israeli track.

Then Walid Moallem, who according to Arab diplomatic sources who spoke to al-Hayat, "had clear instructions to maintain a hard line," rejected any clarification of the supposed ambiguity in the Arab ministerial statement.

Nevertheless, Moallem tried to impose his regime's reading of it, trying to push for the unconstitutional monstrosity known as the 10-10-10 distribution in the new cabinet, whose aim -- a constant Syrian aim since 2005 -- is to eliminate the reality that March 14 is the parliamentary majority. This was unanimously rejected by the Arab ministers, with the exception of some sympathy from Libya (not Qatar, mind you). The Arab ministerial sources speculated that this was perhaps an attempt by Libya to open a window to the Shiite party Amal (whose founder, Mousa Sadr, "disappeared" and was liquidated during a visit to Libya in 1978). Some may recall a series of Iranian diplomatic attempts at rapprochement with Libya.

Moallem then tried his best to undermine the Lebanese government by expressing his objection to not having the opposition represented by a delegation. Several Gulf ministers replied angrily that "this would mean an acknowledgment that the Lebanese government is illegitimate, and that is something we reject."

The sources also said that Syria is trying to get the Saudis to concede in Lebanon and resume contacts with Syria regardless of Syrian sabotage in Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Saudi ambassador in Lebanon dashed any such notions by asking "what does this have to do with domestic Lebanese affairs?" Khoja then called for the immediate election of a president, and, directly contradicting the Syrian demand, said that it was a mistake to tie the election to the formation of a cabinet. Once the election takes place, he said, then the democratic game plays itself out.

This may be, and indeed should be, the upcoming Arab position should the election not take place on Feb. 11.

In any case, all the masks have fallen as they say. It is, as we have always known and said, all about the tribunal. Next step, the indictments.