|Southwest Asia News Digest
President Assad: Syria Had No Role in Hariri Assassination
In a long interview with CNN, taped on Oct. 10 and broadcast Oct. 12, Syrian President Bashar Assad made several points, concerning the United Nations investigation of the assassination of Lebanon's ex-Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, and the Iraq war. The interview was widely viewed, especially because of the announcement on the morning of Oct. 12, that Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan had committed suicide. Kanaan, a Brigadier General, had been the chief Syrian official in Lebanon for over 20 years. The interview was recorded before Kanaan's death.
* On the Hariri investigation, Assad said: "We're not isolated. So far, we have very good relations with the whole of the world. I think most of the countries, they know that Syria is not involved in that crime for two reasons. The first reason, this goes against our principles. The second reason, this goes against our interests. And from another aspect, Rafik Hariri was supportive to the Syrian role in Lebanon. He was never against. So there's no logic involving Syriain putting Syria's name in this crime.... Syria has nothing to do with this crime....
"...if indeed there is a Syrian national implicated in it, he would be considered as a traitor and most severely punished. It is treason and where the trial will take place, that's different. However, we are confident that Syria is not involved, and so far, there is no material evidence of Syrian involvement. We are confident of that."
* On the U.S. accusation that Syria is not preventing terrorists from entering Iraq, Assad said that the problem with Iraq is not insurgents crossing the Syrian border, but the chaos in the country, which could lead to civil war there, and be contagious. Syria wants a stable Iraq. Syria would support the political process in Iraq, but not the war.
* On relations with Israel, Assad said that Syria wants peace with Israel. It was ready in 1991, and in 2000, when U.S. President Bill Clinton tried, but "[Israeli Prime Minister] Barak couldn't deliver."
The transcript of the interview, with CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, is posted on www.cnn.com.
Sharon-Abu Mazen Summit Postponed
Since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised nothing, his meeting with Palestinian President Abu Mazen was postponed, one day before it was scheduled to happen.
The meeting was due to take place on Oct. 11, but the Palestinians are saying there was no reason for any meeting, unless something productive could come out of it. The Palestinians want at least a timetable for the release of minimally a few hundred of the 10,000 prisoners the Israelis are holding, and the turning over of Bethlehem to Palestinian control. Sharon has no intention of making any concessions on either issue, and was simply using the meeting to appease the U.S. and the Europeans, who are pressuring him to make it look as if some progress on negotiations with the Palestinians is being made. Palestinian sources told YNET, Oct. 10, that they want to attain these conditions prior to the meeting, "to justify the existence of the summit to the Palestinians."
The prisoner issue is one of the most crucial, since virtually every Palestinian citizen has a friend or relative who is a prisoner. Furthermore, Abu Mazen's political position is weak enough without having him give Sharon photo ops, while getting nothing in return.
Sharon Continues Palestinian Arrest Policy
While Palestinian President Abu Mazen was asking for the release of prisoners, the Israeli military arrested another 117 Hamas members prior to Oct. 11. The Israelis claim that those arrested are members of three "terror networks," but the move was an obvious slap in the face to the Palestinian President, who is especially focussed on the majority of prisoners who have neither been formally charged, nor even put on a show trial. In fact, since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pulled out of Gaza, which people had hoped would restart the peace process, Israel has arrested close to a thousand Palestinians; this level of arrests is almost unprecedented in such a short period of time.
EU-Iran Ready To Restart Nuclear Talks
Following a meeting of the "European Union-3," (EU-3), together with representatives from Italy and Spain, the French, German, and British said they would restart talks with Tehran, without any new conditions, reported Agence France Presse and the Tehran Times on Oct. 11. The ambassadors of the EU-3 in Iran said they did not consider the recent IAEA resolution to have set a deadline, but favored settling the matters at issue before November.
Ali Larijani, the head of Iran's National Security Council, also stated readiness to resume the negotiating process. Other Iranian sources stress that the government in Tehran is committed to finding a negotiated, diplomatic solution at all costs, despite loud voices from parliamentarians, who are calling for breaking relations with Britain.
Iran Calls Nuclear Negotiations Its 'Strategic Choice'
Also on Oct. 11, the Tehran Times reported that Ali Aqa-Mohammadi, spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council (which negotiates the nuclear issue), stated, "Negotiations are Iran's strategic choice on the nuclear issue, and we think that there is no other way forward except through talks." The official reportedly indicated that Iran would be willing to accept an offer made by South Africa, to provide yellow cake uranium, and to return the UF6 gas produced at Isfahan to South Africa. He said was not seeking "to make fuel it does not need, but refuses to give up the right" to enrichment technology.
In a separate development, unnamed diplomats said that a high-ranking IAEA delegation was in Teheran, to discuss progress towards an agreement. The IAEA wants access to two military sites, interviews with military officials, and documents linked to the enrichment program. All three requests were being discussed with the Iranians, they said.
Ha'aretz Sickened by Israeli Palestinian Policy
Writing in the Oct. 11 Ha'aretz, corespondent Aluf Benn declared in no uncertain terms, "Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is sick." He writes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's evacuation of Gaza "has changed nothing." In the West Bank, checkpoints and the siege of all the cities continue, no prisoners have been released, and Sharon is pursuing a policy that he knows will lead to the collapse of the Palestinian National Authority.
"Israel defeated the Palestinians and now, drunk with victory, is dictating the arrangements. But the Prime Minister's office has forgotten one thing. They forgot that successful wars end with the generosity of victors, and that humiliating a defeated enemy only sows the seeds of the next war," Benn writes, adding that Sharon's policy of destroying the Palestinian National Authority "will leave Israel with a huge and threatening black hole on the other side, and it is doubtful that is what the country needs. It is time for different thinking, daring a farsighted, with regard to the Palestinians."
Kach Terrorist Awarded $100,000 in Compensation
A Jerusalem court awarded Noam Federman $100,000 in compensation for false arrest. Federman was held under arrest for eight months, but all charges of his having been involved in an attempt to bomb a Palestinian school were eventually dropped. The award of such compensation is obvious and incredible hypocrisy since everyone knows Federman is a member of Kach, an organization considered by the Israeli and U.S. government as a illegal terrorist organization, and in Israel membership in Kach is grounds for arrest and criminal conviction. The Israel authorities have never arrested Federman for being a member of Kach, although he is considered dangerous. Federman lives in Hebron in one of the most extremist Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Chaos in Iraq Continues Despite Constitutional Referendum
According to a count by the Associated Press, reported on Oct. 8, there have been at least 539 (which may be an undercount) bodies found in Iraq since April 28, in the run-up to the Oct. 15 Constitutional referendum. Most of the victims were groups of men who have been assassinated and bodies dumped, both Shi'ites and Sunnis, leading to charges by both sides that the other is employing death squads. The latest group of 22 bodies, found this week, were Sunni men who were rounded up by men in Interior Ministry uniforms in August.
Meanwhile, Sunnis remain concerned that the new Constitution casts them as the villains in Iraqi society. "We have disappeared from the process," one prominent Sunni in Baghdad told The New York Times. However, Sunni leaders meeting in a mosque in Baghdad on Oct. 9 failed to agree on how to handle the vote, some arguing for a boycott and others arguing that all Sunnis should go to the polls and vote a resounding "no."