|Southwest Asia News Digest
Syrian Foreign Minister: Damascus Ready for Negotiations
Jan. 9 (EIRNS)Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told Arabiya Television, as also reported in Ynet ahead of President George Bush's arrival in Israel, "We are by no means seeking a military solution against Israel. We are ready for negotiations with Israel, to realize the peace.
"The Road Map does not tangibly exist. We are committed to the Arab peace initiative. Unfortunately, this initiative has not been marketed correctly by the Arab nations. We came to participate in the Annapolis peace conference based on our willingness to negotiate."
Addressing relations between Damascus and Tehran, Muallem denied the existence of a Syrian-Iranian axis parallel to the Saudi-Egyptian axis. "However, Syria has always made an effort to improve the relations between Arab nations and Iran, because geographical and historical reality dictates this."
Addressing the leadership crisis in Lebanon, he expressed hope that it would be solved, and a new Lebanese President could be elected by the next Arab summit, in late January.
Hamas's Haniyeh Urges France To Aid Palestinians
Jan. 7 (EIRNS)Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is prime minister in the Gaza Strip, called on France yesterday to provide assistance to the Palestinians, saying he welcomed "all international efforts" aimed at enhancing security in the region, AFP and the Jerusalem Post reported. In a letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Haniyeh said the Gaza government is "prepared to cooperate with all international efforts to establish security and stability in the region." He praised Sarkozy's call for an international peacekeeping force in the Palestinian territories, which Sarkozy made at the international donors conference in Paris last month. "We followed your speech at the recent Paris conference, in which we found many positive and encouraging initiatives aimed at ending the occupation and restoring the legal rights of the Palestinian people and ending their suffering," he wrote. He also said he would accept French mediation in resolving the Hamas-Fatah conflict.
However, Haniyeh blasted the revived peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Former Reagan Official Calls for Talks With Iran
Jan. 3 (EIRNS)Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asia Affairs Richard Murphy said the U.S. should talk with Iran without preconditions. Speaking to the Arabic paper Al-Alam, Murphy said, "Talks between the U.S. and Iran should be calm and concentrated on the nuclear issue, without asking for preconditions." Piling pressure on Tehran and Hamas, Murphy said, would not prepare the ground for progress. Murphy was also skeptical about the Annapolis peace summit, where he said nothing really "got off the ground." In Iraq, Murphy said, the situation is "critical."
He is working with some other retired diplomats in "second-track" discussions with representatives from all three ethnic groups in Iraq. Similar to the Oslo talks, they feel that these talks, a private initiative rather than a State Department initiative, could lead to some statement of principles which might provide the framework for a unified, federated Iraq. The Kurds have proven to be the least flexible of the three, hoping to maintain de facto independence from any interference from Baghdad. But the backchannel talks will continue, and some progress has been made, Murphy said. He was also encouraged by the recent statements of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, a Shi'ite political party), who said that the Sunni group "Awakening," which is working with U.S. forces against al-Qaeda, had played a positive role in helping stabilize the country.
ElBaradei: Iran-IAEA Cooperation Proceeding Normally
Jan. 12 (EIRNS)Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, emerged from meetings with officials in Tehran on Jan. 11-12, expressing optimism about Iran's cooperation with the agency. On Jan. 11, after his meeting with Reza Aqazedeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Tehran's official news agency IRNA reported that ElBaradei told reporters, "In our talk with Mr. Aqazedeh, we asked for more transparency so we can give necessary guarantees to Iran. If we can make Iran's current and past activities transparent, we can prepare the grounds for Iran's future activity."
On Jan. 12, after meeting with Saeed Jalili, the head of the Supreme National Security Council, ElBaradei said that Iran-IAEA cooperation is proceeding on course. According to Iranian officials, ElBaradei expressed the hope that the remaining issues between Iran and the IAEA would be resolved before the next meeting of the IAEA board of governors in March.
U.S. Military Seeks Incidents-at-Sea Agreement with Iran
Jan. 12 (EIRNS)U.S. Naval commanders in the Persian Gulf have, for some time, been seeking an "incidents-at-sea" agreement with Iran, in order to prevent the kind of encounter that (allegedly) occurred in the Strait of Hormuz last weekend, from escalating into a more serious confrontation. Columnist Jim Lobe reported on his blog, on Jan. 11, that Adm. William Fallon, the Commander of U.S. Central Command, has been pressing the White Housewithout successfor an agreement "that would reduce the risk of an accidental confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz and the [Persian] Gulf, itself." Lobe recalls that Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported, on Sept. 16, 2007, that an unexpected opportunity for a discussion had appeared just a few days before, when Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, U.S. 5th Fleet commander, appeared on a panel with the brother of the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. "This chance encounter at a Geneva meeting of the International Institute for Strategic Studies should be pursued," Ignatius wrote.
Similar agreements existed between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and provided procedures and radio channels so that when military forces of the two sides encountered each other in international waters and airspace, accidental war could be avoided. Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, a professor of international relations and the author of several books on Iran, added, in a column in the Dec. 21 Asia Times, that such an agreement between the U.S. and Iran "may help set relations between the two countries on the right track, off the path to confrontation, and in line with the provisions of international law."
Turkish President Vows Response to PKK Attacks as Needed
Jan. 9 (EIRNS)Speaking to an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, Turkish President Abdullah Gul responded to a question from the audience regarding his discussions with President Bush on the Kurdish separatist party PKK's attacks on Turkish territory, and Turkey's response. The questioner noted that the White House, which has characterized the PKK as a terrorist organization, has begun to urge Turkey to also seek a "political solution" to the PKK problem. "We have cooperation with the United States in Iraq," Gul said, "but there are certain regions in the North which the Iraqi government doesn't control. There are camps and training grounds in those territories. These are attacks coming from another country. How can there be a political solution? It is like the U.S. response to al-Qaeda. Neither today nor before did we discuss this issue in that context. In Turkey we are also discussing these issues. And in the fight against terrorism, we must fight arms with arms."