|Southwest Asia News Digest
U.S Envoys Find Common Ground in Syria
March 7 (EIRNS)Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and staff, and Buthaina Shaaban, advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for three hours today in Damascus.
In direct contrast to the "Axis of Evil" approach taken by the Bush Administration after the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, which the Administration blamed on Syria, Feltman told reporters that the talks were constructive and "we found a lot of common ground." Feltman said his job was not to finger-point, "but to discuss how the two countries can move ahead in areas of mutual interest."
Feltman emphasized that President Obama "believes that talking should not be considered a reward, talking should be the means to achieve objectives."
The Syrian government has long hoped for the U.S. to take a more active role in Syrian-Israeli peace talks. Feltman said after the meeting that this track is part of the Obama Administration's vision and "there will be a Syrian-Israeli track," but the U.S. will decide on the next steps after the establishment of the new government in Israel.
Clinton in Ankara Announces Obama's Visit to Turkey
March 7 (EIRNS)After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's meetings with Turkish leaders in Ankara today, she announced that President Obama will visit Turkey, probably as part of his March 31-April 5 European trip.
After Clinton and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan met in Ankara, they issued a joint statement of close cooperation and consultation on all areas of common concern.
Six Powers Call for Continued Talks with Iran
March 4 (EIRNS)The United States and five other powers released a statement following their meeting on March 3 at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, that they were committed to direct talks with Iran to resolve the issues over Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program.
"We remain firmly committed to a comprehensive diplomatic solution, including through direct dialogue," the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China said in a statement to the IAEA board of governors. We "urge Iran to take this opportunity for engagement with us and thereby maximize opportunities for a negotiated way forward," France's Olivier Caron told the 35-nation gathering in Vienna.
The statement stressed that Iran had to suspend enrichment and give inspectors documentation and on-the-ground access to resolve allegations and it. Iran, they said, must also grant wider-ranging inspections beyond declared nuclear sites to allay mistrust.
Netanyahu Insults U.S. with Spymaster Arad
March 5 (EIRNS)Israel's Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu brought the spymaster Uzi Arad into meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mideast envoy George Mitchell, reports the Israeli daily Ha'aretz. Arad is persona non grata in the United States because of his involvement with Pentagon spy Larry Franklin, a former analyst with the Office of Special Plans, the Dick Cheney-neoconservative unit in the Pentagon that manufactured false intelligence to justify the Iraq War. Franklin was convicted in January 2006, in a plea bargain, of stealing classified documents on Iran and other subjects from the Pentagon, and passing them on to Israeli government officials, in meetings arranged by the two top officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. Arad, who is unable to come to the United States because of his involvement with Franklin, is reportedly going to be head of the Israeli National Security Council.
Not only did Netanyahu include Arad in his first meeting with the U.S. officials, but he kicked the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Sallai Meridor, out of the meeting. Ha'aretz reported that this insult from Netanyahu was the reason that Meridor resigned today.
Lieberman Indictment Could Shake Netanyahu's Mandate
March 8 (EIRNS)Reports that Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu had locked up a deal for his new government by granting Avi Lieberman all the Cabinet seats he demanded for his right-wing party, Yisrael Beiteinu, proved premature when law enforcement sources leaked their intentions to indict Lieberman on money laundering, fraud, and bribery charges within four to six weeks.
Yesterday, Israeli media reported on the agreement to give Lieberman's party the Foreign Affairs, Public Security, Tourism, National Infrastructure, and Justice portfolios. Today, the media reports law enforcement sources saying that they have been reviewing thousands of pages of documentsincluding evidence of Lieberman using Cypriot bank accounts for money-laundering purposessince September. Headlines screamed that if Lieberman were given a Cabinet seat, he would have to resign within weeks.
Economic Crisis Worsening in Israel
March 5 (EIRNS)Israel's economic crisis, including record unemployment, has led to looting of stores and an unprecedented number of bankruptcies.
The number of Israelis seeking unemployment compensation increased by 60% in February, as compared with the same month last year. Some 19,800 new unemployment claims were filed last month. An all-time record number of people, 19,700, lost their jobs in January. The sharp increases in unemployment began last November.
The situation is expected to get worse. Ha'aretz reports that 13-18% of Israeli firms could go bankrupt this year, given the low ratings given to Israeli corporate bonds.
Fayyad Resigns in Anticipation of Palestinian Unity Government
March 7 (EIRNS)Salem Fayyad today submitted his resignation as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Interim Government, a post he has held since June 15, 2007, when Hamas took control of Gaza. President Mahmoud Abbas named him prime minister, while abolishing the post of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who had won the election in 2006. Then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, with the help of then-U.S. President George Bush, put their weight behind the formation of a Palestinian interim government under Fayyad, a former World Bank economist who received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas.
Fayyad's resignation comes as the talks to form a Palestinian National Unity Government have moved into high gear; Fatah, Hamas, and other factions expect to form a government by the end of March, and Fayyad's resignation is slated for that time.
Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, called the resignation "a positive, constructive step to support the national dialogue, because the aim of the dialogue is to come up with the formation of a national unity government within three weeks."
U.S. Military Report Discusses Israeli Nukes
March 8 (EIRNS)A report in Ha'aretz today, "U.S. Army Document Describes Israel as a Nuclear Power," has stirred up talk on a normally forbidden subject. Insane as it may seem, the Israeli doctrine of ambiguity makes it impossible for any Israeli or any of Israel's allies to mention its nuclear arsenal.
The Ha'aretz article, which quickly made the rounds of other media, discusses a U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) Joint Operating Environment (JOE) report, distributed on Nov. 25, 2008. The report, with a forward by USJFCOM Commander Gen. James Mattis, analyzes the implications of potential disruption which would have to be faced by the Joint Command of the U.S. Armed Forces in the next quarter-century. The document, a scan of worldwide political and social conditions, refers to Israel's nuclear weapons only once, in Section E "The Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction."
Ha'aretz calls this a rare breach of official American adherence to Israel's doctrine of nuclear ambiguity. It is virtually unheard of for a senior military commander, while in office, to refer to Israel's nuclear status. The article calls Mattis a tough, thinking Marine with several friends in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and also notes that the general condemned the U.S. Air Force's "Effects Based Operations" approach to warfare, as employed by the IDF in its 2006 war against Lebanon. EIR's Pentagon correspondent Carl Osgood, began reporting on General Mattis's memos on this subject in September 2008.