|Southwest Asia News Digest
ElBaradei: It Would Be Insane To Attack Iran
May 17 (EIRNS)"It would be completely insane to attack Iran," said Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel released May 16. "That would turn the region into one big fireball, and the Iranians would immediately start building the bomband they could count on the support of the entire Islamic world." ElBaradei has repeatedly said that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, and this is important since all the UN Security Council resolutions are based on the reports of the IAEA. He also said that Iran should "grasp the open hand" that Obama has offered, and proceed with talks on the nuclear program. He also suggested that there is a good possibility of a "freeze for a freeze," in which Iran would not increase the number of centrifuges producing low-enriched uranium for nuclear reactors, and the West would freeze sanctions.
On the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first meeting with President Obama May 18, there is a lot of chatter about the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran. But, in an unusual statement, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon, now the Deputy Prime Minister, said in a speech delivered in Israel that Iran does not yet have a bomb, and that a nuclear weapon "can be stopped through diplomatic effort." He added, "Iran is a very weak country. They would not withstand real sanctions. Their banks and shipping companies are vulnerable. If the world would just handle them in a tough manner, imposing sanctions, then maybe we would not need military action."
Obama demonstrated his ambivalence in an interview with Newsweek, where he emphasized his determination to end the last 30 years of failure with Iran by pursuing talks, but then added, "I don't think it is my place to determine for the Israelis what their security needs are."
King Abdullah Warns Against a New Middle East War
May 11 (EIRNS)Jordanian King Abdullah II, in an interview in The Times of London, warned that if President Barack Obama's peace effort fails, the Middle East will have a new war within 12 to 18 months. He said Obama's policy is for a comprehensive peace agreement among Israel and the Palestinians, Syria, and Lebanon.
He said the plan could be announced after Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, or even at the June 4 address he is expected to make in Egypt.
"What we are talking about is not Israelis and Palestinians sitting at the table. But Israelis sitting with Palestinians, Israelis sitting with Syrians, Israelis sitting with Lebanese." Part of the peace deal would be the opening of relations with the world's 57 Arab and Muslim countries.
Abdullah said that what comes out of Obama's meeting with Netanyahu would be "critical," but added: "If there is procrastination by Israel on the two-state solution, or there is no clear American vision for how this is going to play out in 2009, then all the tremendous credibility that Obama has worldwide and in this region will evaporate overnight if nothing comes out in May. All eyes will be looking to Washington in May. If there are no clear signals and no clear directives to all of us, then there will be a feeling that this is just another American government that is going to let us all down."
He warned that if concrete peace talks are not held within six months, the alternative is not just disappointment but an inevitable war. "If we delay our peace negotiations, then there's going to be another conflict between Arabs or Muslims and Israel in the next 12 to 18 months," he said.
UNSC Passes Russian Proposal for Palestinian State
May 12 (EIRNS)Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov chaired a May 11 special UN Security Council meeting, which unanimously endorsed a Russian-authored statement calling for a Middle East Peace Conference in Moscow later this year, and supporting the creation of a Palestinian state. On May 1, Russia assumed the month-long rotating presidency of the Security Council.
In his press conference after the debate, Lavrov noted that the U.S. statement, which was read by Susan Rice, called for integrating the Arab Peace Initiative into the peace process. He stressed that there was strong agreement among all members of the Quartet.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke after Lavrov's initial statement. While giving obeisance to questions of Israel's security, he said that Israel must fundamentally prove its commitment to a two-state solution. Citing house demolitions, settlement expansion plans, settlement violence, and the restriction of Palestinian freedom of movement, Ban said, the time has come for Israel to fundamentally change its policies in this regard, as it has repeatedly promised to do, but has not yet done. Other members of the 15-member body made similar statements.
Israel's UN envoy, Gabriela Shalev, denounced the entire meeting as "inappropriate," since the UN should have no role in a "bilateral" issue and because Prime Minister Netanyahu is preparing his policy for his May 18 meeting with Obama.
Abdullah Tells Netanyahu To Work for Peace
May 17 (EIRNS)King Abdullah II of Jordan told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he must support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two met May 14 at the Jordanian port of Aqaba on the Red Sea. Later in the day, Netanyahu met with Pope Benedict XVI, whom he told to attack Iran.
The Jordanian King said that there is a broad international consensus supporting the two-state solution as the only way to solve the conflict. He also called on Israel to accept the Arab peace initiative, lift the checkpoints in Palestinian territory, and lift the siege of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu refused to utter the words "two-state solution," only saying that he would promote talks with the Palestinians and "broaden" the circle of peace. He did not mention the Arab peace initiative, either.
A poll conducted by Yideot Ahronot, Israeli's most widely circulating daily, shows the following results: 58% of Israelis polled, support a two-state solution; 63% of those who consider themselves politically to the right, or center-right, support a two-state solution, along with 84% of those who consider themselves left-wing or center-left; 70% of religious Jews oppose a two-state solution; 42% of those who were Likud voters support a two-state solution, as do 82% of the Labor Party voters.
Syria Critical of U.S. Decision To Renew Sanctions
May 11 (EIRNS)Syria expressed criticism of President Barack Obama's decision last week to renew sanctions, which had been imposed on Syria under the Bush Administration. Tishrin, a government newspaper, wrote in an editorial yesterday that U.S. policies of isolation, blockades and sanctions adopted by the former Bush Administration "have put the United States in an intractable impasse." The editorial said that the U.S. should replace "foolish policies" with "openness, dialogue and discussions through transparent practices, the foremost of which is an open and final reversal of the policy of sanctions against states and peoples." Tishrin wrote that Syria is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the U.S. "in a real test of the nature of U.S. intentions," and expressed the hope that the Obama Administration will not cave in to Israeli pressures or maintain the old policies against Syria.
Meanwhile the Washington Post claimed the renewal of sanctions is related to alleged passage of terrorists through Syria into Iraq. The Post claims that four terrorists from Tunisia had transited through Syria into Iraq, to conduct suicide bombings in recent months, according to information garnered through interrogation of Tunisian prisoners. The Post quoted an unnamed senior U.S. military official, as saying last week, "We just don't know how much their senior leaders know about the foreign fighter network.... But we do think that the knowledge of these networks exists at least within the Syrian intelligence community."
Mitchell Planning Visit to Syria
May 16 (EIRNS)U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell is reportedly preparing for a trip to Syria. According to media reports, unnamed officials said Mitchell and his team have applied for visas to visit Syria, although the visit is not certain as of yet. If it occurs, Mitchell will have been the highest level official of the Obama Administration to have visited Syria.
Meanwhile in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad held a joint press conference with visiting Turkish President Abdullah Gul, in which he said that no date can be set for resuming Syrian-Israeli indirect talks: "We cannot talk about a date because we don't have a partner," Assad said. "Syria is keen about peace, as much as it is keen about the return of its occupied territories." He also said the Israeli attack against Gaza at the end of last year and the beginning of this year prevented the indirect talks from reaching a direct phase.
Gul stated that, "Israel has to show clearly it is a partner. We have heard Syria is ready to resume the peace talks from the point where they stopped with the previous Israeli government. We in Turkey are also ready."