|Southwest Asia News Digest
Saudi Paper: Cheney Isolated; LaRouche Associate Cited
The Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat Feb. 21 published a front-page article by Michael Abramowitz, which also appears in the Washington Post, albeit with more dramatic language. The title is "U.S. Officials: Cheney Is Isolated." It reports, "U.S. officials say that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has become isolated recently from foreign policy decision-makingthe thing which helped, for example, to reach a deal with North Korea."
Below this article, Asharq Al-Awsat's website published a commentary on the report sent by a reader, Hussein Askary, a political associate of Lyndon LaRouche. Askary is quoted: "It is Dick Cheney who has been pulling the strings of President Bush. But, Cheney's strings have been pulled, as Lyndon LaRouche says, by people like George Shultz, Felix Rohatyn and other financiers in London and Wall Street, who want total globalization of the world economy, even if the price be a world war."
Asharq Al-Awsat had blacked out LaRouche and his associates since early 2003, before the Iraq invasion, and supported the campaign that ended with the shutting down of the Zayed Center in Abu Dhabi, which had dared to invite LaRouche to address one of its biggest events in June 2002. The publication also ran an article by Jamal Khashoggi (nephew of weapons dealer Adnan Khashoggi of Iran-Contra infamy) that called for banning LaRouche from the Gulf. Although Asharq Al-Awsat published a reply by Askary to that slander, since then, it had refused to cover LaRouche at all, until now.
Abbas: World Must Deal with Power-Sharing Agreement
'The only alternative to this agreement is civil war,' insisted Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, referring to ongoing Fatah-Hamas collaboration in forging a new Palestinian unity government resulting from the Mecca conference. The recently renewed power-sharing agreement is "the only possible agreement, and the world must deal with it," Abbas declared, according to news reports Feb. 18. The U.S. has insisted that it will not work with the Palestinian government unless Hamas recognizes Israel, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert revealed that Bush had reiterated this position in a Feb. 17 phone call.
Abbas had met for two and a half hours with Condoleezza Rice Feb. 18, where his attempts to convince the U.S. Secretary of State that Fatah-Hamas collaboration was critical to a functional and stable Palestinian Authority, were rebuffed. "She respected our position, that we want to stop internal infighting," said a security aide to Abbas, but "her position was also clear that they will not deal with this government." A Palestinian official source said that, when pressured by an unnamed U.S. official on Feb. 17, Abbas had shouted back, "You are placing unbearable pressure on me. The only alternative to this agreement is civil war."
'Quartet' Not Ready To Recognize Unity Government
After a meeting of representatives of the QuartetUnited States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nationsin Berlin Feb. 22, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that they had agreed that it's too early to decide whether to recognize the new Palestinian unity government, which falls short of "international standards."
Meanwhile, Hamas leader Khaled Mashall, speaking in Cairo, called for an end to the embargo, and the Palestinian Information Minister (from Hamas) denounced the United States because "It aims to undermine the European and Russian efforts in order to continue the siege imposed on our people."
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Mashaal will arrive in Moscow on Feb. 26. Moscow intends, according to the statement, "to continue Russian efforts towards helping to stabilize the situation in the Palestinian territories and to overcome intra-Palestinian disagreements, in light of the agreements reached between Fatah and Hamas in Mecca, and in support of the formation of a government of national unity, taking the known Quartet criteria into account, as well as renewing Palestinian-Israeli political dialogue." During his joint press conference today with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he considered it to be "of fundamental importance," that the Quartet had agreed to hold its next meeting in the region, bringing in the parties to the conflict, as well as other countries.
Madrid Conference Reaffirms 2002 Arab Peace Initiative
Foreign ministers from seven Arab countries issued a joint statement Feb. 23 following a Madrid-based conference sponsored by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. Moratinos said the statement reiterated the vision expressed at the 2002 Arab summit in Beirut, expressing a desire "to advance together toward recognition and normalizing relations with Israel." Nineteen members of the Arab League were represented, including Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Tunisia.
The statement also expressed support for the Mecca agreement between Fatah and Hamas, and hoped it would lead to the formation of a unity government "which could contribute to finding a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Chief Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath called for lifting of the boycott of the Palestinian government, which he termed "unfair and illegal."
Moratinos said his country wants to work together with the EU to enable the Palestinian government to work with the international community.
Saudi-Pakistani Mideast Initiative Takes Shape
Foreign ministers and senior representatives of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan are scheduled to meet Feb. 25 in Islamabad to rally Muslim (Sunni) nations to find common ground on possible solutions to the crisis in the Palestinian territories and in Iraq. The meeting is the follow-up to President Pervez Musharraf's visit in January to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and United Arab Emirates (UAE). He also visited Iran and Turkey earlier this month.
The initiative began under the tutelage of King Abdullah Abdul bin-Aziz of Saudi Arabia and President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the UAE. Both the Saudi King and the UAE President have since conferred their country's highest civil awards on Musharraf.
Musharraf received support throughout the region for the initiative. "We see eye to eye on all these issues," said King Abdullah II of Jordan; a similar unanimity of views was expressed by Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, following their talks with the Pakistani President. President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran also supported Musharraf for addressing the Palestinian issue and the situation in the Middle East.
As of now, Washington has said nothing at all on the initiative. But, what makes it particularly interesting, and important, is that Pakistan has close ties with both United States and China.
Potential Syrian-Israeli Tensions
Israeli military maneuvers have been taking place on the Golan Heights over the last days, Ha'aretz reported Feb. 22. The Israeli paper reported that Syria has bolstered its forces along the Golan Heights ceasefire lines. The Syrian military apparently has incorporated the lessons and asymmetric tactics used by Hezbollah. So, now Ha'aretz claims that Syria is also bolstering its stocks of missiles, including Scud-Ds, which have a 400-km range; the Syrians test-fired two of these missiles. They have also been acquiring shorter-range 220- and 305-millimeter rockets, as well as Russian Kornet AR-14 and Metis AT-13 anti-tank missiles. They are also upgrading their navy, acquiring new anti-ship missiles.
Syrian Parliamentarian Mohammed Habash denied the report of any troop build-up: "Cooperation between Syria and Iran is no secret as both are faced with a direct threat." He also said, "Syria is fully prepared for any situation," and as for a possible attack by Israel, he said, "if Israel decides to do something stupid, it would pay a heavy price."
Later in the day, Ha'aretz reported that Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said "that Israel should refrain from making further statements regarding Syria, and urged officials to avoid a verbal escalation of tensions."
Meanwhile, Ha'aretz reported on Feb. 23 that the message U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered to the Israelis was that they cannot hold peace talks with Syria. Even "exploratory talks" were considered unacceptable. "When Israeli officials asked Secretary Rice about the possibility of exploring the seriousness of Syria in its calls for peace talks, her response was unequivocal: Don't even think about it," Ha'aretz reported.
Cheney's Man Chalabi Still in the Middle of Things
The "surge" in Iraq has returned the neo-cons favorite Iraqi, Ahmad Chalabi, to center stage, according to a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal Feb. 23. Chalabi has now been designated as the liaison between Baghdad residents and U.S./Iraqi forces who are barging through the city banging down doors and shooting up cars and buildings. Chalabi's job is to arrange reimbursement for damages to homes and cars. But because he is close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, some Iraqis fear that he will use his position to ensure that Sunni neighborhoods are the hardest hitand get no reimbursements. Chalabi also continues to head the de-Ba'athification committee, which has purged hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from government positions.