|Southwest Asia News Digest
Turkish Situation Could Worsen
July 3 (EIRNS)The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan could fall as the result of a court case that could see Erdogan's own ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) banned, and he and 38 other leaders, including President Abdullah Gul, banned from politics for up to five years, and the party's headquarters confiscated by the state.
Lawyers for the Islamic oriented AKP are in court defending the party from charges brought by State Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, which claim that it has violated the secular clause of the Constitution by using religion in its political activities. A judgment in the case by the country's constitutional court is expected to be handed down in the first week of August, and there is a real possibility that the prosecution will succeed. If that happens, 38 lawmakers, including Erdogan will be banned. This would require a by-election for 28 members of the 550-seat parliament
Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek is presenting the AKP defense in the court. Prime Minister Erdogan himself has called the indictment "a political text, not a legal one," whose evidence was "gathered from newspaper cuttings, the correctness of which has not even been checked."
In 1998, the same constitutional court of 11 judges banned the Islamic-oriented Welfare Party, when at the time the party's leader Necmettin Erbakan was prime minister. In June 2001, the Virtue Party, a successor to the Welfare Party, was closed down by the court. Erdogan's AKP has its roots in the Virtue Party, but was considered far less doctrinaire.
Two days ago, police arrested 24 people, including two retired Army generals, accused of an ultra-nationalist plot to overthrow the government. The current commander of the Armed Forces, Ilker Basbug, issued a statement saying that the country was going through a "difficult period," and called for politicians and the media to act in a responsible manner.
Iraq's Shi'ites Want Referendum on U.S.-Iraq Military Agreement
July 6 (EIRNS)Iraq's Shi'ite leadership will push for a referendum on the long-term military cooperation agreement being negotiated with the U.S., an aide to Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani said. "The treaty must be presented to the people and the clergy," Iman Sadreddin al Kabandji said at Friday prayers on July 4, also noting that it is unacceptable that the treaty is being worked out behind closed doors.
Assad Calls for European Help on Syria-Israel Talks
June 30 (EIRNS)Syrian President Bashar Assad, in a meeting with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store in Damascus, called for a more active European role in the peace process between Syria and Israel. He also said that restoration of Palestinian national unity was extremely important, as it was difficult to achieve any progress on the Israel-Palestine issue without the restoration of the Arab national unity.
At a press conference with Gahr Store, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said, "Like any process, there are ups and downs, but what is more important is that the two sides should go on with negotiations to reach these bases.... There is a chance to achieve a just and comprehensive peace. We hope the Israelis will not miss it by their partisan differences."
Meanwhile, Israel Radio and a Persian Gulf newspaper reported that Israel and Syria were preparing to hold a third round of indirect talks in Turkey in the beginning of July. According to the Jerusalem Post, there could be two or three additional rounds of indirect talks, after which Syria would decide whether or not to begin direct negotiations with Israel. An Israeli diplomat confirmed that talks would take place in early July.
Assad-Olmert Meeting in Paris Is 'Not on the Agenda'
PARIS, July 4 (EIRNS)Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Moallem stated in Paris on July 4 that a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the Mediterranean Union summit in Paris was "not on the agenda," according to Agence France Presse. He said indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel "are only at their beginning and it is too early to make a judgment.... The aim of these discussions is to prepare the way for direct negotiations," he said, adding that before direct negotiations could start, there would have to be "a major involvement of the United States, the European Union, and Russia." Yesterday evening, Olmert declared that "soon" Syria and Israel "would have to start direct negotiations."
Regarding the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Moallem stated that Syria would not accept having even 1 centimeter not returned. And on Syria's relation to Iran, Moallem excluded the idea that Damascus should distance itself from Tehranas France, Israel, and the United States wish. "There can be no preconditions to peace negotiations," he stated. "We have not demanded that Israel distance itself from the United States." However, al-Moallem said that the results of the peace negotiations "would have consequences throughout the entire region."
The Syrian foreign minister was to meet with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and then was to be received at the Elysée Presidential Palace by its secretary general, Claude Gueant. President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the evening of July 12, and Assad will participate in the July 14 Bastille Day military parade, in spite of massive institutional opposition from both the left and right in France. Moallem spoke today at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI).
Syria Looking to U.S. Aid as Part of Israel Deal
July 6 (EIRNS)A former Israeli diplomat said that the prospect of a peace agreement with Syria was growing, though it might require a new American President before a deal could be reached.
Alon Liel, a former director of Israel's Foreign Ministry, who has been involved in the discussions with Syria, told the London Sunday Telegraph that Syria would be willing to break its ties with Iran, if the United States provided military and financial backing, as part of a peace agreement with Israel. "They are asking not only for the Golan Heights but a change in Washington that will break the Syrian isolation internationally," said Liel. "But I also think they will not do it unless they are assured they have an alternative to Iran."
Israeli-Hezbollah Prisoner Swap Approved
June 30 (EIRNS)The Israeli Cabinet finally approved the deal authorizing a prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah, after a strong intervention at the Cabinet meeting by Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. "I am the commander of all the soldiers ... of the living and the dead, and therefore I say to you the deal must be approved," Ashkenazi said.
The deal was opposed by only three Cabinet ministers who were among the most right-wing. Shin Bet intelligence chief Yuval Diskin and Mossad chief Meir Dagan also opposed it, but, according to the daily Ha'aretz, the ministers who voted "Yes" were "particularly moved to vote yes by Ashkenazi."
The deal includes the release of two Israeli soldiers, who are actually believed to be dead, and several Hezbollah prisoners from the last war, the remains of several others killed in the war, and Hezbollah prisoner Samir Kuntar, who has been serving a life sentence for the murder of an Israeli family more than two decades ago. Israel will also release several Palestinian prisoners. Hezbollah will turn over a report on Israeli pilot Ron Arad, who went missing over Lebanon in 1986. The report will indicate that Arad is not alive.
Ashkenazi's intervention reflects a strong tendency in the Israeli military establishment that seeks to ease tensions in the North with Lebanon and Syria.