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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hariri tribunal releases pro-Syrian generals; coast is clear for Obama - Assad rapprochment

On Wednesday, the UN-backed tribunal looking into allegations that members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle ordered the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (pictured), ordered the release of four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals who had been accused of participating in the assassination. The reason given for the release was that a key witness had recanted his testimony.

Hariri was murdered on February 14, 2005 in a truck bombing in which 22 other people died.

With Assad effectively exonerated, the Obama administration announced that it is sending two 'high-level envoys' to Syria in the coming weeks, furthering Assad's emergence from the cold.

This is from the New York Times:
The four — Jamil al-Sayyed, Ali Hajj, Raymond Azar and Mustafa Hamdan — directed the chief security and intelligence services and the presidential guard. They were widely seen as henchmen for Syria, which occupied Lebanon militarily for three decades. Widely believed to have ordered Rafik Hariri’s killing, Syria was forced out of Lebanon under local and international pressure a few months later.

Lebanon is preparing for a crucial parliamentary election in June in which Saad Hariri and his political allies, now in the majority, are facing an alliance led by Hezbollah. Many here believe that the tribunal’s decision could cut into Mr. Hariri’s votes by spreading the impression that Syria could escape being brought to account for the assassination of his father and be emboldened to rebuild its influence here.

Lebanese officials had lobbied to have the decision delayed until after the election, but tribunal judicial figures refused, saying they could not take political considerations into account, said a senior court official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the court’s inner workings.


The tribunal’s prosecutor, Daniel A. Bellemare, emphasized that the case was bigger than the four men, who could be called as witnesses or even arrested again if more evidence was found. Tribunal officials have said that indictments could be issued later this year.

But many Lebanese seemed to view the officers’ release as a sign that the tribunal might never bring Mr. Hariri’s killers to justice.

“It is a shock,” said Samir Frangieh, one of Saad Hariri’s parliamentary allies. “Everyone knows who these men were and what they did.”
The Los Angeles Times adds:
A U.N. investigation team said shortly after the slaying that it had evidence that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services were involved. Syria has denied any involvement. Subsequent U.N. reports refrained from making direct accusations.

Fransen's special U.N. tribunal began its inquiry last month, and a conclusion is expected to take years.

Noting the politically charged environment in Lebanon, Fransen urged that the generals "be kept under strict security measures to ensure their safety."
The tribunal gained jurisdiction over the four when it opened on March 1. The tribunal sits in the Hague (Netherlands) and not in Lebanon.

For those of you looking for the connection to President Obama's new envoys, the Wall Street Journal supplies that.
The U.S. outreach comes as a United Nations court announced Wednesday the release in Beirut of four Lebanese generals detained in connection with the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The generals' release is seen undercutting U.N. efforts to secure indictments for the murder, and a boon for Syria's political allies inside Lebanon.
You bet those two events are connected.

The two envoys are the same two as the last time: Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro. As I pointed out yesterday, Shapiro is a protege of former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton, who is the architect of Obama's Middle East policy.

By the way, the hoops that the Obama administration expects the Syrians to jump through to reinstate diplomatic relations with the United States have also been significantly lowered according to the Journal.
Washington also wants Syria to be a central player in President Obama's stated goal of achieving a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. President Assad entered into indirect peace talks with Israel last year aimed at ending their conflict over the disputed Golan Heights region. But Syria is also a principal financier of Hezbollah and hosts in Damascus the political leadership of Hamas, the militant Palestinian organization that Washington designates as a terrorist organization.

U.S. officials said they ultimately want Syria to shed its financial and military links to Hezbollah and Hamas. But initially they would like Syrian support for better monitoring and controlling the groups.

Mr. Moustapha said Syria views Hezbollah and Hamas as legitimate resistance movements fighting Israeli occupation. But he added that Syria could play a role in fostering a dialogue between Washington and the militant groups, something Mr. Obama's administration has declined to do.

"At some point, the U.S. will have to start talking to Hamas, either directly or indirectly," Mr. Moustapha said in an interview. He played down the idea of Syria distancing itself from Iran, as the U.S. and Israel want.
In other words, although Washington ostensibly still wants the Syrians to distance themselves from Iran and to stop supporting Hamas and Hezbullah, we won't let that hold up the talking. And maybe Obama will throw the Syrians a bone by not renewing sanctions against them even if they do maintain their Iran ties and Hamas and Hezbullah support.
Syrian officials said this week they hope the diplomatic thaw could lead to an easing of trade sanctions enacted by the Bush administration. The sanctions were aimed at curbing Damascus's support for militant groups operating in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

"If the American president does not renew the sanctions, Syria would consider this the right way for better relations," Syrian Central Bank Gov. Adib Mayaleh said in an interview in Washington on Wednesday.
What could go wrong?


At 4:11 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The Middle East's radical regimes have discovered there is no cost to undermining pro-American regimes because America will talk to and trade with them anyway.

All carrot and no stick is the way to get them to moderate. As least that is what Obama thinks could happen with Syria.

What could go wrong, indeed

At 10:12 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I am not surprised of witnessing the unfolding "schmoozing" of terrorist countries and entities by the Obama administration. Obama's is setting up the stage so that alliance with the enemies of Israel will pressure Israel to give up strategic land to the Palestinians and rather than solve the Middle East conflict, create mayhem throughout the world.



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