Sunday, November 4, 2007

News Summary: Syria, US Spar Over Lebanon

News Summary


Syria, US Spar Over Lebanon

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The U.S. and Syria sparred over Lebanon Saturday, warning each other not to interfere in the country's upcoming presidential election.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had a rare meeting with her Syrian counterpart, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq in Istanbul, Turkey. She repeated U.S. demands that Syria steer clear of Lebanon's internal politics.
"I made quite clear that ... it was expected that Syria was going to adhere to its international obligations not to interfere, to allow Lebanon to have a constitutional process for the ... election of a president, and that it was also the expectation of everyone that there would be no intimidation," Rice told reporters after leaving the conference.
In response, al-Moallem said Syria supported Lebanese attempts to elect a new president without foreign interference, according to the official news agency SANA.
Despite marathon discussions between pro-government and opposition leaders in the parliament, the two groups have made no headway in electing a new president to prevent a power vacuum or the formation of two rival administrations.
With time running out, the election has become a showdown between Iran and Syria, who back the opposition, and the United States and its European allies, who support the parliamentary majority and Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government. The U.S. accuses Syria and Iran of interfering in Lebanese affairs and backing attempts to topple Saniora.
Syria dominated its smaller neighbor for nearly 30 years before it was forced by international pressure to withdraw its tens of thousands of troops from Lebanon in 2005.
Parliament is scheduled to make another attempt to elect a president on Nov. 12, but as with the two previous attempts in September and October, the government and the opposition have been unable to reach a compromise ahead of the session. Failure to pick a leader to replace pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term expires Nov. 24, could throw the country into further political chaos.
SANA quoted al-Moallem as saying that "any attempt to tailor make the new president will be considered an interference in the domestic affairs of Lebanon," an apparent reference to comments Rice made Thursday outlining U.S. and European requirements for the next Lebanese leader.
Rice said Lebanon's next president must be committed to constitutional order, support U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at ensuring the country's sovereignty, and commit to seeing through a tribunal for the suspects in the 2005 killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria was widely blamed for the assassination but denied it.
Syria's state-run Tishrin newspaper explicitly criticized Rice for these statements earlier Saturday.
"Condoleezza Rice speaks about Lebanon as if it is an American state," said the paper, which reflects government thinking. "The immoral and blunt U.S. interference in Lebanon's internal affairs has been clearly demonstrated," it added.

France Warns Syria Over Lebanon

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned Syria that the international community could not "remain indifferent" to the current political vacuum in Lebanon.
"We have made it very clear to Syria ... that a political vacuum in Lebanon could destabilize the entire region and would not be in Syria's interest," Kouchner said on Friday following talks in Istanbul with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem.

"Regular elections need to be held at the set dates in line with the constitution," he said, adding: "We are counting on Syria being capable of acting responsibly.

"I clearly told Mr Muallem: if the process takes place in the way it is meant to institutionally, then Lebanon wins, Syria wins and we all win. If not, the international community cannot remain indifferent," Kouchner said.

Their meeting on the sidelines of a conference on Iraqi security marked the first high-level contact between the two countries since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Former French President Jacques Chirac suspended high-level talks with Syria after his friend Hariri was killed in Beirut in February 2005. An initial U.N. inquiry implicated Damascus, although it has denied any involvement.

Friday's talks came after Kouchner cancelled a September meeting in New York in response to the assassination of a Lebanese anti-Syrian MP.

Lebanon's ruling coalition has accused Damascus of being behind the killing of Lebanese MP Antoine Ghanem in a car bomb in a Beirut suburb in September, a charge rejected by the Syrians.

The Lebanese government has been paralyzed since November last year when opposition forces, which include Iran- and Syria-backed factions, withdrew their six ministers from the cabinet.

There is currently a deadlock on electing a new president -- a parliamentary session to vote on a successor to pro-Syrian incumbent Emile Lahoud has twice been postponed and is now scheduled for November 12.

Fears are running high in Beirut that the standoff between the pro- and anti-Syrian camps could lead to two rival governments, a grim reminder of the end of Lebanon's civil war when two administrations battled it out.(AFP-Naharnet)

Beirut, Updated 04 Nov 07, 11:24

Moallem Discusses with Koushner Bilateral Relations and Developments in the Region

Regional and International News /
Nov 02, 2007 - 07:45 PM

Foreign Minister , Walid Moallem , met this evening in Istanbul , Turkey , with his French counterpart, Bernard Koushner, and discussed with him bilateral relations between the two countries and the developments of the situation in the region including the situations in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Middle East peace process.
The two sides also discussed prospects of developing the Syrian-French relations and ways of boosting them in the next stage.
On Lebanon, the view points of both sides were in agreement regarding the necessity for the Lebanese to have a conciliatory candidate for the presidency of the republic inorder to be elected
as scheduled and in line with the constitutional rules , so that the solution will be a Lebanese one without any foreign intervention .
The two sides stressed that neither Syria nor France has the names of the candidates , and that any party that stands against any reconciliatory candidate ,doesn't want unity, security and stability for Lebanon.
The two ministers agreed on intensifying contacts in the forthcoming stage.
On Iraq, the two sides underlined the unity of the Iraqi land and people, and support to the political process until national reconciliation among all the spectrums of the Iraqi people , is achieved.
On the peace process, alMoallem stressed that Syria has been working for the establishment of just and comprehensive peace in the region which is based on the resolutions of international legitimacy and the land for peace principle.
With regard to Annapolis meeting , Moallem reiterated Syria's call for the necessity to put Golan on the agenda of that meeting.

From Hayat: Arabic

Istanbul meeting considers «interference and intimidation» in the Lebanese presidential elections «unacceptable» .. Arab-Western powerful to Syria and meet with the registration of positions between Rice and Mouallem


Al-Moallem delivers a speech at Iraq's Neighboring Countries Meeting in Istanbul

Regional and International News /
Nov 03, 2007 - 08:45 PM

Istanbul, (SANA) – Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem affirmed on Saturday the importance of the Iraq Neighboring Countries Conference held in Istanbul with the participation of all the parties concerned to solve the dangerous situation in Iraq.
In a speech delivered at the 2nd Expanded International Meeting of Iraq Neighboring Countries, Mr. al-Moallem renewed Syria's commitment to preserving the integrity of Iraq's land and people, affirming the rejection of division, stressing the need to guarantee the sovereignty, independence of Iraq and its Arab and Islamic identity.
Mr. al-Moallem pointed out that maintaining the unity of Iraq is based on many things, most important of which is the national reconciliation based on respecting the will of the Iraqi people, expressing Syria's readiness to participate in pushing the reconciliation forward.
The Foreign Minister also warned against the dangers of dividing Iraq, saying that Syria is following up the dangerous developments in Iraq which could threaten the entire region. He underlined the need for all parties in Iraq, the Middle East and the world to cooperate in order to solve this dangerous situation.
In addition, al-Moallem stated that Syria is ready to participate in diplomatic efforts that aim to preserve the security of Iraq and Turkey, saying "We must give the political solution a chance through constructive cooperation between the Iraqi and Turkish governments, taking into consideration the responsibilities of foreign forces in Iraq in ending the terrorist activities of the Kurdistan Workers Party."
Al-Moallem pointed out to the great financial burdens Syria bears due to the presence of more than 1.6 million Iraqis in it and the need to provide economic needs and services to them, in addition to the security and social burdens. He said the international community fell short of taking responsibility or contribute in shouldering such burdens, stressing that the occupation forces didn't perform its duties in this respect.
Regarding Syrian-Iraqi relations, al-Moallem stated that Syria has good relations with the government and people of Iraq for the best interest of the two sisterly countries, adding that the visits of Iraqi officials to Syria opened new cooperation opportunities.
Mr. al-Moallem briefed participants in the Conference on Syria's strict steps to control Syrian-Iraq borders, which stretch for more than 600 kilometers. He also refuted frequent allegations that fighters were infiltrating through Syrian-Iraq borders, stating that these allegations are untrue and were merely fabricated to hold other parties responsible for the failure of establishing security and stability in Iraq. -----------------Hazem / Ahmad Fathi ZAHRA

Peace Process

Report: Syria vetoes summit against peace conference

Damascus tells Palestinian factions opposed to Abbas it will not let them hold summit aimed at undermining PLO's rule in country during Annapolis conference
Ali Waked

Syria has informed the Palestinian Authority it has cancelled a planned summit of the Palestinian factions that was scheduled to take place in Damascus parallel to the Annapolis peace conference, Palestinian news agency Sama reported Saturday.

The report has not been confirmed by the PA or Hamas.

The Damascus summit was meant to bring together opponents of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his policy, and some of its participants were planning on electing an alternative Palestinian leadership during the event.

According to Sama, Syria has made it clear to the PA that it would not allow any attempt to undermine Abbas and the PLO's authority as sole representatives of the Palestinian people.

The event was originally set to take place in the Syrian capital next week, and host members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front and other groups.

However, the factions announced this week that the summit would be postponed and held at the same time as the Annapolis conference.


Syria raises gasoline prices by 20 percent as oil soars on world markets

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 1, 2007

DAMASCUS, Syria: Syria raised gasoline prices on Thursday by 20 percent, a state-run newspaper said, as the Arab state faced a decrease in oil production while oil rose to a record above US$96 a barrel on world markets.
The price of gasoline was raised to 36 Syrian pounds (74 cents) a liter from 30 pounds (60 cents), Syria's official newspaper Al-Thawra reported.
The new price went into effect Thursday.
This price is still low compared to world prices, as the Syrian government subsidizes fuel and other vital commodities.
The Syrian government expects 2008 subsidies will cost it some 350 billion Syrian pounds (US$7 billion), or about 19 percent of the gross domestic product.
The last time Syria raised gasoline prices was in Jan. 2006, when they were raised by 25 percent, to 30 Syrian pounds (60 cents) a liter. At the time, Damascus said the measure was to counter fuel smuggling to neighboring countries where fuel prices are double.
Syria's oil revenues have fallen in line with the decline in output, from 600,000 barrels per day in the mid 1990s to 350,000 barrels a day at present.

Syria to construct $3b refinery

MENAFN - 03/11/2007

(MENAFN) The Syrian Oil Minister announced that Syria is seeking to construct a $3 billion oil refinery with a Kuwaiti partner in an effort to increase the country's capacity to over double the current rate, Khaleej Times reported.

He went on to state that the factory will also process crude oil from neighboring Iraq. The new refineries will allow Syria to import, process and export Iraqi crude, offsetting its own declining supply.

On another note, Venezuela, Iran and Syria and a Malaysian private company have publicized plans to construct a $2.6 billion refinery near Homs, in central Syria, scheduled for completion in four years.

Syria's refining capacity is currently at 220,000 barrels a day. The two Syrian refineries will each have an output of about 140,000 barrels per day (bpd).

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